Top Ten Companies to Work for During Tough Times

New rankings applaud small and medium-sized companies with the right stuff.

Gas prices are rising, food is getting more expensive and the number of foreclosures continues to increase. So it may be surprising that while some larger companies are shedding employees, there are still small and medium-sized companies considered among the top companies to work for. Though salaries tend to be slightly lower at smaller companies, what makes a positive work environment are other benefits, and these can easily make up for lower salaries.

[See Salaries by Company Size]

Definition of Top Companies to Work For

Great companies put people first, and cultivate credibility, respect, fairness, pride and camaraderie, according to the "50 Best Small and Medium Companies to Work for in America," an annual ranking by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Great Place to Work Institute (GPTW).

And the best companies to work for do simple things well, such as making sure employees feel known by others, relevant--and able to gauge their own progress, according to Patrick Lencioni, a management consultant and author of "The Three Signs of a Miserable Job." Lencioni urged human-resources professionals to heed these principles during the unveiling of th "50 Best" ranking in Chicago; the survey's top ten companies to work for are scattered across the country.

Naming the Top Ten Companies to Work For

Dixon Schwabl, an advertising firm in Victor, N.Y., was the winner among the top companies to work for in the small category (50-250 workers); Ultimate Software, an information technology company in Weston, Fla., was the winner among the top companies to work for in the medium category (251-999 workers). Two-thirds of the score for each of the top ten companies to work for was based on employee-survey responses, and one-third of the score for the top ten companies to work for was based on GPTW’s evaluation of companies in five categories: credibility, respect, fairness, pride and camaraderie.

Employees at these top ten companies to work for and others among the 50 top companies to work for say their employers succeed at the simple things Lencioni mentioned. Diverse, happy employees credit management with creating positive work environments. Employees at the top ten companies to work for enjoy coming to work each day, so much so it feels like a second family.

Traits of Top Companies to Work For

Taking Personal and Professional Interest in Employees
Winner Dixon Schwabl takes interest in employees’ personal and professional development year-round, says public relations supervisor Karen Sims. Teams meet each day, and there is an all-company meeting each week. This constant communication is part of what makes a positive work environment, notes Sims, who has been with the company for about 7½ years. Away from the office, employees enjoy a variety of sports teams, including softball, soccer and bowling—and sometimes even employees’ families play.

Helping Workers Gauge Their Success
At Ultimate Software, the CEO and management let teams know how well they’re performing, and co-workers and managers alike applaud each other on a job well-done, says Greg Miller, engineering talent manager at the company. “We’re actually given the business reason for concrete proof that what we’re doing makes a big difference with the company,” says Miller, who has been at the company for eight years. He notes that while Ultimate Software does spend money on excellent benefits, some of most important things, such as showing genuine concern for employees, are inexpensive.

• Valuing Employee Input
Management seeks regular feedback from employees at ACUITY, a property and casualty insurer in Sheboygan, Wis., which placed second among the top companies to work for in the medium-sized business category. Stephanie Schreiber, manager of commercial underwriting, says, “The employees have a lot of valuable input about how to do things better, and the company seeks that out so much.”

• Offering Continuing Education
ACUITY also strives to help managers do a better job of managing, Schreiber says, by sending them to management courses at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Fluno Center for Executive Education. Continuing education helps employees “put technical stuff aside and look at how to be the best for your team, being able to give, work directly with employees to get the best out of them,” explains Schreiber, who has been with ACUITY a little over 12 years.

Top companies to work for, small category (50-250 workers)

1. Dixon Schwabl Advertising, Victor, N.Y.
2. Badger Mining Corporation, Berlin, Wis.
3. SnagAJob.com, Glen Allen, Va.
4. Heinfeld, Meech & Co., P.C., Tucson, Ariz.
5. McMurry, Phoenix

Top companies to work for, medium category (251-999 workers)

1.  Ultimate Software, Weston, Fla.
2.  ACUITY, Sheboygan, Wis.
3.  Integrity Applications Incorporated, Chantilly, Va.
4.  Stark Investments, St. Francis, Wis.
5.  Hoar Construction, LLC, Birmingham, Ala.

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