Food & Culture
These Companies Help Employees Find the Perfect Work-Life Balance
Whether it's through company culture or leadership, these local employers are getting it right.
By Sheila Mickool With Megan Lamb January 1, 2018
Check out the rest of Seattle’s Best Places to Work from our January issue.
Whether it’s because of the company culture or the leadership, these are a few of our local employers that are helping their workers put the balance in the work-life equation.
Bellevue, 200 employees
Limeade helps other companies maximize employee engagement, and works to foster a culture that supports work-life integration for its employees. Employees praise the company’s generous flexibility policy, with 98 percent reporting that they are able to take time off from work when they think it’s necessary. “We work to build a culture focused on trust and autonomy, so that flexibility can flourish,” says Laura Hamill, Ph.D., Limeade chief people officer and managing director of Limeade Institute. “We actively encourage employees to take their vacations, find days to work from home, opt for flexible work hours and take well-being breaks during the day.”
Images of well-known people (real and imagined) and quotes from them (including this one from Yoda: “Try not. Do…or do not. There is no try.”) are on the walls at Accolade’s downtown Seattle office, designed to inspire employees including (left to right) company leaders Ivor Horn, MD, Ankita Jain, Greg Forrest, Sarah Martino and Mike Hilton.
Seattle, 60* employees
When changing the world is the goal, the only way to achieve it “is to do it together with people we enjoy, respect and trust,” says Rajeev Singh, CEO of Accolade, a personalized on-demand health care concierge for employers, health plans and health systems, whose mission is to reinvent the health care experience for everyone.
Singh is proud of the open and transparent working environment that exists at Accolade. The company has recently won two awards for best place to work, scoring high in leadership and benefits programs, which include flexible work arrangements and fully paid family leave. One employee review: “The best organization I ever worked at. Management instills an empowerment environment.” (*Employees in Washington regional office)
Executive sponsors Steven Rice and Pam Yanchik Connealy (standing in center) helped develop the Gates Foundation’s generous family leave benefit. Employees who have benefitted include (left to right) Dave Cohen, Tasha Ockfen, Lavina Bhagat, Lauren Neel, Jim Milne and Nelson Khov.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Seattle, 1,500+ employees
Revered globally for its core belief that all lives have equal value, and for the action it takes in support of its vision, the Gates Foundation is a magnet for deeply committed individuals, many of whom are internationally known for work in their respective fields. In surveys, 100 percent of responding employees say that the company has special and unique benefits, and 97 percent say they are proud to tell others they work for the Gates Foundation. Favorite benefits include unlimited paid time off, 52 weeks of fully paid parental leave and flexible schedule options, which 70 percent of respondents use.
Members of the Housing Hope team relax in an area outside their offices where outdoor food events are sometimes held in the summer. From left: Siobhan Ecker, Lynda Plummer, Stef Zandell, Kateri Mottaz, Bridget LaRock and Todd Fast. The garden area is also used to teach children attending Tomorrow’s Hope Childcare about plants, and growing flowers and vegetables.
Everett, 150 employees
One of the most respected nonprofits in the region, Housing Hope provides a wide range of services in Snohomish County for struggling families, focusing on housing, jobs and children. The nonprofit spent three years transforming the culture of the organization for its employees into one of two-way communication, hope (by encouraging employees to imagine what might be) and affirmation (showing appreciation for what is and challenging employees to bring forward best practices).
“We wanted to create a place where everyone could flourish, both in their lives and at work—and where employees knew we cared about them as people,” says Todd Fast, director of human resources and administration. Benefits include an employer-paid employee assistance program to help employees with personal issues, discounts on on-site child care and the FunHub, an employee group that organizes events to bring staff together.
Emily Fraser of Housing Hope.
Employee Profile: Housing Hope’s Emily Fraser
Administrative assistant, human resources and administration. On the job: 2 years
How does Housing Hope support work-life balance?
“I get to do what I do best and what I love. My manager realized I’m both an ‘eyes up’ and an ‘eyes down’ kind of person—meaning that I thrive with people, yet also enjoy very analytical and detailed work. They put me in a job where I have lots of face-to-face contact helping people, but also spend quiet time preparing reports and handling paperwork.”
You mentioned company-wide meetings—what are they like?
“We talk about goals and what’s going on. When you believe in an organization, meetings are fun and you feel good. I come away energized; it’s like a pep rally. I feel connected.”
MOD Pizza founders believe that taking good care of employees will lead to employees taking good care of customers. Clockwise from left are Tona Rock, Vince Lopez, Vincent Vilay, John Mancuso, Jake Datson and Daniel Bayou, pictured at the company’s downtown Bellevue location.
Seattle, 5,000+ employees
Founded in 2008 by Scott and Ally Svenson, MOD Pizza offers artisan-style pizzas that are made on demand and ready in minutes. But when they started MOD, which has more than 270 outlets now in the United States and the United Kingdom, the Svensons wanted to do more than make pizza. They created a business that has a positive impact in the lives of their employees and their communities, with programs that include above-average pay, donating 100 percent of all pizza sales to a local nonprofit on opening day, giving $1 from every pizza sold in stores on Thanksgiving to a local nonprofit that supports at-risk youth and families and providing a second chance to individuals facing barriers to meaningful employment, including those with Down syndrome, brain injuries and criminal backgrounds. The Svensons believe that if they take care of their employees, those employees will take care of the customers, and the business will take care of itself.
Overlake Medical Center gets kudos for employee engagement. Pictured around a low-dose CT scanner are, left to right, Lyle Bautista, Kristi Harrington, MD, Teresa Penington, RN and Michael Wade.
Overlake Medical Center
Bellevue, 2,900+ employees
In 2017, overlake medical center was named Workplace of the Year by a company that recognizes hospitals and medical systems nationwide that have outstanding levels of employee engagement, defined as employees who are loyal, committed and go above and beyond what’s expected to help the organization succeed. Employee reviews of Overlake cite the professionalism of the staff and the leadership, as well as the organization’s efforts to create a best-in-class work environment. “Our employees are our greatest asset,” says J. Michael Marsh, Overlake chief executive officer. “What stands out first and foremost is our team’s collective commitment to providing the best care for our patients.” Employees praise the excellent benefits, which include generous paid time off.
PSE employees gather in a company breakroom where someone is usually working on a puzzle, and where they can check out equipment that’s part of the PSE Athlete program. From left to right are Nadine Loken, Tyler Carnes, Nickole Dixson, Travis Englehart and Soteara Marquardt.
Puget Sound Energy
Bellevue, 3,000+ employees
Four years ago, the region’s largest utility company set out to improve the physical, emotional and financial health of its employees by launching MyWellness at PSE, a series of programs and tools for employees, says Michele Ritala, health benefits program manager for Puget Sound Energy (PSE).
For example, the PSE Athlete program helps employees learn to move and feel their best. An online financial wellness program is designed to reduce stress by helping employees learn how to budget, save and pay off debt. More than 77 percent of eligible employees participate in the programs. “If you’re not investing in your employees, there’s really not much more to invest in. People are first and foremost at PSE,” says Kimberly Harris, CEO of the utility.
Michele Ritala of Puget Sound Energy.
Employee Profile: Puget Sound Energy’s Michele Ritala
Health benefits program manager. On the job: 3 years.
How do you define work-life balance?
“To me, it’s being able to structure my work schedule so I can get in my (almost) daily workout; or to have flexibility so I can fit in a doctor or dentist appointment.”
How does PSE help you achieve it?
“My manager allows flexible start times for work, which I vary by the season so I can take advantage of available daylight (so I can ride my bike to work, for example). I can also work from home a few days per month, so I can meet personal commitments.”
Chelsea Peart draws an image on a glass wall—usually used for meeting notes—in the WE Bellevue offices, expressing the way many employees feel about the company. Behind her, left to right, are Simone Arnoldy, Regina Carter, Tyler Hughes, Andy Gavlinski and Timothy Gabriel.
WE Communications (formerly Waggener Edstrom)
Bellevue, 800 employees
Employees say this woman-owned global PR firm walks the talk about work-life balance—offering employees generous paid time off to volunteer time for the charity of their choice, career-building classes and opportunities and work-from-home and telecommuting options. “We want to reward our employees in ways that support their whole life,” says chief talent officer Kate Richmond.
Mission accomplished, if senior account executive Miesha Swensen is any example. “Our opinions matter; we are encouraged to talk about what’s working and what’s not. We are encouraged to take time off and recharge. The people here are inspiring; I feed off their energy and knowledge, absorbing everything like a sponge,” Swensen says.
Miesha Swensen of WE.
Employee Profile: WE’s Miesha Swensen
Senior account executive. Time on job: 2 years.
What are you most passionate about at work?
“Diving in on new clients. Digging in to determine what their business is, what the mission is—and figuring out how we can creatively and strategically help them achieve it.”
For you, what does work-life balance/integration mean?
“It means work and life have separate spaces, but when something needs to be taken care of, I have the flexibility to step away from the office. Friends and family understand, too, that when business pops, I want to handle it.”
How does the company support work-life balance?
“I am able to work remotely. So, if the dog gets sick, working from home is an option; and we all work from home on Friday. Another great thing is Summer Fridays. From July 4th through Labor Day, we all stop work at 2 p.m. and share the fun things we do on our social channels.”
Managing shareholder John Forrest (center) engages Sweeney Conrad employees in pingpong; left to right are Michelle Peters, Melanie Abigania, Drew Whitman and Kristina Chee. Behind them are pennants representing colleges attended by employees.
Bellevue, 50 employees
This locally owned accounting firm gets high marks for treating employees like family and encouraging them to maintain a healthy balance between career and personal goals. “Leadership genuinely supports and values you as an individual,” Michelle Peters, CPA, wrote in the company blog, noting that because Sweeney Conrad is a midsize firm, the company’s partners and managers can more easily offer the career guidance that might be less available at a larger firm. A nice touch during tax season: The company maintains a coffee cart and barista on site for the duration. Espresso drinks are free and made to order.
Zillow team members gather in one of the company’s many communal spaces in their downtown Seattle offices, where free snacks are always on offer. From left to right: Lacey Tillett, Edith Zhang, J.P. Altamirano, Sean Hawkins, Kates Christensen, Teresa Ashcraft, Heather Palmer, Rich Mroz, Alan McCarthy, Vann Tang, Michelle Anderson, Stephanie Ronay and Emery Desper.
Seattle, 3,000+ employees
With worldwide revenues of more than $800 million, this real estate database company has been wildly successful since it was established in 2006. Despite the strains of growth, Zillow takes care of its employees and they, in turn, are fanatically loyal. In reviews, 96 percent of employees say they are proud to work at the company, and 95 percent say the company provides special and unique benefits. For full-time employees, benefits are top of the line and include retirement plans, unlimited paid time off, paid maternity and paternity leave, 100 percent company-paid health coverage for employees and 80 percent company-paid health coverage for dependents.