Employees at a commercial real estate company’s holiday party knew they were in for a surprise. They just didn’t know how big of a surprise it would be.
When workers at St. John Properties, which is headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, finally learned of thebonuses they would receive in celebration of the company’s milestone goal, they screamed. They cried. They laughed. They embraced one another. And they expressed genuine gratitude.
The company paid an especially generous bonus of $10 million to its 198 employees to celebrate the company’s development of 20 million square feet space. Rather than basing the bonus amounts on a percentage of salary, the company based the payments on length of service. The bonuses ranged from $270,000 for the longest-tenured employee with 45 years to $100 for the employee who started that week. The average bonus was around $50,000.
In interviews after the surprise was revealed, employees described the moment of generosity from their employer as “magical” and “life-changing.”
“To celebrate the achievement of our goal, we wanted to reward our employees in a big way that would make a significant impact on their lives,” Edward St. John, the company’s chairman and founder, said in a statement. “I am thankful for every one of our employees for their hard work and dedication. I couldn’t think of a better way to show it.”
“Your employees are the foundation and the reason your company is who it is,” St. John Properties president Lawrence Maykrantz added.
The example provided by St. John Properties is unusual, but it’s important for your business to be competitive in compensation and benefits, said Tony Lee, vice president of editorial for the Society for Human Resource Management.
“There are incredible talent shortages out there right now,” Lee said. “Companies have two big challenges: one, finding and attracting new employees to fill needs and two, keeping the employees they’ve got. And if you’re not paying attention to your compensation package, then you’re going to lose them.”
It’s easy to figure out how competitive your business is on salaries, Lee said. There are pay surveys that show what other companies in your market are paying for the same kinds of jobs, and other research available.
With benefits, your business should offer health care coverage that isn’t lacking, just to be competitive, Lee said. Beyond that, things can get more creative, and they don’t have to cost a lot of money.
“You might look at tactics like increased flexibility: allowing employees maybe to work from home a day or two a week or have a flexible schedule,” Lee said.
Another option might be to not require employees to dress up for work, he said.
“Those are the kinds of things that really don’t cost you anything but have could have great value to your employees,” Lee said.
For Mike Crim, Founder and Lead Strategist at CK Commercial, a construction services firm in Millersville, Maryland, compensation and benefits are part of what sets his company apart from others.
“In our world, commercial general contracting, we felt like there’s an area for something that’s younger, that’s newer, that has an energy that’s not the same old, same old,” Crim said. “The way we started our company is to do everything that fit that mold, to fill the void, to do things differently.”
Commercial construction services can be a real high-stress industry, with project schedules and construction costs always getting cut, Crim said.
“Stress automatically increases because you’re trying to do the unimaginable, essentially,” he said. “And so what we’re trying to say is, even though that we’re going to have this stress as an inherent part of what we do, let’s find ways to kind of alleviate some of that.“
The company covers the cost of medical, vision, dental, short term and long-term disability insurance for its employees, and contributes $2,000 to employees’ health savings account, which is $400 more than the medical plan deductible, so employees don’t have to stress about using their medical benefits.
Some more conventional benefits CK Commercial also offers include life insurance and a 401(k) plan with employer match, tuition reimbursement, and membership in professional organizations.
Crim said the company’s other benefits, such as cold beer or cold-brew coffee on tap, happy hours, and a refrigerator stocked with healthy snacks, are more like what is commonly found in tech companies.
“We bring in a yoga teacher once a month and everyone is invited to join the yoga class. We enlist everyone in the running for the Baltimore Running Festival. The idea is we’re constantly trying to figure out ways to keep people healthy, keep you moving and work together as a group.”
Crim said the company also has frequent fitness challenges. At the time of this interview, the company was about to start a 5-week step count competition. Each week, the employee with the most steps would receive a paid day off, and the winner after five weeks would get a week off.
Among some of the more creative benefits: up to $100 a month of gym membership fees reimbursed per month, with proof of use required, as well as an unlimited reimbursement for personal development books.
“Of all the companies that I have ever worked with, I really think the folks that we have here are more engaged and more interested in the cause and the benefits of being here than I’ve ever seen,” Crim said.
A training company interviewed employees as part of an evaluation of leadership at the company, and those interviews revealed appreciation for the pay and benefits at the company, he said.
Additionally, Crim says he knows the strategy is working because CK commercial was recently named to a list of best places to work in the region, as well as a local list of fastest-growing companies, both of which are competitive and based on research.
Some other possible benefits that don’t cost companies much, according to Lee, including reimbursement of commuting expenses, remote work opportunities, switching to a four-day work week, and sending employees to relevant conferences, even if they’re in Orlando and in the spring.
Some of the more costly benefits that business can provide can really engender employee loyalty include medical insurance that offers 100 percent coverage with no copays, 10 to 12 weeks of paid leave, not just for mothers, but also for fathers, upon the birth or adoption of a new child, and student loan repayment benefits.
“That’s not an inexpensive benefit, but it’s one in which employees who have a student loan would really appreciate the help,” Lee said.”
In an interview the night of St. John Properties’ surprise, Edward St. John explained more about why the company had chosen to reward its employees the way it did.
“I steer the boat, but they’re the ones that run the boat. They’re the ones that make the boat go,” St. John said. “Without the team, we are nothing. We are absolutely nothing.”