A good number of people I've worked with over the past 10 years and I have been reflecting on our time working for a place that turned out to not be what we thought it was. In doing so, it is so easy to get caught up in the bad things, that it is hard to reflect on the parts that were good.
I had started working on a list of the good things last year, and shelved it. As a good friend of mine has been sharing about their family's experience in podcast form, I was reminded of one of the big good things, which I will get to in a moment.
I actually want to extend this to the previous two places I have worked. The first actually had a really good, healthy culture, and I left there to work for a place I thought was even better.
I should add, a lot of these benefits or activities might be more appealing to extroverts. Even as a somewhat introverted person myself, I look back on these as good times.
Food and Fellowship
My first employer out of college, CARFAX, had a tradition called Free Lunch Friday. It evidently is something that has continued, and is something that is done both in the development offices in Missouri, as well as the corporate offices in Virginia. At least for the time I worked there, the tradition in the Missouri offices was that each of the development teams (about 5 or 6 when I started, probably 12 or so when I left) would take turns picking a caterer, prepping the lunch room, doing the setup, sometimes picking the food up, and doing the cleanup after lunch. This took maybe 2 hours for the team on their given Friday. This was done every Friday, and gave a chance for the entire office to eat together. Our budget was somewhere between $5-10 per person, so this was a very inexpensive way to just have a little fun.
When I left there to go work for The Lampo Group, there was a tradition there of "Lampo Lunch". When I started, this was a weekly gathering, and the HR / operations team would manage the logistics. It felt like the budget was also around $5-10 per person, and staples were Chick-Fil-A, Marcos or Jets Pizza, and sometimes places that were a little more upscale like Amerigo, Bacon and Caviar or Brown Bag. Over time this turned into a huge production (Field Day, Flip Cup, Spelling Bee, etc) , and with that the frequency decreased to at most once a month. By the time I had left, the tradition had stopped, possibly because we had moved into a building with a dedicated cafeteria, though it looks like at least the Spelling Bee came back this year.
I have been extremely blessed to work for three companies that all offered a more or less healthy work-life balance. This has ranged from CARFAX with its 8:30-4:30 schedule and generous 1:20 lunch break (and with a 10 minute drive home meant I could have lunch with the family at home from time to time), to Lampo's promise to have 40-hour work weeks with some flexibility (though 7-4, 8-5 or 9-6 actually works out to 45 hours a week), and now my current employer's "unlimited time off" with very flexible hours.
Lampo / Ramsey Solutions makes a big deal about this on their job postings and career pages:
Family. We balance family and working hard. We have 40-hour work weeks. Really, we do."Family Core Value", from Ramsey In-House (April 11, 2021)
We prioritize work-life balance and rarely exceed a 40-hour work weekRamsey Solutions Java Developer Job Posting (April 11, 2021)
Out of my 9 years there, I can only recall maybe a 2 month period where my team had a tight deadline that required us to work through lunch and work a few extra hours.
Taking Care of Employees in Health Crisis
...There had been an accident, a head-on collision, which took the life of a young mother and her little girl; only the younger child, a baby, had survived. This was the family of a young man who worked for me. We asked the officer if we could tell him, which he said was fine, but he needed to be there to make sure the sad news had been delivered. ... Finding his leader, we figured out he was working with our live events crew that week and so he was over a hundred miles away setting up in an arena. Because the wreck was so big it was going to play on the evening news, so the officer was insistent the young husband get the news very soon. We chartered a jet to go pick him up and got it in the air in a matter of minutes, so that by the time we could get ahold of our young man the jet was almost there. We called a leader on-site and had him plus a few others gather in a hotel room with our young husband. Sadly we had to deliver this horrible news over the phone but then sent him straight to the airport with a leader riding the jet home with him for comfort. We got his family and pastor to meet the jet as it landed so he had as many people as possible who loved him around him in that horrible time of need. That was one of the toughest days of leadership that I can ever recall.EntreLeadership, Chapter 11
This story from EntreLeadership took place before my time at the company. I assume it is true, but I do not personally know who the individual involved was. Using a simple website for calculating such things, it probably cost about $4,000 each way for each of these flights. In the grand scheme of things that's not a whole lot of money, and an extremely generous thing to do to take care of an employee when they are having to deal with a family emergency. This may have happened at least one other time during my time there, but I have not been able to confirm those details.
When our fifth child was born, my wife came down with a serious infection that required us to spend 9 nights in the hospital, and this was just a couple days after we had gone home from her giving birth. This would have nearly exhausted my PTO for the entire year. I don't recall the specific arrangement and don't have access to old e-mails, but my team leader at the time was very generous and basically told me to "not worry about it". We had a "meal train" set up for us by a teammate, and I recall getting more food brought to us by people I worked with than people we went to church with.
I can't go into the details of these stories, but I am (or at least was) family friends with two families who experienced extreme generosity, both monetarily and in the form of extra time off from this company when dealing with major medical issues with their newborns.
Helping New Team Members Move
I wrote about this a long time ago and revisited it this week when Amy was talking about it in her podcast.
Employees showing up to help the new guy move in predates my time at Lampo by quite a bit. The impression I had is this was organically grown out of the development department in particular, and some other departments may have started to do it as well over time. For someone with a young family who is moving to a new city with no connections, having the guys you are going to be working with show up to help you get through part of that stress was very helpful to myself and my wife. I did my fair share of helping people move as well, including helping at least two teammates moving from their temporary setups once they purchased a house.
Now, a friend of mine pointed out the possible negative side of this. Many of us who moved to join that company took pay cuts (for me, 15% or so), and what moving assistance / allowance / reimbursement was offered barely covered (at least for us) renting a UHaul. Having 5-10 guys show up was a great way to roll out the welcome mat and save the new person $300 - 500 in labor (based on what we paid to load up our truck when we left TN). I don't think this was ever a sinister motivation behind this, certainly not by the people that volunteered to help. And, my family is certainly at a place now that it would take a considerable relocation bonus to consider moving to take an in-office job (our ABF Truck move, with loading and unloading easily cost $4,000, and the quotes I got for full service moving was closer to $10k). But for where we were at the time, it was a welcome bit of help.
CARFAX has 3 days of paid volunteer time. Lampo makes a big deal about giving team members a week of ministry / service time. The time had to be spent doing work for an approved ministry or non-profit, but you were paid to go help out. I spent my time most years doing web work for a couple organizations, including a non-profit that helps inmates re-enter society and a group that helps fund adoptions. Some other examples Ministry Time, and the Service Projects (2016, 2019) that the entire company did right before Christmas.
My current employer has something similar, paid volunteer time. There is no time limit specified, only that you need to be able to work around your project commitments. I need to take them up on this.
Lampo also made a big deal out of the annual blood drive (2015, 2016, 2017). It was somewhat well known in the community that the two largest blood drives in the county were Lampo and Brentwood Fire. I worshipped with one of the fire chiefs, and year after year it was always a race for him to see if they could beat Lampo.
CARFAX had its share of family events. Looking back at my photo archives, we had a family picnics, a Thanksgiving potlock (and as of the last one I was there for, families were a part of it, something I did not see at future employers), a couple trips to Cardinals games in St Louis, and I seem to recall a couple "field day" type events. One thing that I recall that was consistent about most of these is that they were either during work hours, and / or included families - they did not take away from family time.
The Ramsey Christmas Party is often cited as being "epic" or "legendary". It indeed is the biggest production of the year, and far more so than any company I have ever worked for. For the first few years I worked there, it was more of a banquet setup - showcasing highlights of the year, celebrating employees that really stood out with various awards, parody video productions, the in-house band (2014) and really, really good food (2014 menu, 2016 menu). The last few years it turned more into a drinking/dance thing more typical of places I used to work (Wild Horse 2018). Employees were given cash to go out for a nice dinner with their spouses and friends before the event. A little more "official" context can be found in ROI of a Company Christmas Party.
Accompanying the event every year has been a Christmas "gift". This has ranged from everyone getting an iPad (2010), to vacation packages, to shopping sprees at Best Buy (2013), Target ($900, 2015, #2), Costco ($1000, 2016, 2017) and the Green Hills Mall ($1,000 - 2018 announcement, 2018, 2019, 2019 #2).
Decorating the office for Christmas also used to be a big deal. It might have peaked in 2009 (the year before I started), but did continue in 2010 with celebrity judges (video at that link no longer works, tweet), and in 2011.
Battle of the Bands
What started out as a small event that took place over a month or two during the weekly lunches, and eventually evolved into a one-night mega event, Battle of the Bands is one of the things you will see Lampo employees talk about a lot. In the end it amounted to a fun evening, but wasn't really a reason I stayed around as long as I did. (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, One Band Going a Bit Over the Top, 2015 Design Contest, 2015, 2016, 2017, BOTB 2018 at Marathon Music Works, 2019, 2019 BOTB Drone Photo (taken by yours truly), 2020.
One thing I have learned over the past two years is that as much good as a place might do, one should not use the good things as an excuse to overlook red flags. In a healthy company culture, fun activities and community service can provide a great way for people to enjoy their time together while doing good things beyond their day-to-day responsibilities, making the culture that much better. In a toxic culture, they can serve as image management to mask some of the things that happen behind closed doors.
Who does these cool things? Well, in my experience, pretty much everywhere I’ve worked after college.
How about you, reader? Did you leave a bad employer? Mixed in with the toxicity and other issues, were there some good things that are worth emulating?
Other Miscellaneous Links
When I started working on this last year, I had grabbed a bunch of links from Twitter. These did not find a home in the final article.
- Tech Team Fajita Bar
- Baseball Game
- Free Shirts
- Free Shirts 2
- Dedicated parking space
- Biggest Loser
- Poker / Cigar Night (if that's your thing)
- Cigar Night
- Halloween (which used to be a big deal)
- Birthday Celebrations
- Dev Birthday Celebration
- Code for the Kingdom