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by Sarah J.F. Braley | April 01, 2004

Engineers from Granite Construction
gathered for posterity
in front of a huge piece of
Caterpillar equipment

In a clip from The Office, the Golden Globe Awardwinning television comedy from BBC America, regional manager David Brent, played by Ricky Gervais, tells his subordinates that a pending merger brings with it some bad news and some good news. The bad news is, “Some of you will los.0e your jobs.” The good news is, “I’ve been promoted.” His staff stares at their manager with a mixture of loathing and disbelief. “You’re still thinking about the bad news, aren’t you?” he pouts.
    One imagines no such scenes play out in the offices of the firms that make Fortune magazine’s annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. Organizations are chosen for this honor mostly by contented employees. One great recurring theme of these workplaces? A sensitivity to employees’ needs for recognition and bonding.
    For this year’s list, 46,526 randomly selected workers from 304 companies filled out a survey called the Great Place to Work Trust Index, created by the Great Place to Work Institute in San Francisco. Their answers accounted for two-thirds of the scores, and information provided by the companies made up the rest.
    M&C spoke with planners at six of the corporations that made the list to find out how they weave the organization’s culture and philosophy into the employee events they oversee.

Fire and ice
SEI Investments might sound like a stuffy Wall Street firm; in fact, employees work at a 90-acre campus in Oaks, Pa. Here, the office floor plan is very fluid, with desks on wheels and “pythons” (clusters of wiring for computers and phones) hanging from the ceiling.
    “Whole teams can move within an hour; you don’t have to call anybody for help,” says Caryn Taylor-Lucia, CMP, director of corporate events for the financial services company.
    SEI encourages teams to get to know each other or celebrate a job well done off-campus, so smaller events like bowling outings are scattered among Taylor-Lucia’s bigger projects.
    One funky companywide celebration is Clean-Up Day, which includes a competition among the 15 floors for the most Dumpsters filled. “There are different points for what you turn in, things like paper, furniture and computer equipment,” says Taylor-Lucia. A big scoreboard is kept in the cafeteria; employees on the winning floor get chair massages. The events team picks the cafeteria’s menu for the day, which is offered free to all employees.
    Taylor-Lucia is most fond of planning the company’s holiday party, an annual black-tie affair at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, because it offers great exposure for her team. Last year’s fire-and-ice theme featured CEO Alfred West emerging from an ice formation, along with entertainment by aerialists and fire-eaters. Four years ago, at the turn of the millennium, many of the tech employees were scheduled to be stuck in the office on New Year’s Eve, on a Y2K vigil. That year the holiday party, themed as a New Year’s event a few weeks in advance, held a countdown at 10:30 p.m.
    Taylor-Lucia has been working at SEI for eight years; it’s easy to see why she says, “I’m never leaving.”