News & Politics

Great Places to Work: Where to Find a Balance

These six organizations get high marks for work/life balance and flexibility. With options like four-day workweeks and telecommuting, employees have reason to jump for joy.

CMAA, which represents employees at many private golf clubs, is a happy place to work. One reason: James Singerling gives his staff lots of flexibility. 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 ®

A lot of companies talk about work/life balance, but often employees feel it’s just that—talk. Staff may not have the option to work a flexible schedule, or if they do, they feel it’s discouraged.
At these six organizations, schedules are truly flexible. No questions are asked if you have to take a child to the doctor or you’re not a morning person. At some, telecommuting is common.
Although federal contracting is rarely flexible—employees are at the whim of clients—we’ve included consulting firms where employees give high marks to the flexibility.
Ten other companies that received very high employee marks for flexibility: American Physical Therapy Association, Bailey Law Group, Distributive Networks, Edelman Financial Services, Home Builders Institute, Integrity Applications, Midtown Group, Rand Corporation, Strategic Analysis, and Population Action International.

Center for a New American Dream
Industry: Nonprofit
Total staff: 25
Vacation days to start/max: 16/16
Interesting perks:  $500 toward any nonmaterial enrichment such as fitness or art classes; paid sabbaticals; up to 5% of salary contributed to retirement fund; 100% paid healthcare premiums; ten weeks’ paid maternity leave, two weeks’ paternity; subsidized yoga.

At the Center for a New American Dream, everyone has Friday off, and everyone works a four-day, 32-hour schedule. “The office culture honors the fact that we have a life outside of work,” says director of operations Nancy Smith, “that hard-working employees can be flexible with their hours and get the work done.”
The nonprofit practices what it preaches: It works with communities, businesses, and state and local governments to help conserve natural resources, and it runs campaigns to encourage Americans to live balanced lives.
The Takoma Park office is powered by wind energy. A recent renovation used sustainable materials such as cork flooring. The kitchen offers fair-trade organic tea and coffee—and real plates, not disposables.
That respect for the environment leads to respect for one another. Says membership and research manager Mary Peters: “Everyone’s opinion is valued.”
Center for a New American Dream, 6930 Carroll Ave., Suite 900, Takoma Park; 301-891-3683;

Club Managers Association of America
Industry: Nonprofit
Total staff: 40
Vacation days to start/max: 10/15
Interesting perks: Free tickets to most PGA tournaments; free Old Town parking; subsidized Metro and VRE fare; monthly donation to favorite charity of randomly selected employee; monthly social events such as Thanksgiving potluck.

After September 11, 2001, some employees went to CMAA head James Singerling and said that while they liked working there, they wanted to spend more time with family. Soon after, CMAA gave staff the option of working a four-day week. One-quarter of the staff now does.
Employees feel comfortable going into Singerling’s office, and he leaves out dishes of candy as further welcome. “Everyone knows they can talk to me anytime. They have my home and cell numbers.”
The open environment is one reason employees like CMAA, which conducts educational programs and advocacy for employees of private clubs. “It is more a family than an office,” says Melissa Low, director of industry resources and legislative services.
When an employee was leaving for Vietnam to adopt a baby, Singerling ordered in Vietnamese food for the office as a send-off. “ ‘Family first’ has always been the mantra,” says Karen Woodie.
More proof: While many employers provide free flu shots to staff, CMAA extends the offer to an employee’s family, significant other, and elderly friends and neighbors.
Club Managers Association of America, 1733 King St., Alexandria; 703-739-9500;

Cocke, Szpanka & Taylor
Industry: Public accounting
Total staff: 42
Vacation days to start/max: 10/20
Interesting perks: 100% paid healthcare premiums; holiday bonuses; massages during tax season; lots of employee activities, from Seinfeld lunches to Cirque du Soleil performances to tax-relief parties.

This accounting firm has an enviable schedule: Almost every Friday from Memorial Day to Labor Day is a day off, and again from late October to New Year’s. The reason? To reward long hours during the busy tax seasons.
“Seinfeld lunches” are another way this close-knit company gets people away from their desks. Toys for Tots are collected by asking everyone to pick a toy that suits a personality trait of another employee. Christmas bonuses are presented in creative ways, too: One year, alarm clocks stashed around the office went off at the same time; clues wrapped around the clocks directed people to where their bonuses were hidden.
In an industry known for long hours, not flexible schedules, Cocke, Szpanka & Taylor employees gave their firm one of our survey’s highest scores for flexibility. That and the familylike feel may account for the low turnover—less than 5 percent last year—and the long tenures, an average of nine years.
Cocke, Szpanka & Taylor, 1800 Robert Fulton Dr., Suite 100, Reston; 703-391-2000;

Decisive Analytics Corporation
Industry: Systems-engineering consulting
Total staff local/world: 116/165
Vacation days to start/max: 25/25
Interesting perks: 401(k) contribution of up to 15% of salary a year; 100% paid long-term care insurance; $25 a month toward exercise program or gym; discounted tickets to sporting events.

Some consulting firms may be flexible about when an employee starts and ends the day, but they require eight billable hours or 40 a week. DAC’s flex month allows more latitude.
When Kristen Yeck wanted to go to China to visit her fiancé, the defense-and-international-programs analyst worked extra hours before and after her trip, saving vacation time—which, at five weeks, is generous to begin with.
DAC is a systems-engineering firm that works mostly for the Defense Department. Employees love the technical challenge of the work and that much of it—from missile defense to supporting the troops in Iraq—enhances national security.
DAC is employee-owned, a structure that, like its flex policy, gives staffers a feeling of control. “We have a huge say in the operations of the company and how money is spent,” says Yeck. “There is complete transparency.”
One way employees spend their money: Every quarter, they buy food, magazines, toiletries, and other items, which they ship in care packages to soldiers in Iraq.
Decisive Analytics Corporation, 1235 S. Clark St., Arlington; 703-414-5001;

Delta Resources
Industry: Program and technical consulting
Total staff local/world: 126/135
Vacation days to start/max: 13/18
Interesting perks: Puts 3% of salary in 401(k) and matches first 3% employee defers; annual family retreat; $220 a year toward fitness; $125 a month for parking or Metro; on fifth anniversary, employee gets choice of watch costing up to $1,000.

CEO Maria Proestou allows employees as much flexibility as possible—as the single mother of an eight-year-old, she knows what it’s like to juggle work and family. “If you’re a professional,” she says, “you can manage your own time.”
Delta Resources provides technical and program support, mostly to the Navy. The Greek letter delta symbolizes change. “We definitely wanted to do things differently,” Proestou says.
One thing she and her cofounders do differently than many other consulting firms: They’ve established a 40-hour week, and if someone works overtime, they give comp time or cash for each extra hour.
In seven years, Delta has grown from three employees to 135. Still, every year Delta takes employees and their families to a resort for the weekend; this year it was Hershey, Pennsylvania.
“Family was a big reason we did this,” she says of the company’s founding.
Delta Resources, 1235 S. Clark St., Suite 306, Arlington; 703-418-1960;

Merritt Group
Industry: Public relations
Total staff local/world: 22/34
Vacation days to start/max: 20/35
Interesting perks: On-site gym and basketball court; “chill-out room” with wide-screen TV, pool table, air hockey, and foosball; employee-appreciation week every summer treats staff to pancake breakfasts, concert tickets, picnics, and more.

“We know that there is more to employees’ lives than their jobs,” says Patty Groce, Merritt’s vice president of organizational development.
In addition to offering 20 to 30 days off a year and one paid day a quarter to volunteer, Merritt closes from Christmas to New Year’s. In the summer, employees can work nine hours a day, then take the tenth day off. A telecommuting policy lets mid- to senior-level staff work from home one day a week.
Generous time off isn’t the only draw at Merritt Group, a public-relations firm that represents technology companies. Employees say they like the small-company feel and lack of bureaucracy. The young staff—most are under age 35—value the feedback provided in quarterly reviews and the opportunities for growth. Last year, 30 percent of the staff was promoted.
Merritt Group, 11600 Sunrise Valley Dr., Suite 320, Reston; 703-390-1500;

Executive Editor

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.