Best Employers in NC: Sea Change

 In Features, March 2016

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Chair massages, college scholarships for your kids, yoga, even working when you want — perks on this year’s lists of Best Employers in North Carolina have come a long way since the survey asked whether businesses offered direct deposit.

It would be hard to top nCino, No. 1 among small-to-medium companies, for coolest perk: free paddleboarding or surfing lessons every Thursday during warm months. The Wilmington company clears most categories Business North Carolina selected from a much longer index compiled by Best Companies Group, which polls employers on everything from average salaries to hiring and promotion practices, while asking employees about job satisfaction, access to training and technology, work environment and their relationships with supervisors. 

Worker perks have changed significantly since Peter Burke launched Best Companies Group in 2004, with many companies today focused on creating distinctive environments. “It’s not so much what things people are adding or doing in terms of policy or fun stuff — all of that is part of a culture. What’s happened is companies are paying attention to employee engagement, and it has now become part of the management strategy: How do we attract and retain a great workforce?”

For the fourth year, Business North Carolina teamed with the Harrisburg, Pa.-based company  and the N.C. State Council of the Society for Human Resource Management to determine the state’s best places to work. Wilmington-based Live Oak Bank ranked No. 1 among small-to-medium companies on our inaugural list and again in 2015. This year, the nation’s second-largest SBA lender moved to the list of large employers — those with at least 250 employees —  where it once again dominated. The company opened in 2008 and went public last July.

nCino, a software company that spun out of Live Oak in 2012, is new to Best Employers. Danella Stephany joined the company as one of its first employees. After 16 years working for traditional banks, she says, she was “scared to death” to join the startup. Now, her husband works there, too. They bring their kids to the paddleboarding lessons. It’s not so much about the perks themselves, Stephany says, but about the connections they create between co-workers. “I’ve worked in places where you don’t say what you think. It’s 100% not like that here.” A conversation between Stephany and a colleague led to a digital “dashboard” in which different departments can see the same reports.

Best Companies found the same commitment at other companies that participated in the voluntary survey — 92% of respondents say they are engaged at work, compared with a national average of about 40%, says Burke.

“Our workforce is going to get so much more competitive as baby boomers retire,” he says. “We’re going to be in a real labor shortage, so anything you can do to provide a competitive advantage for you as an employer is going to be valuable.”


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