The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. But sometimes it is.
My friend, Mindy, who had been following Light Passing Through threw an idea at me 4 weeks ago about touring some of the best companies Omaha and Lincoln had to offer and evaluate my experience in a post. Mission accepted.
So I asked my friends on Facebook and my connections on LinkedIn about some fun places to work and the response was incredible. Many were companies I was familiar with, others not so much. I checked their websites, reviews on Glassdoor, and spoke with people who were personally affiliated. I narrowed my list down to 5 companies.
I spent about 2-3 hours at each company touring their offices and speaking with a group of employees. We joked and laughed together and by the end of our time, I walked away confident in the companies selected. I also walked away thinking “I’m going to quit blogging and apply here.” Be warned, you may share the same sentiments.
For starters, they want everyone to know it’s “Swanson Russell” not “Swanson and Russell”. And they’re an Ad Agency, not a Law Firm.
Walking in for the first time, you’ll notice right away that it has “agency” written all over- witty posters, value statements on the wall, and a fast yet relaxed pace. Brian Boesche, one of the partners, gave me a tour of their Lincoln office and provided the narration as we went along. I got to the see the “Wellness Fridge”, the various conference rooms, pictures of all employees hanging on the wall, and meet several employees along the way. I learned that they are among only about 10% of agencies that have been in business for 50+ years and despite their unassuming presence, they have done several projects that put them in the ranks to some of the largest ad agencies in America. Right here in Lincoln, NE! As impressive as some of this was, it wasn’t until I got to sit down with a group of employees and started asking questions that I began to uncover what made them so amazing.
Culture. This was the recurring theme that was expressed in all their answers. A culture where they have seriously talented and motivated people, where they all live and breathe the company values, where they treat each other with the utmost respect even when differing opinions arise, where no one thinks “that’s not in my job description”, where mentorship and personal development are valued, where they monitor your work/life balance so that you don’t overwork yourself to burnout, and a culture of complete transparency resulting in complete trust. Everyone there believed these things to be true of Swanson Russell. I know this because they were all nodding their heads the entire time in agreement with each other.
And of course, there were the perks. They have a free food, fun company events, generous vacation policy (you get your Birthday off!), paid downtown parking, maternity/paternity leave, gym reimbursement, other health incentives, free marriage and personal counseling, and an annual meeting where the company can ask the owners whatever questions they want. This is huge because there’s so much transparency when they celebrate the wins and discuss the challenges within the organization.
Ad agencies are known for being “fun”, but not every agency has a healthy culture as Swanson Russell does. As I gathered my impressions, it was clear that these people really loved and believed in the work they did and considered coworkers some of their best friends. Even with the challenges from complex projects and client relationships they had each other’s backs. I leave you with one story that I remember from our meeting…
The size of this place is perfect. It’s rewarding being one piece of the big puzzle. You get to be a part of something a lot bigger than yourself. There are few people that don’t know each other on a first-name basis. I remember when I was an intern, the owners came owner and said hey to me by name. That’s pretty cool in a company of this size.
Location: Lincoln and Omaha Offices
Company Size: ~130 People
You know the way that close siblings and best friends give each other nicknames? Fusion Medical has a lot of nicknames.
Once we sat down in the conference room, I could immediately sense an eagerness exuding from every person in the room as if they couldn’t wait to blurt out how they felt. There was something in the water and I had to find out what. The culture here is “stupid awesome” (their words, not mine). Stupid awesome in the sense that everyone is friends and there’s no one you couldn’t high-five walking down the halls, stupid awesome enough that they put you in roles in which you can succeed, stupid awesome that you know everyone and everything about them, and stupid awesome because you know leadership has your very best interest at heart and so you give them your best. What was really interesting is that they said it was hard to spot who was “leadership” in the company- everyone was working, nobody was above doing anything.
We moved onto the tour where I got to see their onsite gym/yoga room, (fully stocked) wellness fridge, massage room, onsite showers/lockers, and game room. All that stood alongside an impressive onboarding program, generous PTO, maternity leave, extremely flexible work schedules, working alongside super talented people and lots of extravagant outings/food events. None of this is anything to glean over, but the feedback kept coming back to the culture. This is a place that is not quick to let people go. In fact, if you’re not in the right role or if you’re unhappy then they work to find you another place in the organization. No kicking to the curb here. Imagine the confidence you carry into work knowing these things were true of your leadership.
This was a team of people that celebrated the highs together while also supporting each other through the personal lows. Whenever anyone had issues outside of work affecting them, they were supported in the most genuine way possible. People checked in on them, coworkers gladly covered their work, people just wanted to make sure you were OK.
The one thought that stuck as I left was that the people would leave Fusion under two circumstances 1.) They got hit by a truck or 2.) Somehow they got fired. People intended to work here for the rest of their lives. Turnover was practically unheard of. I leave you with a story…
Earlier this year I had to get dog’s leg amputated. When I back to my desk I saw a $100 gift card on the desk and a note that said: “Take the time you need and we’ll figure the rest out”. They sent me home that day. And you know what? Stuff like that happens all the time here.
Industry: Medical Staffing
Location: 120th and Blondo
Company Size: ~170 People
“Find out what makes a person tick.” I heard this statement several times in the few hours I spent at QLI and it’s in reference to how they care for their patients, but ironically, is also how they care for their employees.
Many people aren’t familiar with QLI because it’s such a specific industry that unless you’ve needed them or know someone who has, you may not know they even exist. QLI provides post-hospital care for patients who have experienced spinal cord injury, brain injury, or strokes. They consider “home” to be their biggest competitor, but that doesn’t stop them from working relentlessly to get you back there.
When I toured QLI, it was much larger than I had imagined in my head. The design and layout are purposefully set to mimic real life including a coffee shop, restaurant, sports bars, and game rooms. The architectural design was even created to resemble a college campus over a hospital or medical facility. All of this was in an effort to give the residents as much normalcy as possible. I was just blown away by how no detail was overlooked.
Just when I thought I couldn’t be more impressed with QLI, I got to sit down and hear personal accounts from what it was like working there. The group I spoke with came from all different types of work backgrounds with very few schooled in the roles they’re in now. Imagine the complete shock to enter a company in which you’re treated as a highly desired person on day one, where everyone assumes you have the best intentions, where praise is dished out frequently, and perhaps most notably, where you leave every day fulfilled because the work that you did changed someone’s life for the better. The conversation revolved so much around the work environment, mission, and people that I almost forgot to ask about the perks.
For starters, free lunch every day so that’s one less thing to worry about. Employees are given top-notch benefits (which includes a class explaining how benefits work), PTO that rolls over, monthly discounted gift cards for purchase, surprise fun days, and a chance to receive the prestigious O’Donnell Award. This is an award presented to 6-8 employees every other year in recognition for demonstrating the values of the company. They get to attend a lavish dinner with previous winners and select a generous prize of their choosing. One of the previous winners bought a camper…an actual camper. #mindblown
QLI is a place where no one leaves ungrateful. You’re able to use your God-given talents and tangibly see the result. There’s no room for negativity. People’s talents are quickly spotted and promoted based on merit rather than tenure or seniority. The CEO is not afraid of doing dishes or cleaning up after an event in her 3-piece suit and high heels. They work hard to improve the lives of their patients, but also their fellow coworkers. I leave you with this story…
It is so fulfilling to see the expression on people’s faces when they’re doing something for the first time (again) that they didn’t think they could do. I was able to help a man change his perception of himself and the way his wife/kids saw him. He got to the point where he was able to drive a jet ski again and I’ll never forget the look on his wife’s face. She looked at him as if to say “he’s back.” That one look is worth it all.
Industry: Post-Hospital Rehabilitation Center
Location: 70th and Sorenson
Company Size: ~350 People
“Butterflying”- It’s a term used at Aviture when you’re hired on with no specific role in mind and you get to craft and develop your job as you go.
If you’re looking for mental stimulation then Aviture might be the place for you. Aviture is a problem-solving company that does it in the form of research, competitive analysis, and software development. They work on a diverse group of projects ranging from start-up ideas to government work and selectively choosing clients that are a good fit- money is not the primary motivator. As such, the employees are given impactful work and reap the satisfaction from solving complex problems.
But the work is only one component that makes this company amazing. First off, they’re a very flat organization and the executive leadership (known as “The Big 3”) are easily accessible to any employee within the company. It’s as easy as knocking on the door or scheduling a lunch. The job roles are shockingly fluid as well. People can rotate between roles, craft their own job responsibilities towards work they desire and can leave the company with zero hard feelings (knowing that they have a job at Aviture should they ever come back). Leadership is very intentional about asking you what type of job you want to be doing and making every effort to get you there. They know all too well that you’ll do your best work when you’re in a role you’re passionate about.
But let’s not forget the tangible perks. They throw huge parties, have food trucks, pull off elaborate office pranks, offer free lunch on Fridays (including Family), and do company trips where spouses are included- most recently in Cabo. Plus…there’s a keg on tap and the beer readily flowing. They’re also big on giving back. Aside from donating a portion of the profits to charities and empowering employees to do the same, they’ve created a program called Aspire to teach STEM principles to students from grades 7-12 and they use “The Garage”, a large open space within Aviture, as an incubator to spur innovation in the local community. Speakers are brought in, startups are given general guidance, and investors are connected with entrepreneurs.
In all 13 years that they’ve been around, Aviture has never had any layoffs. Very few companies can make this claim and if they keep the course, it’ll likely stay this way. I leave you with a story…
When we were in Cabo having dinner, Mark was telling a story about when we were a small company. People would tell them they couldn’t maintain this culture as it grew. Culture preservation is so big for them and he looked at us and said: “Well here we are.”
Industry: Custom Software Developer
Location: 135th and 370
Company Size: ~100 People
You know the place that administers those “Best Places to Work” surveys? This is them. And I wanted to find out if “they would eat their own cooking.”
I knew very little about Quantum Workplace until I was given their name as a potential company to crash. What they’re known for is the “Best Places to Work” surveys they administer, but the truth is they’re so much more. They provide tools to evaluate and improve the employee experience for the whole lifecycle of their employment including surveys for diagnostics, performance platforms for feedback, and exit surveys/analytics for ongoing improvement. For a company that works on making other companies better, would the same be true of themselves? Here’s what I learned.
Have you heard of Indian Leg Wrestling? I didn’t…up until this point. Instead of trying to explain it, here’s a Youtube Video. One of the employees recounted that upon her first day working at Quantum, the CEO and another executive in the company were on the floor in a fierce Indian Leg Wrestling match. Can you imagine the sight of your CEO on the floor leg wrestling? But this is what perfectly sums up the culture here. The CEO, Greg Harris, is a total goofball who initiates company dodgeball, wears colonial wigs to deliver the company handbook (“The Constitution”), and orders “a stack” of food at random to set out for his team. But beneath the antics, he’s a very deliberate leader who cares so much for his employees and lives out the values he instills.
Everyone views their co-workers as extended (functional) family members, each driven and passionate about the mission of the company. They use their own tools to self-assess and are empowered to find ways to improve their own company culture. It only makes sense that they would, right?! Then we moved onto talking about the perks. The company gives everyone a free zoo pass, great health benefits (including paying for your races), extreme work flexibility, random free breakfast or lunches, $500 development allowance, and an annual offsite company trip between 2-4 days. What was interesting to me is that not everyone could name all the perks because they don’t use it as a selling point during the interview process. Instead, they want you to work for the mission and assume you’ll come to learn about the benefits…eventually. Their organization is big on giving back by volunteering at the Special Olympics, Food Bank, and other organizations prompted by individual employees. Quantum believes in a corporate responsibility towards philanthropy. This leads me to the final story that I’ll share…
It was shortly after the Charlottesville torching that Greg sent out a company email at 2:30 AM expressing his distress over the matter. He was so saddened by the events in our country that he told each of us to do something good in the world, to save our receipts, and bring it in so the company could reimburse us. I was in tears reading his email.
Industry: Employee Engagement Software
Location: 96th and Near Westroads Mall
Company Size: ~50 People
Initially, I was going to name this post “Super Fun Places to Work” believing that fun perks were synonymous with a great work environment. I was so refreshingly wrong.
What became blatantly clear to me was that the perks that so many companies flaunt on their careers page were not the driving factor in employee satisfaction. Several people confided in me during this time about previous employers who offered those amazing benefits, yet failed to deliver on strong leadership, transparency, and genuine concern for the welfare of their employees and clients.
This is the difference maker.
Your words have to match up with your actions. Your careers page shouldn’t be empty promises sprinkled with glitter. Employees take notice of the big and little things you do. The things that make up your character and, consequently, the DNA of your company.
There’s no amount of free beer, video gaming, ping ponging, unlimited vacationing or casual attiring that could convince someone to stay at a company if they didn’t trust their leadership and believe that they had the best interest of the employees and clients alike.
Think I missed an amazing company? Tell me in the comments or via the Contact page.