Top Workplaces Build Team Environments

The Top Workplaces in the Washington, D.C., area cover vastly varying industries from government contracting to financial services. But similarities quickly emerge. They build team-oriented cultures. No matter their size or age, they seek to retain all the best attributes of small startups. They value people. And they have supported their workers in a variety of ways throughout the pandemic.

Top Workplaces Build Team Environments

Each year, in partnership with the employee engagement firm Energage, LLC, The Washington Post surveys employees at hundreds of companies, nonprofits, and associations to discover the best workplaces and what makes those workplaces unique. Top Workplaces USA recognizes large organizations—those with 150 or more employees and/or operations in multiple markets—that are making the world a better place to work by prioritizing a people-centered culture and giving their employees a voice. More than 1,100 organizations nationwide participated in the Top Workplaces USA survey, issued by Energage.

After this year’s survey, we talked with two companies that were Top Workplaces 2020 winners, Northwest Federal Credit Union and government contractor Chenega MIOS, to find their secret sauce.

Warning: reading this piece may make you jealous to work at one of these workplaces. Good news: both of the ones described here are hiring.

“In the Army, we were used to small, very cohesive groups,” says John “JC” Campagna, president of Chenega MIOS’s Strategic Business Unit. “Chenega is the same way. My first boss told me, ‘Above everything, we have to maintain the entrepreneurial spirit. We don’t want to turn into a large corporation.’ We have had employees suffer hardships, and the culture here is such that the company comes to the rescue to help offset the crisis.”

“We’re big enough to accomplish great things,” says Christopher Burgess, vice president of marketing and communications at Northwest Federal Credit Union. “We’re small enough that you know the other people across the credit union. You know you’re all working toward common goals.’

At Northwest, teamwork is a key concept. But not just teamwork for your own team. Here, teamwork means pitching in to help other groups facing a crunch time to meet the mission of helping customers and clients.

 “During the early days of the pandemic, we trained over half the human resources team to be able to help with Payroll Protection Plan loans,” said Jean Cain, senior vice president of HR and Talent Development at Northwest Federal Credit Union. “These loans were small businesses’ lifeline during the most difficult stages of the pandemic and many were being turned down by their former banks. We knew we had to come together to help businesses in the communities we serve. They’re our neighbors. It’s all about that mission, staying focused and helping people when others would not.”

At Chenega MIOS, which is an Alaska native corporation, one critical factor is remembering the government contractor is a human capital company, Campagna says.

“Our people are our asset and the singular number one factor why we are successful,” Campagna says. “We have been presented with opportunities that, to win the program, we would have had to cut salaries, cut benefits, and sacrifice people’s quality of life. We walked away from those opportunities. Our mentality is: as you continue to grow, you continue to get better.”

No surprise, Chenega MIOS’s attrition rate is about 1.9 percent compared to the industry average of 8-12 percent, says Campagna, who has been at Chenega more than 20 years following a career in the U.S. Army. “We’ve got an extremely long list of personnel who have been with Chenega for over a decade. It is almost like the Army; when you come, you stay.

Similarly, the culture at Northwest Federal Credit Union is one where people stay and move both laterally and up to advance their careers, Cain says.

“Within the last six months, 50 percent of our jobs were filled with internal transfers,” Cain says. “We encourage our employees to move and move up. At least half the human resources staff started in other roles at the credit union. It’s a good way to build a career without having to leave the organization.”

Both companies acted in the early days of the pandemic and throughout to keep employees safe and to maintain morale.

Chenega MIOS formed a crisis management team to look at employees’ health and welfare, Campagna says. Chenega management listened to employees’ concerns and made special accommodations, for example, for employees living with people whose health was compromised. More recently, the company has realized employees are dealing with emotional scars from the stress and has offered mental health support.

Throughout the pandemic, Carolyn Maloney, Chenega MIOS’s VP of Marketing, which includes employees morale initiatives, continued to plan events, this time virtual, such as Zoom happy hours. Overall, company management and leaders contacted employees regularly to make sure all was well, Campagna says.

“Not a single employee went more than a day without someone from the organization checking on them,” he says.

Early in the pandemic, Chenega MIOS switched to remote work, still in place for most employees through the end of FY 21 Sept. 30. For a safer return to the office, Chenega has added plexiglass barriers to employee workspaces, added copper grips on doors for better sanitation, replaced conventional coffeemakers with hands-free pedal-operated machines, Campagna says.

As schools went remote, Northwest Federal Credit Union set up a virtual parent resource center to provide information from every school district where employees live, Cain says. Northwest also compiled online learning resources for different subjects and age groups, information on how to set up a home classroom, and how to manage the stress and fear related to the pandemic.

During the pandemic, Northwest also waived the waiting time for people to receive covid-related disability payments, she says. The credit union also gave employees paid time off to get vaccinated.

In March 2021, Northwest hosted a movie night for employees at a drive-in theater, Cain says. Other events have included virtual happy hours, baby showers, birthday parties and holiday parties. The company sent care packages to employees during the recent credit card transition.

The culture at Northwest also includes giving back: every employee gets 24 paid hours a year for volunteer work at a charity of their choosing, Burgess says.

At Chenega, employees know company leaders will keep their word, Campagna says.

“Our employees know, when we make promises, we keep them,” he says. “When we say we are concerned about their health and welfare, we mean it. They know we have their backs.”


By K.H. Queen, an independent writer in Williamsburg, Va.

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