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A generous workplace is a happy workplace, regardless of price

Years ago, a friend of mine worked at a small newspaper that gave out the craziest Christmas bonuses I’d ever heard of: The paper was owned by a cattleman who at the end of every year would slaughter one of his steers, and employees would line up in the parking lot to get packages of beef.

I don’t know if it was the biblical, fatted-calf aspect of it, or the way everyone lined up like extras in a production of “Oliver!” — “Please, Sir, I want some more” — but I just found this endlessly hysterical.

Now, though, I think I was just being young and snotty.

I’ve been working since I was 16 — I’ve washed dishes, answered phones, delivered hospital trays, conducted surveys and, finally and mostly, reported the news — and gotten the more conventional rewards of office parties and holiday lunches, gift certificates and fancy pens. I’ve had more bosses than I can count, but I could mentally line them up from one end of the generosity spectrum to the other.

There was one, for example, who when he took a couple of his underlings to lunch would suggest only one of us should order a salad with the entree — it cost extra after all — and we could all share it. Like really, is there anything more repellent than the prospect of touching forks with your boss as you both go to stab the same cherry tomato?

Then there was the one who never once forgot a birthday, even after I transferred to other departments and other bosses. It always made me smile to see the card with a personal note on my desk that morning.

And it surely cost no more than a side salad. There’s fiscal responsibility, and then there’s something that suggests a less-than-magnanimous spirit.

I was thinking about this as I scanned the results of The Baltimore Sun’s annual review of Baltimore’s top workplaces and realized that what Tolstoy said about families also could apply to companies — as in, happy workplaces are all alike; every unhappy workplace is unhappy in its own way.

The range of employee-stroking that the top workplaces lavish on their workers may run the gamut from yoga classes to island vacations, from listening to them to offering career-advancing training, but it all springs from a similar place: a sense of valuing and recognizing workers.

Cynic that I am, I may think I’d be an infinitely happier and more grateful employee sunning on an exotic beach than straining into lotus pose. But even I would concede that no matter how much you spend, you really can’t buy gratitude and loyalty if in between those gift-giving occasions you run a workplace with a miserly spirit.

What also struck me about the top workplaces is how they tailored their benefits and perks to their particular employees — depending on where you are in life, what you need from your company can change, from bonding opportunities after work to flexible hours to child care to wellness programs. 

Which may be why I’m feeling nostalgic for my friend’s old boss, he of the freshly butchered meat. He now seems way ahead of the whole locavore, snout-to-tail foodie pack. Imagine that: a boss who fed you, and trendily.

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jean_marbella

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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