Culture is key to recruiting, retaining top talent

Dec. 1, 2000

Extra-curricular incentives help keep employees focused and relaxed.



Recruiting in the Web space is harder than ever. Employees can readily find and apply to job listings online, are targeted by outside recruiters, and even in a shaky dot-com market, are still able to negotiate hefty compensation packages. And although the trend of outlandish signing bonuses (i.e., trips to Hawaii and BMW leases) no longer holds the same allure, some key tenets must be in place to attract and retain great people. In addition to working for a leading company in their industry, employees are now longing for healthily balanced, challenging environments where they will be appreciated for their contributions.

To meet these needs, organizations and recruiters should begin by asking themselves two very important questions: "Why would top-shelf candidates want to work for our company?", and perhaps more importantly, "Why would they want to stay?"

At Vertebrae, a Web-solutions provider, we answered those questions by asking our employees and recruits what was most important to them. An organization's culture can sometimes extend beyond the physical walls of the office and the hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Supporting employee activities and interests outside of the workplace can demonstrate a commitment to individuals. That commitment in turn supports an overall office culture. Discover things your employees like to do in their personal lives and attempt to integrate those things into quantifiable benefits.

As an example, new Vertebrae employees can choose from one of the following "back pack" offerings designed to foster and support our fun and challenging culture:

  • The mixed-media pack: An annual pass to the zoo or aquarium, and an art-museum individual, dual, or family membership.
  • The on-stage pack: (Choice of one) Repertory theatre tickets (set of 10 throughout the year), symphony tickets, or a season's pass to the opera.
  • The healthy-living pack: (Choice of one) Paid membership to an upscale athletic club, quarterly $100 gift certificates to a spa, or an annual membership to a rock-climbing gym.
  • The Doug pack (named after a Vertebrae applications engineer): (Choice of one) Quarterly passes to Gameworks and a limited supply of movie tickets, a more generous package of movie tickets supplied quarterly, or a more generous package of Gameworks passes.

The back packs all came from ideas generated by our employees. In keeping with the spinal theme, we also refer to our standard benefits package as "backbones," which includes free in-house massages, a healthy parking/commuting allowance, and paid health, dental, and vision coverage. A second and perhaps more critical aspect of employee attraction and retention is a commitment to individual growth, training, and education.

As a way to help employees identify educational opportunities, we created our own career development catalog, called "Vertebrae U." This database of courses and training was designed by our management team and includes something for everyone in our organization. It includes classes at local universities and community colleges and annual training seminars sponsored by leading technology and professional development organizations.

Employees and managers meet twice a year to review performance and make recommendations as to the type of career development necessary to reach their goals in the upcoming six months. The resulting training suggestions then become the responsibility of the employee to fulfill, making Vertebrae U a useful tool in keeping the team sufficiently educated and energized.

Michele Armstrong is director of recruiting at Vertebrae (Seattle). The company's Website is