By Joseph Ditzler • The Bulletin

Dani Corley recalls the first time she set foot inside the offices of G5, a software development firm in downtown Bend.

“I came in here with a friend (a G5 employee) dropping off her bike,” Corley, 26, said Tuesday. “There was just this crazy vibe going on here, where people were just hanging out at work. … Everybody was so nice and so pumped to be there, hanging out at work, off the clock, with fellow employees.

“I thought, ‘I’ve got to come work here,’” she said.

Corley said she persisted until one year later, in July, she landed a job at the company front desk, just inside the door of the second-floor, open-space company offices at NW Franklin Avenue and Bond Street. Her desk is close to the beer tap, which is next to the soft-drink cooler that Corley keeps stocked.

The workspace around her gathers an eclectic assortment of office furniture grouped into individual pods, each given a designation by its members — the party pod, the Lebowski pod, the Jong-Il pod.

Three dogs make themselves at home on the floor. A friendly golden retriever escorts visitors on a company tour.

G5 and Deschutes Brewery this year made Outside magazine’s list of 100 best places to work. It’s the third year for the Bend brewery and the second for G5, which showed up on similar lists compiled by Inc. magazine and the Portland Business Journal. Forbes, Fortune and Ad Age magazines all publish similar lists.

The Outside list, the result of anonymous employee surveys, typically touts the perks — pool tables, paid gym memberships, a keg on tap — of its best places to work.

However, workers interviewed at Deschutes Brewery and G5, which provides digital marketing software for property management companies, said the pay and perks are important, but equally important are the cultures these companies cultivate.

They cited workplace environments that value hard work, effective leadership, managers who keep open-door policies, an emphasis on work-life balance and employees having a say in the business.

Their comments “hit the nail on the head,” said Anthony Klotz, assistant professor of management at Oregon State University, in Corvallis. Research shows that a positive organizational culture means more to employees than promotions, pay or idiosyncratic benefits.

“These sorts of things impact you a few times a year when you think about them,” he said, referring to compensation and perks. “What drives employee satisfaction are the factors they encounter every day.”

Similarly, Bob Bussel, a professor of history at the University of Oregon and director of the Labor and Education Research Center there, said employers must do more to attract and retain good workers in an age when spending 15-30 years with one company is the exception. No wonder, he said, that “best places to work” lists often emphasize organizational culture and management style over wages and benefits.

Ownership

One way to retain good employees is to give them a stake in the business.

Deschutes Brewery, which employs 460 people, in 2013 created an employee stock ownership plan that allowed the company to raise capital without bringing aboard outside investors. Employees there said ownership redefines the workplace.

“There’s been a real big shift,” said Erin Rankin, manager of internal communications and community involvement for Deschutes Brewery. “One thing you may have seen is people getting involved wherever they like, speaking their minds, taking ownership, stepping up in the position you’re in or the position you want to be in.”

Matt Bussmann, 41, an inventory control specialist, started on the bottle line 13 years ago. Today, he keeps track of the beer from the day it starts brewing until it leaves the warehouse in kegs or bottles. Most people would take better care of their own car than they would a rental, he said. He said Deschutes Brewery employees recently started calling themselves co-owners.

“It makes perfect sense to me that, as an owner, you’re inherently going to care more and do that extra 1 percent and help a guy out, even if you don’t know the guy,” Bussmann said. “Just because we’re all in this together.”

A 2008 report by the National Bureau of Economic Research found, based on surveys of more than 40,000 employees, that ownership plans motivate employees to work harder. Employees with a stake in the business also worked more efficiently with less supervision and reported greater loyalty to the firm.

The study also found that employee ownership, combined with other policies that encourage high performance, creates a corporate culture through which all those values are expressed.

Approachability

Four employees from G5 and Deschutes who were interviewed said they’re expected to work hard and put the customer first, but their hard work is recognized with time off to ski or flexible scheduling, for example, in addition to good pay and benefits.

“You’re expected to do your job,” said brewer Callan Vaccaro, 28, who started with Deschutes Brewery four years ago as an Oregon State University intern. “And people know you’ll do your job.”

The job comes first, but the four workers described relaxed workplace environments and employee-manager relationships that border on the informal. They also described managers that encourage curiosity, provide mentorship and model the leadership they expect subordinates to emulate.

“I had lunch with the (chief financial officer, Gunnar Hansen) today,” said David White, 44, G5 service delivery manager and five-year employee, “just because he wanted to go to Bend Burger.”

Approachable managers and executives who share information, good and bad, about the company encourage employees to feel more like family, White said. The 10-year-old company, with about 180 employees, may experience ups and downs, but White said he feels he’s treated fairly and tries to do likewise for the six people who report to him.

“I want them to see me interact with my bosses in a way that lets them know they can approach me in the same way,” he said.

Managers who treat employees fairly and with respect are not necessarily weak, Klotz said. Employees respond best to supervisors that hold people accountable but treat them fairly.

“Treating employees well is not antithetical to being a very demanding employer,” he said. “Employees will work hard for a transformational leader.”

Valuing insight

At Deschutes Brewery, Vaccaro said he thinks of his supervisors as friends as much as bosses. He described a collaborative atmosphere and, even though he’s on a relatively low rung of the career ladder, said he feels his contribution is respected. He said his co-workers generally enjoy their jobs and have a good time at work.

“A big part of it is having a say now,” he said. “They listen to us a lot more about what direction we want the company to take.”

The Deschutes Brewery and G5 employees separately said employee committees help set the tone, define the culture and provide employee input on their companies’ directions.

White said the G5 values board of 15 to 20 employees compiled the five company values that show up on posters, mouse pads and pint glasses around the office. The board also meets regularly to review company strategy, he said. Company executives hold monthly all-hands meetings to share updates. Even lacking an ownership share, employees feel engaged at G5, White said.

“My family calls it Disneyland in Bend. It doesn’t seem possible,” he said. “But what’s awesome is we’re part of this machine, and it’s working, and it’s a collaborative effort.”

At Deschutes Brewery, Bussmann said the culture committee helped pare the list of East Coast cities where the company plans to build a second production brewery. The committee also meets regularly and part of its work is defining the workplace culture, he said.

“That’s part of what we’re trying to get at … to more clearly define what makes us us, and use it as a tool for training and hiring,” he said. “Once you’re here and you’re in the environment, it just sort of creeps into you. It’s contagious.”

Klotz said “best places to work” lists that highlight quirky benefits often hide the fact that those companies set strong foundations from the start: mutual respect, transparency at the top and accountability. Without that foundation, he said, an on-site gym or company beer keg are a waste of money. In that sense, those companies deserve the recognition.

“What I’ve learned from this company has made me a better person,” Corley, of G5, said. “That sounds so cheesy.”

Added White: “But it’s the truth.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7815, jditzler@bendbulletin.com

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