SEPT|OCT 2018

Guess what local employees like most about
where they work. Pay? Benefits? Guess again….

By Melissa Vail Coffman, Sherri Huleatt, Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy, Mike McKenzie

Photos Scott Book

What are the elements of a great place to work? We set out to answer that for Whatcom County companies, and results from the first annual Business Pulse survey of Best Places To Work provided some interesting and instructive insights into those elements—all from the employees’ perspective.

Responses to this inaugural survey surpassed expectations. Nearly 1,000 employees from 62 Whatcom County organizations, across a broad spectrum of business categories, ranked their companies on 10 criteria set forth in the survey: Compensation, Benefits, Vision, Leadership, Training, Flexibility, Diversity, Philanthropy, Innovation, and Performance.

Business Pulse Associate Publisher Melissa Vail Coffman said, “One of the perks of participation in the survey is that we’re going to provide a summary of anonymized responses from all employees who participated to their respective companies. It’s sort of a report card on how the company is doing, in the eyes of its employees.”

Using a scoring scale of 10 highest-to-1 lowest, here’s what we learned…

Flexibility & Performance Rank highest in Whatcom’s Best Workplaces

Across the U.S., a popular and common practice among business media and organizations that deal with workplace satisfaction—such as headhunters, job-listing sites, and resume-posting services—is compiling Best Places To Work lists.

Over the years in Bellingham and Whatcom County, we’ve seen favorable headlines on many companies, like FaithLife (dating back to when it was called Logos Bible Software) under Founder/CEO Bob Pritchett, FastCap under Founder Paul Akers, and T-Mobile nationwide. Sure enough, the aforementioned all showed up in various parts of the survey.

We decided, what better way to generate input than by asking the employees? Responses poured in by the hundreds. While we never intended to select a winner, per se, we learned much about what employees value in running and sustaining a successful business, from startups to decades-old companies.

A good place to begin sharing our findings is how nearly 1,000 employees from 62 companies ranked their companies on the 10 criteria, using a scoring scale of 10 highest-to-1 lowest. And they could leave comments. Respondents generally felt very positive about the companies where they work, with all 10 criteria ranking within less than one point of each other.

The composite score—total responses divided by number of companies—gave Flexibility the highest grade, at 9.143, followed closely by Performance, at 9.063.

The high Flexibility ranking reflects today’s employee demands for both variable hours and the opportunity to work from home, though many employees also mentioned flexibility in the marketplace, i.e., adapting to changes in their respective industry sectors. The high Performance ranking indicates that today’s employees believe their production of goods and services matters greatly—and that their companies are delivering in this regard.

The remaining rankings: Philanthropy, 8.891; Innovation, 8.800; Leadership, 8.789; Training, 8.605; Vision, 8.475; Diversity, 8.416; Compensation, 8.213; and Benefits, 8.170. The low-end ranking of Compensation and Benefits is not surprising, with the barrage of news today about income equality on many levels.

Generally, the tendency is to think of Compensation and Benefits as the most inportant factors in employee satisfaction. However, a Google search turns up dozens of articles, like one in The Atlantic headlined, “Work Is About More Than Money.” Also, in this county, the salaries are comparatively low, and you often hear that many people choose to work here because of the lifestyle advantages.

The companies represented by the responding employees fit into Large, Medium, and Small categories, based on number of employees—200+, 50-199, and fewer than 50, respectively. The composite score, in this case, is the total points for all criteria divided by 10.

Topping the list among Large companies were Mills Electric, 9.559; T-Mobile, 9.291; Peoples Bank, 9.005;  ExxelPacific, 8.847; Western Refinery Services, 8.806; Samson Rope Technologies, 8.767; Puget Sound Energy, 8.347; Faithlife, 8.279, and Alcoa Intalco Works, 7.607.

Leaders in the Medium category were Birch Equipment, 9.705 (the highest score among all companies); Barron Heating, 9.444; Andgar; 8.913; Industrial Credit Union, 8.736; Fast Cap, 8.400; VSH CPAs, 8.320, and Timken, 8.300.

Since more than half of the respondents work at companies in the Small category, that list of leaders is substantially longer. Augusta Lawn Care led the way with a 9.550 score, followed closely by Metcalf Hodges CPAs at 9.520.

The remaining leaders: Signs Plus, 9.380; The Comphy Company, 9.350; Habitat for Humanity, 9.230; Crystal Creek Logistics, 9,025; Overflow Taps, 9.000; ServiceMaster Clean by Roth, 8.825; Allsop and Environmental Resources Management, both 8.700; Whatcom Literacy Council, 8.525; Kulshan Brewing Company, 8.188; Innotech Process Equipment, 7.940; Erin Baker’s Wholesome Baked Goods, 7.933, and Louis Auto & Residential Glass, 7.150.   

We’re also providing an anonymized summary of results for each company from which we received responses, giving them a report card on how they’re doing in the eyes of their employees.

In addition to the overall summary of the results above, six companies are featured in breakout articles about their best practices in one or more areas that caught our attention. And, you’ll find Founder/President Kevin DeVries’s passion for hiring and creating an ideal company culture at Exxel Pacific, highlighted in our regular Q&A/Personally Speaking feature (see page 54).

We’re grateful to all who took part in the inaugural survey of Best Places to Work and look forward to seeing the Business Pulse version grow in scope and in value to business leaders in the coming years. P+

Guidelines, Factoids, and Quotables
Highlight the Best Workplaces Survey

Clear guidelines steered the Business Pulse survey that enabled employees to rate their companies’ qualities as a place to work. The guidelines required that respondents work for companies that:

  • Are a for-profit or non-profit business.
  • Are a publicly or privately held business.
  • Have a facility in Whatcom County.
  • Have at least five full- or part-time employees (including at-home, but not contractors).
  • Have been in business a minimum of one year.

Participants could range from the CEO and partners to entry-level, including remote employees. They were assured that input will be held in strictest confidence.

In analyzing the responses received, we identified a number of highlights:

  • Large-category leader Mills Electric employees gave Flexibility the highest ranking, along with Compensation and Benefits, which stood lowest in the overall rankings.
  • Employees at Peoples Bank, Exxel Pacific, Birch Equipment, Barron Heating, Timken, Signs Plus, the Comphy Company, ServiceMaster Clean by Roth, Capstone Physical Therapy, and Louis Auto and Residential Glass all gave their companies high marks for Performance.
  • Medium-category leader Birch Equipment employees ranked the company no lower than 9.5 on any of the 10 criteria and they ranked highest among all 62 companies that had respondents.
  • In The Small category, Habitat for Humanity employees gave the organization 10s in Vision, Leadership, Diversity, Innovation, Philanthropy and Performance—the only entry that had six 10s.

We also want to share several of the more interesting comments submitted by employees. Here are those examples:

  • Alcoa Intalco Works: “We have a very engaged and proactive leadership team that strives to make the workplace more enjoyable and inviting….I feel very happy here, for almost 30 years now. Happiness includes everything.”
  • Allsop: “Allsop is a family company with a family feel. We all have opportunities to give input and implement our own ideas.  We have a laid-back, fun, and comfortable culture and employees get along extremely well.”
  • Birch Equipment Rental & Sales: “Great benefits package, locally owned, no layoffs in its history, 80 full-time positions year-round, great culture….You will work really hard but you will learn so much.”
  • Crystal Creek Logistics: “The work ethic is a tremendous part in our culture. CEO Cathy Hayward-Hughes believes in working with the strengths of our employees to allow them growth within the company. When there’s a query posed without an answer, we work together to learn what we can along the way until we have an answer. Inter-reliability also plays a large part in our organization.”
  • Faithlife: “Faithlife has enabled me to find a work/life balance I have never known in over 10 years in the corporate world.”
  • Ludtke Pacific Trucking: “I am treated like I am part of the family. Owners understand that life throws us curve balls. They allow for time off and are genuinely concerned about how my family is doing. I am treated like a professional.”
  • People’s Bank: “They provide us with $200 wellness incentive money to spend on activities or accessories needed to keep us active, as well as providing us with a wellness vacation day that can be taken any day you’re doing something positive to your health.”
  • Puget Sound Energy: “I seldom have a bad day on the job. I also think it is a privilege to work with the folks in my group. I do interesting work, which ultimately will benefit our rate-payers.”
  • Western Refinery Services (WRS): “They try to know employees by name. There are many great opportunities available; if you want to try something new you can expect to get the backing of the company! From day one, I’ve felt valued and important. WRS works hard to protect its most valuable asset, its people.”
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