Best Companies to Work for (and why they made it)

A few months ago, I was asked by my supervisor to please add “nominate the company for the Bay Area News Groups Best Places to Work in the Bay Area for the year of 2011″ to my to-do list. I tried to keep a straight face while muttering something like, “mmm-hmmm” and trying to look impossibly busy.

I looked up Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, 2010 and started looking at what made a company great to work for. I don’t expect for a ton of perks (hell, I’ve never had a ton of perks), but I wanted to see what made some employees voluntarily nominate the companies for which they work, other than the obvious, i.e., generous salaries. In doing a little online research, I read about companies like SAS, ranked #1, which offers perks like 90% coverage of the health insurance premium and unlimited sick days to its employees.

NetApp, located about 20 minutes away from my office, offers a choice of 3 different health insurance plans: a PPO, an HMO, and an HSA, all of which employees are eligible for on their first day of employment. They also offer a number of Work-Life programs, which give employees incentive to volunteer, further their education, or receive free counseling. The Cisco Systems campus in San Jose, CA offers onsite childcare to its employees’ children, while any Cisco employee can take advantage of a plethora of other perks, including elder care support, health education workshops and discounted gym memberships. Zappos.com and Whole Foods pay 100% of employees’ medical insurance premiums.

Considering the competition, I reflected on the company I work for. First and most importantly, health insurance. We have two options for medical insurance and the company will cover 50% of health insurance premiums. This wouldn’t be so terrible or offensive if my offer letter didn’t state that the salary for the position I was accepting included “full medical, dental, and vision benefits.” When I asked if I could add a dependent, I was told that yes, I could, but they cover 0% of dependent coverage. No, thanks.

Second, paid time off. I get that working hard is important. I enjoy working hard and being busy. I was pleasantly surprised that my offer letter specified that I was entitled to two weeks of paid vacation each year, and “reasonable” sick leave. Pretty decent, right?

What my offer letter failed to mention is that an employee isn’t allowed to use their two weeks (10 days) of accrued paid vacation until after their first anniversary with the company. I had used 6 days of vacation during my first year, 2011, and was never informed of such a policy when my request for time off was approved. I found out late in December that I had, along with everyone else hired that year, been “borrowing” against my 2012 time, meaning I had four days left for this year. I asked, “What if I use more than four days in 2012 and leave the company?” and was told that any vacation days I take this year, after using the four from last year, would be deducted from my final paycheck, regardless of accrual rates, because 10 days of vacation is given as a large chunk at the end of the year. I think this is illegal.

Ahh, sick time. Apparently, the powers-that-be have different ideas than their employees about what “reasonable” means, since the most recent update to the employee handbook states that each employee earns one sick day per quarter. That’s four sick days a year. Maybe that’s ok for a single person (or a really healthy one, who conveniently catches the flu Friday evening and recovers by Sunday) but what happens when someone’s child is sick and they have to stay home? What if an elderly parent needs care?

I do not often decline tasks delegated to me at work (because I rely on the paycheck I receive on a regular basis) but I had to this time, if for no other reason than personal morale. I did not nominate my employer as one of the “best companies to work for.” Maybe higher-ups would benefit from finding out why some employees feel compelled to nominate the companies for which they work, instead of assigning the task to a lowly coordinator.

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