By Sherri Dalphonse, Mary Clare Glover, and James Michael Causey
Forget the sluggish economy, government shutdowns, and furloughs. Information-technology firms in Washington are hiring like crazy—making the competition for talent stiff. "A good person can have 10 to 15 job offers if they want, easy," says Rashad Moore, CEO of Software Theoretic, one of this year's great places to work. "I personally—and I own the company—get e-mails from two or three other companies a day asking if I want to come work with them. So I imagine my team members are getting those, too."
To attract top candidates, many IT firms offer generous salary and benefits—from fully paid health-care premiums to unlimited vacation—and make sure employees are content. It's no surprise that many of this year's 50 Great Places to Work are IT firms.
How We Choose the Winners
Any employer interested in consideration first filled out an application asking about everything from vacation time to charitable outreach and employee turnover. We then surveyed a sizable sampling of each firm's employees to see if they enjoyed working there. Worker satisfaction is a major part of each company's score. An employer can offer great-sounding benefits, but it isn't a great place to work if the staff doesn't feel supported, rewarded, and heard.
Government agencies were chosen differently. To determine good federal workplaces, we consulted with the Partnership for Public Service, which does its own ranking of best places to work as a public servant.
What Makes Employees Happy?
"Many people think salary is the deciding factor about job satisfaction, and no doubt it does rank highly," says Leora Lawton of TechSociety Research in Berkeley, California, who designed our surveys and analyzed the data. But she says salary is "second to having a job that provides opportunity for career development and advancement. Personal and professional growth is what gives people a sense of purpose.
"The next important driver of job satisfaction is what one could call the 'warmth' of the office: Does it feel like a place you want to go to? Do you get along with the people you work with?"
Another key factor is how much flexibility an employer allows.
"Flexibility, in many ways, is part and parcel of what it means to have a good job—one that allows you to balance other parts of your life," Lawton says. For many workers, being able to come and go as needed and the ability to telecommute correlated most with satisfaction.
We considered more than 200 workplaces and compared like with like—small companies with other small companies, nonprofits with nonprofits, and so on. Competition this year was the toughest since we started Great Places to Work in 1999, as more workplaces seem to be paying attention to what makes an employer of choice.
Just because an employer isn't on this list doesn't mean it's not a great place to work—many choose not to apply. And just because a company can be found here doesn't mean it's right for everyone. But the good news is that most of our winners are hiring—because we also looked at how firms are faring in this economic climate.
/ 41 Employees
Advanced Simulation Technology
ASTI, which builds communications products for the training-and-simulation industry, isn't for everyone: A "flat" organization with lots of autonomy, it's best for self-starters. Not that employees mind—the average tenure is ten years, and there's little turnover. Benefits include fully paid health-care premiums, a contribution equal to 7 to 9 percent of each employee's salary in a retirement account, high pay, good work/life balance, and use of a mountain cabin in West Virginia.
/ 5,094 Employees
After enduring years of business ups and downs, employees say the company has turned around and has an "exciting" start-up feel again. The 1,450 local staffers love the flexibility, the transparency, and a "cool" culture in which people ride scooters through the buildings or work outside on a nice day. Other perks include a subsidized cafeteria, free fitness classes in the gym, an on-site daycare center, and mountain bikes available for use.
/ 44 Employees
The work is bleeding-edge—APX creates Google Glass-type software for "deskless" workers such as physicians. The pay is high, the firm is growing, and the atmosphere is young and fun (think Nerf-gun fights). The hours are long, but employees get fully paid health care and their vacation days are not tracked.
/ 85 Employees
Association of State and
Territorial Health Officials
This national membership organization advises and represents the leaders of public-health agencies, and employees get satisfaction knowing that they're helping improve health policy around the country. With a generous retirement-plan contribution of 11.75 percent of salary and flexible work schedules (75 percent telecommute at least once a week), ASTHO is creating healthy and happy employees, too.
/ 49 Employees
Association of Women's Health,
Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses
Staffers at this nonprofit are passionate about the work they do to improve health care for women and newborns. They also rave about the generous compensation and flexibility, which includes a 35-hour week combined with options to work from home, set their own hours, or choose a compressed schedule.
/ 102 Employees
This start-up—backed by former Apple CEO John Sculley—develops technology aimed at helping consumers be healthier, such as its Zensey website. No surprise, it pays attention to its own employees' health, with unlimited vacation and sick leave, fully paid health-care premiums, free healthy lunches four times a week, standing desks that employees can use, a massage chair, a meditation room, and great work/life balance (75 percent telecommute at least once a week).
/ 258 Employees
Although this government contractor has grown by 30 percent in both size and revenue since 2011, employees say it has kept its small-company feel, with supportive leaders who treat them with a great deal of respect. (When health-care premiums went up, for example, the increase came out of company profits.) Staffers praise the interesting work—clients include the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—as well as the pay and flexibility.
/ 115 Employees
Brailsford & Dunlavey
This firm oversees planning and construction for universities, performing-arts venues, and stadiums—including Nationals Park—and employees are proud to help build community. B&D has also built a good place to work, with a fully paid PPO health plan, quarterly bonuses, a 7.5-percent 401(k) contribution, and frequent promotions.
/ 593 Employees
Carfax's vehicle-history reports help consumers buy used cars with more confidence. The mission isn't all that drives employees: They praise the work/life balance, autonomy, continual learning, and friendly and fun culture. Team-bonding opportunities include playing miniature golf or shuffle puck, free Friday lunches, and charity bike rides.
/ 31 Employees
Cassaday & Company
With an average tenure of ten years, employees at this wealth-management firm say it's a second family. They're well cared for, with free gym memberships, catered breakfasts and lunches once or twice a week, and early-release days to beat holiday traffic at Tysons Corner. Thanks to profit sharing, 82 percent say that the pay is higher than industry average.
/ 46 Employees
Corporate Network Services
This information-technology provider makes employees feel valued, with monthly bonuses, an annual paid "day of innovation" when staffers can brainstorm outside their normal duties, and even an extra week of vacation for employees getting married. There's an emphasis on wellness, too, with holiday weight challenges and a hiking group.
/ 850 Employees
"Inkers" do work that can be fun—making T-shirts and custom swag for charity functions and special events—and have fun doing it. Attire is casual, there's a free catered lunch weekly, free healthy snacks daily, fun contests (from fantasy football to cornhole), and 30 vacation days after year one.
/ 171 Employees
Decisive Analytics Corporation
This employee-owned firm—which does systems engineering for clients such as the Department of Defense—takes care of its own, with gestures both big (25 paid days off a year and profit sharing of up to 15 percent of salary) and small (discounted Ben & Jerry's ice cream).
/ 31 Employees
Eagle Hill Consulting
Unlike most management-consulting firms, EHC stresses work/life balance—with no work travel. At this boutique firm, staffers get chances to stretch their skills, and there's a family feel, down to monthly breakfasts made by a cofounder. Benefits include generous pay, fully paid health care, and, for longtime employees, unlimited time off.
/ 53 Employees
While the work at Edgeworth is challenging—economic consulting and expert testimony for businesses and law firms—and the clients are big (Google, Samsung, the NFL Players Association), employees say the atmosphere is friendly, relaxed, and supportive. Evidence that they're valued: fully paid tuition, quarterly surprise outings such as scavenger hunts and go-cart racing, and the chance to do pro bono work.
/ 24 Employees
The Educe Group
Educe helps companies use technology to develop their employees' skills and improve performance, so it's fitting that the firm pays attention to its own workers. Everyone is encouraged to take risks (failures are considered a learning experience), health-care premiums are fully paid, and flexibility is generous (three-quarters work from home at least once a week).
/ 107 Employees
Savage and McLean
Entegra—which provides engineering and technical services to agencies and IT firms that help keep America safe—offers three health plans, a 15-percent annual contribution to an employee's 401(k), a yearly training allowance of both $5,000 and 40 paid hours, and sabbaticals.
/ 7,680 Employees
Over the past seven years, the FDIC went from one of the worst to first in the Partnership for Public Service's Best Places to Work rankings for a large federal agency. Factors fueling the turnaround include better communication with employees and the agency's renewed sense of purpose—protecting US financial assets—in the wake of Wall Street turmoil.
/ 52 Employees
Food & Friends
At the nonprofit Food & Friends, staff is driven by the mission: delivering fresh meals and nutrition counseling to people with AIDS, cancer, and other diseases. Bocce tournaments, pizza lunches, and shortened Fridays (the office closes three hours early) keep morale high. All of which may help explain why 23 percent of staff have been there at least ten years.
/ 2,869 Employees
Government Accountability Office
Keeping government spending honest and accurate requires hard work, attention to detail, and dedication. There's plenty of that at the GAO. Perks include "maxiflex" schedules (varying arrival/departure times and hours worked daily), telework programs, and fitness and childcare centers at headquarters.
/ 48 Employees
The hours can be long at this software start-up, but people are jazzed by the work—helping associations use social media to engage members. The firm keeps its staff engaged by offering generous telecommuting, no micromanaging, a friendly and collaborative environment, fully paid health care, and lots of room to grow.
/ 275 Employees
Home Builders Institute
At HBI, turnover is low and the average tenure eight years. What keeps people there is the mission: The nonprofit trains youth from underserved communities and others in the building trades and promotes careers in construction. Employees also appreciate the autonomy management gives them to do their jobs. A bonus: HBI contributes 8 percent of every employee's salary to a 401(k) plan.
/ 65 Employees
InCadence Strategic Solutions
Staffers at this defense contractor like that their work supports the military. Meanwhile, they feel supported and respected by management, which rewards them with everything from high pay and flexibility to free healthy lunches three days a week, an employee-appreciation week, and gifts including iPads and spa days.
/ 579 Employees
Integrity Applications Incorporated
The work at this systems-and-software-engineering firm is fulfilling—employees value helping the government with space and intelligence surveillance. But IAI is rewarding in other ways, too, from a 401(k) contribution of up to 10 percent to fully paid health-care premiums to competitive pay. Turnover is less than 5 percent.
/ 56 Employees
This woman-and-veteran-owned government contractor specializing in intelligence analysis treats people intelligently, with profit sharing, 20 days of paid time off (and an option to buy an extra week), and an informal breakfast weekly with the firm's president (anyone can drop by). Turnover is less than 5 percent.
/ 549 Employees
The JBG Companies
Staffers praise the leadership of this firm, which owns, develops, invests in, and manages real estate. Employees are duly rewarded with good pay, chances to learn and grow, flexible Fridays in summer, and appreciation events such as bowling and crab cruises.
/ 1,126 Employees
This Maryland cybersecurity firm offers benefits that employees call very generous, including a 10-percent 401(k) match, stock options, unlimited tuition reimbursement, and pay that 72 percent consider above the industry average.
/ 431 Employees
At this fast-growing IT-security firm—which has hired more than 150 people this year, 46 percent from staff referrals (showing how much folks like it)—employees love the challenging work. They also appreciate the flexibility (40 percent telecommute on any given day) and the pay (73 percent say it's higher than industry average).
/ 105 Employees
MGAC provides construction management—among its projects are the International Spy Museum in DC and Hilton's headquarters in McLean—and also manages employees well, with generous benefits such as a 401(k) contribution equal to 15 percent of base salary, a $200 monthly commuting reimbursement, 16 hours of inclement-weather leave a year, and pet-friendly Fridays.
/ 29 Employees
The Midtown Group
Staffing is a high-energy industry, and to keep employees excited about recruiting and placing people into jobs, the Midtown Group offers a caring culture and frequent rewards and incentives—from free trips and seated massages to cash bonuses and monthlong sabbaticals after six years of employment.
/ 30 Employees
This 30-year-old nonprofit provides healthy meals to more than 4,500 chronically homeless men, women, and children a year. That spirit extends throughout the organization, which offers such benefits as fully paid health-care premiums, 35 days of vacation to start, and free lunch every Friday. There are also monthly yoga classes, massages, and outings such as a staff bike ride to see the cherry blossoms.
/ 280 Employees
The Motley Fool
Employees, or "Fools," love the multimedia financial-services firm's mission—to "help the world invest better"—and in return get autonomy and flexibility (unlimited vacation, for example). The firm invests in its own, with such perks as seated massage, exercise classes, free healthy snacks, an internal "university," 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, and $1,000 to invest in stocks.
/ 304 Employees
Thanks to a "profits interest plan," NES is 75 percent employee-owned—if the firm is sold, the employees profit. Having a financial stake in this IT company's future is what partly drives the staff; they also love the work supporting the Department of Defense. Other benefits include twice-yearly bonuses, weekly raffles for sports and theater tickets, and an annual casino night when employees can walk away with such prizes as flat-screen TVs and Vegas vacations.
/ 12,658 Employees
This California firm, which has 335 employees in the Washington area, creates storage and data-management solutions. (Local employees are proud of a data-storage system that assists law enforcement.) Staffers describe the Virginia office as full of teamwork and camaraderie—they get together for everything from beer bashes to charitable endeavors (everyone gets 40 paid hours a year for volunteering).
/ 58 Employees
New Editions Consulting
This woman-owned government contractor specializes in health, disability, and social policy (including projects that help the disabled access government information), work that employees find meaningful. The mostly female staff is treated like family, with such perks as Valentine's Day gifts, $245 monthly for transit and parking, and staff potlucks. Pregnant staffers are even sent on "babymoons" with their spouses.
/ 119 Employees
Octo Consulting Group
Staffers are proud to work at this government consultant—not only because it has grown rapidly, does interesting work (they cite one particular OSHA project they hope will save lives), and has won many accolades (it was 2012 GovCon Contractor of the Year) but also for all it gives to employees (among the generous benefits: a career coach) and to charity.
/ 909 Employees
The 201 Palantir employees in Washington love that the data-analysis technology they build helps do everything from detecting cyberthreats and disease outbreaks to fighting fraud and child exploitation. The hours can be long, but Palantir's perks are true to its Palo Alto roots, including take-what-you-need vacation, free meals daily (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), on-site massage and chiropractic, fully paid health-care premiums, and dog-friendly offices.
/ 319 Employees
Between quarterly all-hands meetings at which company information is shared and up to $9,000 provided annually per employee for continuing education, Praxis makes sure its staff is in the know. Employees of this government contractor pay it forward, with frequent get-togethers that benefit charity, such as a Polar Bear Plunge.
/ 219 Employees
Rand Construction Corporation
Southeast DC and Alexandria
Rand specializes in commercial construction—such as Bryan Voltaggio's Range restaurant—and has also built a culture in which everyone cares for one another like family, helping coworkers succeed. (One partner started as an entry-level assistant project manager.) Subsidized catered lunches ($5) four days a week and charitable outings further foster that feeling.
/ 79 Employees
This IT company's interesting work includes developing a grave-location app for Arlington National Cemetery and a beer-tap app for Arlington's Lost Dog Cafe. At what staffers call a "friendly" and "laid-back" firm, 80 percent telecommute at least once a week, and they all get together for team-building events like bowling.
/ 6,500 Employees
It's not just cool surroundings that make the Smithsonian a great place to work; the leadership excels at communication and articulating the mission. Besides discounts in its shops and cafeterias, benefits include access to daycare, a tuition discount at University of Maryland University College, and professional-training classes.
/ 450 Employees
Society for Human
It makes sense that an association devoted to helping improve HR practices would know how to keep its own employees happy, with benefits ranging from a pension plan and generous tuition reimbursement to pet insurance and company-subsidized boot-camp classes. Employees also rave about the healthy work/life balance.
/ 24 Employees
This software-design firm offers tremendous flexibility and transparency plus generous benefits including high pay (average salary: $160,000), unlimited tuition, a 6-percent 401(k) match, profit sharing, fully paid health-care premiums, and a referral bonus equal to 3 percent of the referred hire's salary annually.
/ 711 Employees
Columbia and Tysons
Now part of Cisco, this wildly successful cybersecurity firm —whose annual revenue grew from $75.7 million in 2008 to $223.1 million last year—continues to offer good benefits that make its 353 local employees happy, including free lunch daily, casual attire, generous telecommuting, and a pet-friendly environment.
/ 24 Employees
Spark combines user-experience research and interactive design to create websites, mobile apps, and social-media campaigns for such clients as Pepsi, AAA, and Voice of America. Employees are sparked by benefits that include unlimited vacation and sick leave as well as individualized growth paths.
/ 138 Employees
Surface Transportation Board
This government agency—which handles federal railroad and trucking regulation—fosters work/life balance through telecommuting and flexible schedules. It also has an open-door management that encourages innovation. In 2010, STB instituted Genius Awards to recognize staffers who come up with great ideas.
/ 70,704 Employees
US Department of State
"People at State go to work each day knowing that their work matters deeply," says David Searby, a Foreign Service officer since 1988. Popular perks include a student-loan repayment program, mentoring and training programs, a transit subsidy, and access to daycare.
/ 178 Employees
Employees at this veteran-owned IT-solutions firm love the flexibility (half telecommute regularly), autonomy, supportive leaders, opportunities for continual learning (with bonuses for earning certifications), and the high pay. Turnover last year was less than 5 percent—despite the office's relocation from Georgetown.
/ 405 Employees
Walker & Dunlop
A firm that finances commercial real estate, W&D is building community in more ways than one. It en-courages employees to volunteer (with four paid hours a month to do so), to be healthy (logging 27,000 steps in a month earns $50), and to stay loyal (service awards include a one-week trip worth $7,000 after ten years).
/ 19 Employees
Washington Office on Latin America
Founded in 1974 after a brutal military coup in Chile, WOLA advocates for Latin Americans by giving them access to policymakers in Washington. Staffers love working with smart col-leagues for a cause they care about. Says senior fellow Kathy Gille: "WOLA has a unique way of supporting courageous people who are facing some of the toughest issues imaginable." Management is very accommodating—90 percent of staffers telecommute at least once a week.