News & Politics

Great Places to Work: Just Like Family

At these six companies, there’s a family feel—and a culture that gives employees the flexibility to care for their own loved ones.

Seeing children who were conceived at Shady Grove Fertility reminds employees such as Carlyne Earl, Robert Stillman, Jenny Pena-Vargas, and Michele Purcell of the difference they make in people’s lives. Photograph by Vincent Ricardel.

There is no association between this article and the San Francisco consulting firm that uses the trademark GREAT PLACES TO WORK ®

Most of us spend eight hours or more a day with colleagues. So you should like the people you work with.
At all of our great places to work, people do. But at these six workplaces, there’s an especially strong family feeling.

Five other organizations with a strong family feel: American Physical Therapy Association; Club Managers Association of America; Cocke, Szpanka & Taylor; James G. Davis Construction Company; and Timberlake Homes.

B.F. Saul Company
Industry: Real-estate management and investment
Total staff local/world: 268/ 1,539
Vacation/personal days to start/max: 10/20
Interesting perks: Discounted hotel rooms; condo and beach house available at discounted rent; subsidized cafeteria; $5,000 tuition reimbursement a year; formal ball; three-to-one retirement-plan match on first 2% of salary.

B.F. Saul, founded in 1892, is still family-owned—and employees say that feeling runs through the firm. “When someone leaves, you feel like you have lost a member of your family,” says Barbara Reifsnider, vice president of hotel accounting.
Not that people often leave the Bethesda headquarters. Almost one-third of the staff at the corporate office has been there more than ten years.
People stay because they’re allowed to take on as much responsibility as they’d like and are given room to grow. Employees value the respect they’re given and the appreciation they’re shown for good work.
And, in a family-oriented firm, they like the flexibility they’re given to tend to their own family. “This company is truly a ‘family first’ organization,” says vice president Jim Sprouse.
B.F. Saul Company, 7501 Wisconsin Ave., Suite 1500, Bethesda; 301-986-6000;

Marriott International
Industry: Lodging
Total staff: 3,600/ 151,000
Vacation/personal days to start/max: 13/30
Interesting perks: Discounted hotel rooms (after 25 years, free stays); no copays on preventive healthcare; management training; $5,250 tuition reimbursement a year; 100% match on first 3% deferred to 401(k), then 50% up to 6%.

“I met both Bill Marriott and his father, J.W. Marriott, on my first day on the job,” says Bill Dunn, director of event operations at the Bethesda North Marriott. “In my 22 years, I have probably shaken Mr. Marriott’s hand 500 times.”
Marriott employees are happy to work for a company that, although large, has a family feeling and is still family-run.
“I like the fact that Mr. Marriott eats in the associate cafeteria and introduces many of the kickoffs we have,” says Laura Iwan, a project manager.
The family feel is helped by employees who have worked together a long time: More than one-quarter have worked there more than ten years.
The Bethesda-based giant offers lots of employee development to keep the staff continually challenged—each gets an average of 78 hours of training a year. There are management and leadership programs, including some aimed at women and minorities.
“Over the years, I have been given the opportunity, either through my initiative or as suggested and supported by my managers, to advance and grow in various positions within Marriott,” says Ken Kuhn, a senior business analyst. “I’ve just celebrated 25 years with the company. I joined intending to work only until something in my field—international relations—came along. But the hotel business stole my interest. I have never regretted it.”
Other reasons to stay: Employees cite their pride in a company that gives back to the community. And they say that colleagues—who are, after all, in a business where you take care of guests—are respectful and caring with one another.
Marriott International, Marriott Dr., Bethesda; 301-380-3000;

Peterson Companies
Industry: Real-estate developer
Total staff: 178
Vacation/personal days to start/max: 10/20
Interesting perks: Bonus when Redskins make playoffs; paid week off between Christmas and New Year’s; 100% 401(k) match on first 5%; $600 for any wellness procedure; smoking-cessation program for employees and family.

A new, young employee was having complications from the premature birth of her baby. The Peterson family told his company’s human-resources director to take care of the mother and child by paying medical expenses beyond insurance coverage.
Employees say they like working for a company that does what’s right. Peterson Companies is a builder/developer whose projects include National Harbor, Fair Lakes, Fairfax Corner, downtown Silver Spring, and the Virginia Gateway in Gainesville.
Peterson is building community in other ways. Janice Algie, director of human resources, says people who fit best at Peterson are “those looking for a home.” Many have found it: A third of the 178 employees have been there more than a decade.
Peterson Companies, 12500 Fair Lakes Cir., Suite 400, Fairfax; 703-227-2000;

Shady Grove Fertility Reproductive Science Center
Industry: Fertility and IVF
Total staff: 318
Vacation/personal days to start/max: 13/28
Interesting perks:Although Shady Grove is in the business of in vitro, employees can set aside $10,960 a year in FSA for adoption; can bank unused sick days, matched by practice, for future; movie tickets and handwritten card from CEO on birthday.

“We are looking for people who want a career, not a job,” Shady Grove Fertility CEO Mark Segal says. “I want to grow old with these people.”
Shady Grove is in the business of making families: Employees say that the work—helping women conceive—is rewarding.
One way the company tries to make certain that job candidates understand their prospective position is by having them shadow an employee for a few hours. The same shadowing opportunity, called “trading places,” is available to employees who may want to change jobs or locations within the company—there are eight other offices. A biannual family-day celebration for children who have been conceived with Shady Grove’s help has become a major event—there are now more than 10,000 of them.
Shady Grove Fertility Reproductive Science Center, 15001 Shady Grove Rd., Suite 340, Rockville; 301-340-1188;

Stanton Communications
Industry: Public relations
Total staff local/world: 15/35
Vacation/personal days to start/max: 10/20
Interesting perks: Annual retreat at Deep Creek Lake where teams race down whitewater course; bonuses; formal mentoring; 401(k) contribution that ranges from 5% to 8% of salary; regular happy hours and pizza parties.

Ask Stanton employees what they would miss most if they left their company, and you get the same responses: the small, familylike feel, the interaction with management, and the work/life balance.
“I have never before been in a work environment where I have daily interaction with the president of the company,” says Kristen Dennis, an assistant account executive.
Founded in 1989, Stanton Communications specializes in marketing communications, public affairs, and corporate counseling for such clients as Denny’s, Pepco, and Sprint. The DC headquarters—the firm also has offices in New York City and Baltimore—is home to a staff of 15.
Management puts a lot of faith in employees who, in turn, value the opportunities for career development. “The leadership takes each employee’s growth as a personal responsibility,” says Lori Russo. “I started here in 1999 as an entry-level account coordinator and am now a vice president. I credit so much of my growth to my bosses, who also are my mentors.”
Stanton Communications, 1150 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 810; 202-223-4933;

Strategic Analysis
Industry: Technology services
Total staff: 265
Vacation/personal days to start/max: 10/25
Interesting perks: Tuition reimbursement; annual bonus of 3% to 8% of salary; 100% 401(k) match on first 3%, 50% up to 5%; on birthday, employee reaches into box to pull out gift certificate or movie tickets; happy hours; softball team.

At a recent ice-cream social at Strategic Analysis, several employees toted toddlers and newborns. “There is more family around than I’m used to,” says Greg Fischer, laughing, comparing SA’s culture to that of previous employers. Fisher, who was holding his then-22-month-old daughter, Ava Katherine, met his wife, Cindy, at SA. They’re one of nine husband-and-wife pairs.
“We’re family-owned, family-run,” says Brad Smith, who founded the company with his wife, Diane, in 1986. “That’s the difference.”
It’s a growing family: Strategic Analysis, whose engineers and scientists provide IT services to agencies including the Department of Homeland Security and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has doubled in size to 265 employees in the past three years.
Smith, like a proud dad, wants employees to succeed. He even pays for an advanced degree.
“They are so darn nice to work with,” Susan Ferretti, a program analyst who lives in Frederick says of colleagues. “If I didn’t live so far away, I would want to come into the office every day just so I could spend more time with them.”
Strategic Analysis, 3601 Wilson Blvd., Suite 500, Arlington; 703-527-5410;

Editor in chief

Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986 as an editorial intern, and worked her way to the top of the masthead when she was named editor-in-chief in 2022. She oversees the magazine’s editorial staff, and guides the magazine’s stories and direction. She lives in DC.