When Arianna Tellez stopped into Zingerman’s Delicatessen seven years ago after getting lost in downtown Ann Arbor, she left with more than just directions.
Tellez went home that day with a Zingerman's job application, inspired by what she describes as "this joyful feeling at the deli that I couldn't pass up."
"I applied so I could feel that joy just by going to work in the morning," she says.
Tellez intended to work in the deli only for a summer, but after a couple of months she realized that Zingerman’s was exactly where she wanted to be. Today, after honing her skills through several different positions, the 29-year-old is a ZingTrain trainer. Her job involves educating people in other businesses on Zingerman’s best practices.
For years now, Zingerman’s Community of Businesses (ZCoB) has been one of multiple Ann Arbor businesses that set a high local standard for employee treatment.
Living wages, dental and medical insurance coverage, 401(k)s, a community shares program, subsidized massages and meals, and having a voice in decision-making via open-book management are just a few notable perks for all Zingerman's employees.
But it’s the intangible benefits that have become just as meaningful to Zingerman's workers.
"I feel like they listen," says Christopher Domienik, a front-of-house manager at Zingerman’s Roadhouse. "Everyone’s voice has a chance to make a difference."
Domienik expresses appreciation for the way Zingerman's supports him both on and off the job.
"I recently bought a home and my boss and coworkers have helped cover my shifts when I've had to reschedule inspections, go to last-minute bank appointments, or when my basement flooded the day before signing the title," he says.
Domienik adds, "I never felt like I was inconveniencing any of my coworkers, even though I was. But they were more than happy to give me the opportunity to experience this important life step."
ZCoB co-owner Ari Weinzweig says serving his employees and creating a positive workplace benefits both the "ecosystem" of Zingerman's businesses and the broader ecosystem of their community.
"Essentially, the more that an employer can provide a caring workplace, the more likely people will feel good about themselves. And when that happens, employees are going to do better inside and outside of work, and that returns positively to the ecosystem," Weinzweig says.
"I can't help but radiate the happiness"
Marketing communications specialist and blogger Courtney Suciu is living proof of how employers who go above and beyond for their employees can impact the community.
Suciu works at ProQuest, an Ann Arbor-based technology service provider for libraries. She is also a former Zingerman’s employee.
"I was super-nervous about leaving a smaller, close-knit community to work in a more corporate culture, because I imagined that it might be cold and impersonal," she says.
But Suciu says her fears were unfounded. Aside from standard benefits, ProQuest has staff parties where people are encouraged to get to know each other and lots of personal development opportunities.
"I’m allowed to cultivate my role according to my strengths and interests, and I get a lot of encouragement and support," Suciu says. "I’m taken seriously and my insights and opinions matter. It feels really good coming into the building.”
Suciu describes being treated as a person – rather than just a body contributing to getting something done – as being deeply nourishing.
"I take that nurtured feeling out with me and into the world," she says. "For instance, when I am in the grocery store I can’t help but radiate the happiness I felt at the office. So I pass it on and it affects people."
Paid time off for volunteering is another perk for ProQuest employees. This benefit has been especially meaningful to Suciu, who recently won a company award for her volunteerism.
Originally, she had volunteered to be a companion to an elderly man. It was soon determined that the man needed more than a companion. When his social worker reached out to Suciu to become his guardian, things became complicated.
She had to go to court, fill out paperwork, attend meetings, and take the man to doctor's appointments. Her employer was fully supportive of her need to take time off. Suciu is certain that she would not be able to help her elderly friend without that flexibility.
"I’m able to invest in the community and help others feel good because I am seen as a dynamic being with a life outside of work," she says.
ProQuest human resources director Wendy Treppa says running the company with humanity and sincere care for employees is simply the right thing to do and it pays off in the long run.
"We invest in developing careers so that people can grow within the community. This makes for a happier, more rewarding environment and more engaged employees," she says.
A big focus of Treppa's job is to engage a team of people to foster an environment where employees can do their best work. To accomplish this she and her team go well beyond what many consider traditional human resources. A year ago, it was brought to her attention that ProQuest didn’t provide benefits for new parents of adopted children.
"This was a blind spot for us," Treppa says. "When we realized the benefit we could provide, we were able to adjust our policy to be more inclusive."
Better culture through communication
Being open to that kind of input is a good way to improve company culture, according to Mickey Swortzel, CFO and owner of New Eagle Consulting,
The Ann Arbor-based engineering consulting company won a Cool Places to Work 2018 award from Crain's. The accolade spotlights companies with outstanding company culture and the winners are selected based on employee surveys.
"We are proud of that award, which reflects the foundational values that have been woven throughout the organization," says Swortzel.
One of the company’s core values is teamwork. Swortzel notes that while this isn't unique, it frames the way she approaches her staff.
“We filter our time and resource decisions around what is best for the whole team,” she explains.
New Eagle offers a standard benefit package, but in 2018 the company added a college loan payoff/save-up program for employees. This perk allows New Eagle to make financial contributions towards helping employees pay off existing college loans and save for future tuition.
"We thought this was a unique benefit that met the needs of our two largest demographics – new grads and those with young families," Swortzel says.
In addition, money is allocated each year to promote company culture through celebration lunches and after-hours events.
Swortzel stresses that a company’s culture can be very powerful. She explores this in a short ebook she wrote called Engineering Your Happiness: Five Ways Your Company’s Culture Should Make Your Life Better.
Available for download on her company’s website, it was written with New Eagle’s technical team in mind, but Swortzel says anyone can benefit from it. The book echoes many of Zingerman's and ProQuest's shared values when it comes to investing in employee wellbeing.
"... (W)e believe we have a personal responsibility to help you reach your unique goals and pursue your personal passions," Swortzel writes. "When we do that, we help you create an interesting and exciting career path – and we get experienced, committed, knowledgeable engineers that can help our customers in many ways."
Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently in based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photos by Doug Coombe.