It was billed as Crain’s 2007 Cool Places to Work awards and it turned out pretty cool, too. I was handed a pair of sunglasses as I entered the theater where the award ceremony was being held. I felt cool. And so did 60 other companies who were there to pick up their awards handed out by Mary Kramer, the publisher ofCrain’s Detroit Businessmagazine.

This was a chance for me to see why employees voted for their companies as cool places to work for and believe me, there were plenty of good reasons. It also gave me some ideas to pass along toNEWS’readers as they prepare their own ballots in this year’s “Best Contractor to Work For Contest.”

Entrants in the contest had to fill out a survey form that was created by the American Society of Employers (ASE), who judged a total of 127 employers. ASE serves a total of 900 member firms throughout Michigan.

“There was a lot of work that went into this survey,” said Kramer. “And if you work in human resources, you know how much work it was.”

Mary Schroeder, ASE president and CEO, also addressed the attendees and noted, “In many ways, cool is the perfect adjective to describe our objectives. And cool companies are always looking out for what their employees want and implement those needs.”

Some of the characteristics of the 2007 cool survey included:

• More companies getting into telecommuting;

• An increased movement to more childcare and eldercare services;

• Three out of five firms in the survey conducted their own in-house surveys to see what employees wanted.

While leafing through the ASE’s 2007 Cool Places to Work Executive Summary, I noticed some pretty cool things that employers were doing for their employees, including:

• Company-sponsored skating on Fridays during hockey season;

• Stressful days broken up with dance contests and quiz tournaments;

• Video game tournaments and paintball games;

• New employees assigned a “buddy” on first day of work;

• Table tennis and movies;

•Beach volleyball court.


ASE judged the entrants on seven different criteria, listed below. In its Executive Summary, ASE stated, “Cool employers seek talented, motivated, and engaged employees. In a global market, these employees can come from anywhere.”

Rewards- The survey summary added, “Once onboard, they [employees] need to be rewarded. Our survey inquired as to what cool employers are doing to attract and reward employees.”

As far as rewards go, the survey found that 38 percent of companies actually communicate pay ranges or pay scales. In the short term, 81 percent provide annual bonuses while 80 percent provided individual spot bonuses. In the last two years, 52 percent of respondents said they actually increased their cost share of health care.

Work-Life Initiatives- The survey stated that the traditional 8-5/Monday-Friday workweek is “no longer the norm…and that cool employers must embrace alternative work schedules.”

Alternative work schedules, which would relate to HVAC businesses, included compressed workweeks (43 percent offered this), flextime (90 percent offered this), and job sharing (25 percent offered this). The summary also reported that 64 percent of companies offered a formal employee assistance program, 79 percent offered financial/retirement/tax planning, and 19 percent said they are likely to provide financial incentives for participating in wellness programs.

Talent Management- The survey showed that 42 percent of firms said they conducted formal succession planning and 95 percent conducted formal employee performance appraisals. Of that number, 77 percent conduct them on an annual basis.

Cool employers utilized a number of different approaches to employee development programs including internship or co-op programs (72 percent) down to mentoring programs (53 percent).

Communications- ASE commented that cool employers “understand that you get only one chance to make a first impression, because 94 percent of them conduct formal new hire orientations.” The survey also noted that 62 percent of respondents conducted a formal employee survey within the past two years, to “measure the attitudes and perceptions of the workers.”

Some of the more typical means of communications - and ones which could be utilized by HVAC businesses - included employee meetings (98 percent do this), open-door policy (98 percent do this), employee handbooks (87 percent do this), and bulletin boards/signage (86 percent do this).

Corporate Citizenship and Leadership- The survey stressed the importance of ethics and compliance among the cool employers. Of the survey respondents, 71 percent said they have an ethics statement and 63 percent have a formalized reporting mechanism for employees to raise ethical and compliance issues. ASE stated, “With whistleblower claims at an all-time high, it makes sense to create an environment that self-governs compliance and ethical concerns.”

Diversity programs are an important part of the culture of the survey respondents. For example, 73 percent of them said they place special emphasis on outreach programs to diversity organizations/minority groups while 69 percent practiced diversity recruitment.

Work Environment- The survey showed that 66 percent of cool employers have an emergency action plan in the event of unforeseen things happening, e.g., weather conditions or even workplace violence. Another factor affecting the work environment is employee smoking. In the survey, 66 percent of respondents said they prohibit smoking throughout the building while 24 percent do not allow smoking on the company property at all.

The cool employers also went to great lengths to build a family/social environment at work, including 97 percent that said they have holiday parties, 85 percent that offer company-sponsored picnics, 72 percent that provide tickets to cultural/sporting events, and 53 percent that sponsor sporting teams.

Recruitment Activities- The survey found many different means that cool employers use to recruit employees. The most popular methods are Internet employment sites (90 percent), followed by a company Website (88 percent), and employee referral programs (83 percent).

“Of the companies that have an employee referral program, 76 percent provide financial incentives,” the ASE summary reported. “In addition, 58 percent of the cool employers have a formal process for recruiting internal candidates.”

Summing it up, ASE stated companies need to continue to put effort into being creative in their recruiting policies, carrying out workplace policies, practices, and programs, and understanding that the target is always moving. “What it takes next year will be different from what it takes today,” the summary noted.

All-in-all, some employers are pretty cool. Are you cool enough to win the “Best Contractor to Work For?” If so, visit and click on the online entry form. Or look at the ad below.

Visit for more information on ASE or to purchase a summary.

Publication Date:10/29/2007