Best Places to Work HR Roundtable Recap

Blog post

Author: Rachel Druckenmiller, Director of Wellbeing

According to a recent report by Deloitte, the role of HR is shifting from that of Chief Talent Officer to that of Chief Employee Experience Officer. With this shift comes an expectation that the workplace will provide experiences, not just a job to do. Companies that engage their employees in those ways and show appreciation will retain and recruit top talent.

Employees want to engage in meaningful, memorable, fun experiences. They want opportunities to learn, grow and contribute.

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SIGU Roundtable Series Thumbnail.pngLast month, we hosted a Best Places to Work HR roundtable with a panel of HR leaders who work at companies that have been recognized multiple times as top workplaces. We had a range of employers representing both privately owned and publicly traded companies, blue and white collar employees, and a variety of industries. Our panelists were Kathy Humm with Harkins Builders, Lisa Morris with COPT, and Rebecca Perry with Direct Mortgage Loans.

They shared their secrets to success along with their challenges and struggles. Even the "best" places to work have areas for improvement and opportunities for growth.

We asked the HR leaders why they want to be recognized as a best place to work, why it matters to them. We explored what they and others in the room are doing to foster workplaces where people want to come to work and are less likely to leave. Here's what we learned.

Why Being Recognized as a Top Workplace Matters

One leader shared that one of their goals is to "make the list" to show prospective employees that their company is a great place to work. The awards can speak for themselves, though a dysfunctional culture hidden beneath a stack of awards will eventually be exposed. These companies know that making the list gives them more recruitment power and serves as free marketing to employees looking to work for a company that cares.

Lisa from COPT shared her company's journey marked by recent shifts in leadership in the C-suite and a focus on engaging employees in the midst of that change. They brought on a new COO and multiple other senior leaders. The COO dedicated a portion of the first six months of his job to traveling to all of the company offices and meeting with the building technicians. He wanted to hear from them firsthand what is working and what the company could do better EmployeesEmployees felt heard, seen and like they mattered. I chatted with a few of the techs at a company event in the fall, and when I asked them about this new leader, they smiled and said, "He's great. He's like one of us." With all of the role transitions complete, COPT is looking forward to the future with hope and excitement.

Rebecca Perry from Direct Mortgage Loans offered a different perspective. The partners of her company (not HR) strive to be a great workplace because of their history of not feeling heard or valued by their previous employer. They redesigned their mission, vision and values to align with what matters most to them. Their new focus? How many families are we going to help vs. how many loans are we going to sell? Rebecca shared a story of a woman who was told she would never own a home. The team worked with her to give her hope and confidence that the future she dreamed of was possible. Now, she owns a home and invited the whole mortgage team to celebrate with her in a ribbon cutting ceremony.

When we reframe what we do as something that feels more meaningful and impactful to people, our employees will be more likely to get behind it.

Rebecca talked about the importance of letting go of employees who drag down everyone around them. They had some tough decisions to make, even letting go of people who had been with the company for years, but they were planning with the long term future in mind. Sometimes we have to make tough decisions to protect and preserve the culture we are trying to create. They have several employee-run committees with autonomous decision-making power. The pride committee focuses on serving the community, and a member from each branch is included. The company wants to make sure everyone from each office has a voice and can engage in initiatives that are meaningful to them and the people are their specific location. Direct Mortgage Loans also has a growth and customer experience committee to strategize and implement ideas in both of those areas.

People only support what they help create.

If you want people to be engaged, invite them to be a part of the process, give them a voice, and let them make autonomous decisions.

Kathy Humm shared that the trifecta for retention and recruitment for Harkins is culture, people, and benefits. Harkins' culture empowers and encourages them to advocate for themselves and their growth. They've created positions that didn't exist before when the time has called for that. They are intentional about their hiring process and focus on bringing in "A" players. Kathy had this to say about their recruiting process:

We don't hire to fill a position. We hire for a career.

Harkins' 95% retention rate is a sign that what they are doing is working.

Our CEO, Richard Silberstein, facilitated the panel and asked each of the panelists what their organization is doing to promote wellbeing across the dimensions of career, physical, community, and financial wellbeing.


In addition to some of the insights and practices shared above that demonstrate to employees that they matter and have opportunities to grow, here are a few of the initiatives our clients employ to support employees' in their careers:

  • 100% tuition and certification degree reimbursement. One of the legacies left by Harkins' leadership is a commitment to education. Regardless of where someone pursues a degree, as long as it is related to their work, Harkins reimburses employees on a scale based on grades earned.
  • Because their offices are spread out across the country, COPT  implemented Brainshark, a presentation platform, as part of the onboarding process to bring employees up to speed with company practices prior to meeting in person with new employees.
  • Direct Mortgage Loans is proud of their biweekly one-on-one coaching style management sessions. They seek to understand what their employees want to do in the future, where they want to go, and what their path is. The coaching relationship is rooted in support and support for growth.
  • Emily Plahanski with SHIFT shared that her organization uses 15five, a tool that makes continuous employee feedback simple to drive high-performing cultures. In addition to weekly pulse checks on how employees are feeling in their job, the portal creates an environment for offering shout outs to peers, which is one of the most popular features.


When it comes to physical wellbeing, employers offer a variety of opportunities for employees to enhance their physical health, including onsite educational workshops, leadership and management training around self-leadership, interactive cooking demonstrations, meditation sessions, team walking challenges, yoga classes, annual health fairs, golf outings, an onsite basketball court, a biking group, and teams for 5k walks and runs.

Taylor Technologies offered a country line dancing class to their employees this past year, and it was so popular that they are bringing the instructor to their company holiday party! We are eager to tap into that resource and bring line dancing to our company as well.


Paying it forward, serving those in our community, and giving back in some way is a significant aspect of wellbeing. We know that volunteerism is linked to reduced rates of anxiety and depression and a more positive outlook on life. COPT offers their employees eight hours of paid time off to engage in community service efforts. They call it "Donate 8".

Some of the service initiatives the panelists and other attendees engaged with are: Simple Sacrifice - Making meals on Sunday for the homeless; House of Ruth angel tree project; school supply, coat, and blanket drives; charitable walks & runs for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and American Heart Association; Catholic Charities & Villa Maria, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Real Estate Games, and Rebuilding Together.

One attendee in the room, Maryland School for the Blind, offered some of their events as opportunities for partnership and service. They host a track and field tournament in the spring for their students and need lots of volunteers, including guide runners. If you are interested in learning more about that opportunity to serve, let me know, and I can connect you.


As the daughter of a financial planner, I have to admit I'm a bit biased about the importance of this category. Most employees are struggling with some aspect of their finances, so companies that offer support for their employees are providing a potentially life-changing service.

A few ways the panelists support employees' financial wellbeing are: offering $250 to see a financial adviser through Lighthouse Wealth (if they have a spouse, the spouse participates, too!); profit-sharing, employee stock ownership program (ESOP); partnering with a local bank to provide seminars about debt consolidation and home buying; SmartDollar coaching sessions and platform; and bringing in advisers to provide guidance regarding budgeting, saving, social security and Medicare.


In addition to all of the great services and opportunities these organizations offer their employees, they still face challenges, like all of us do.

Change can be particularly difficult with tenured employees, who are used to the way things have always been. To address that concern, Harkins organized focus groups that met offsite and included tenured employees with no one from the HR team present. The goal was to figure out what's working, what are their concerns and what would they like to see in the future.

Reaching remote locations and communication (which tend to go hand in hand) are other challenges companies are facing. Attendees offered a few suggestions for how to address these challenges, including slack, Facebook's Workplace platform, and Calendar Wiz. Using videos for communication has become popular as an engaging and effective approach to reach employees anywhere. Employees are more likely to watch a quick video, whether it's an announcement from the CEO or advertisement for an event, than they are to read an email, though some employees still prefer email for communication. Utilizing a variety of communication methods is likely the best way to make sure your messages are heard and seen by employees.

If you'd like to learn more about what our organization does to promote employee career, financial, social, physical and community wellbeing, check out my last LinkedIn pulse post on the topic: SIGSpark: One Company's Quest to Come Alive.

How about you? What does your organization do to promote connection, growth, and community involvement? What have you found sets you apart as an employer of choice? Feel free to comment below!

Want to cultivate your culture?

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