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TOP PLACES TOWORK

Companies that earned top marks from workers still looking to improve

By Calvin Hennick
Globe Correspondent / February 13, 2011

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When you offer unlimited vacation days and an office stocked with ping-pong and beer, it’s no wonder you have satisfied employees. Those perks are among the factors that helped HubSpot Inc., a business software company based in Cambridge, earn the number-four ranking among small employers in the Globe’s 2010 Top Places to Work survey.

The Globe invited 1,160 Massachusetts employers to participate in the annual Top Places project, and surveyed more than 82,000 employees at 236 companies to produce its list of the 100 Top Places to Work. Since they appeared on the list in November, some companies have used the occasion to examine the practices that earned cheers, and looked for ways to enhance employees satisfaction.

The home improvement firm Renewal by Andersen of Greater Massachusetts and New Hampshire, which ranked third among small employers, expanded its employee awards program. South Shore Hospital, the sixth-ranked large employer, is rolling out a program that encourages employees to submit ideas for improvements to upper management.

And at HubSpot, “We said, ‘What can we do to strengthen our culture and be viewed as the employer of choice in the region?’ ’’ said Joe Sharron, director of talent acquisition. “We’ve done a lot since we received the award.’’

Among new programs at HubSpot are an employee-of-the-month blog, a $10,000 bounty for anyone who refers a successful candidate for a software engineer position, and a host of programs designed to heighten the company’s “funture’’ — a new HubSpot term encompassing “fun’’ and “culture.’’

Managers at HubSpot are encouraging employees to get to know one another through outings like ski trips and dinners with workers from different departments. In the fall, the company held a harvest festival for employees and their families, with a magician, balloon animals, and an art contest for children. Workers were recently encouraged to bring in foods typical of their ethnic heritage for a lunchtime international food festival.

“We believe that a strong culture correlates to employee happiness,’’ Sharron said.

It appears to be working, at least according to saleswoman Danielle Herzberg, who called HubSpot a happy place to work.

“My co-workers are my friends,’’ she said. “A beer fridge is nice, a ping-pong table is nice, unlimited vacation is nice, but that’s not what gets anybody out of bed in the morning. The people are a lot more important than that.’’

Herzberg said HubSpot’s internal wiki discussion board is key to the company’s culture. Employees can post anything from a request that people clean up after themselves in the break room to proposals for new products. “It gives everyone a voice at the company,’’ she said. “If you’re someone who’s too shy to raise your hand at a company meeting, then the wiki is the first place to go.’’

Renewal by Andersen, a window and door installer with a regional office in Northborough, gathered its workers last week for an awards ceremony, highlighting achievements in 18 categories, up from six or eight categories in previous years.

“The [Globe] survey sort of crystallized for us . . . that we need to show [employees] not just with money, but with acknowledgment, how valuable they are,’’ said Renewal by Andersen marketing director Matt Miller. “We used to think we gave an award just for performing something that management wanted. This year, we’re rewarding people for going above and beyond, doing things we didn’t ask for, thinking on their own and excelling.’’

Neal Orczyk, the leader of a canvassing crew that scours neighborhoods and towns for new sales leads, said the company solicits employee input on both business issues and smaller matters. When the canvassing team met an ambitious yearly goal, for example, managers gave employees a choice for their reward: dinner at a fancy restaurant or tickets to a mixed martial arts fight.

No one picked the restaurant.

“I pay $50 just to watch [mixed martial arts] on pay-per-view, so to see it live, it’s pretty darn exciting,’’ Orczyk said.

South Shore Hospital celebrated its position on the Top Places survey by sending a letter and gift card out to all its employees and volunteers.

“Our senior leadership really wanted to acknowledge that it’s the whole organization that makes this a good place to work,’’ said Sandra Geiger, vice president for performance excellence at the Weymouth hospital.

Still, Geiger said, the organization wants to improve. “We were mad that we weren’t in the top three,’’ she said.

Geiger said the hospital will highlight the designation again at its quarterly town hall meetings this month, the first since the Globe list was released. The meetings, which Geiger called a hallmark of the hospital’s culture, feature an open question-and-answer session with top management.

Jake Smith, a food service worker, said the hospital is “an amazing place to work,’’ in part because he feels like his opinions are valued. When the cafeteria was renovated recently, for example, employees were asked what modifications would allow them to do their jobs better.

“They asked my opinion, what would work better for us, because we’re the ones who work with it daily,’’ Smith said. “Things like that make you feel involved.’’

Globe correspondent Calvin Hennick can be reached at calvinhennick@yahoo.com.