When Heather Walker needed to relocate to Virginia in 2001 with her Navy husband, she didn’t have to worry too much about finding a new job.
Her employer in San Diego, McLean, Va.-based Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., has a big presence in and around where her husband was sent, Norfolk, Va., and she easily transferred to a different section.
Then last year, the Walkers, now with two children, moved back to San Diego, and she again used the company’s internal job relocation program to secure another position.
It’s one of the many reasons Walker is still with Booz Allen, a management consulting firm that operates a large unit in San Diego of about 700 employees.
“Booz Allen has allowed me to progress in my career, and I’ve been able to move up in this company because of the many benefits they’ve provided. I’ve been able to balance my work demands with my personal needs,” said Walker, an associate in client support, who also extolled the company’s maternity leave and child day care policies.
Booz Allen was among a group of six companies based in San Diego County or with significant operations here cited in Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list published in the Jan. 22 issue. The other five companies were Genentech Inc., Qualcomm Inc., Nordstrom Inc., Intuit Inc. and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.
Providing flexible work schedules, ample health care benefits and extensive internal corporate training were common practices of many of the recognized companies, but some went a bit further in terms of employee perks.
At Qualcomm, a local developer of wireless technology, employees can access a mobile dental clinic that comes to different sites and can handle everything short of oral surgery.
There’s also an on-site medical clinic, a mobile optical service where workers can get new glasses, and a mobile spa that comes around weekly where employees can get a massage or manicure.
Putting The Employee First
At Mountain View-based Intuit’s San Diego division, employees can drop off their cars to get oil changes and other routine maintenance work, do the same with their dry cleaning, and eat lunches at the company’s subsidized cafeteria.
“We’ve learned over time that if we take care of our employees, the rest takes care of itself,” said Brad Henske, San Diego general manager for Intuit’s Consumer Tax Group, which makes financial software products such as TurboTax and Quicken.
“This is all little stuff in the grand scheme of things, and don’t cost a lot of money, but it makes a big difference in the way people feel about the place they work,” he added.
Providing certain services to employees during work hours at Qualcomm makes sense because the company’s offices in Sorrento Valley are rather isolated, said David Beadle, human resources manager.
“A visit to a doctor will take a minimum of two hours,” he said. “If we can keep people here, they’ll likely be more productive.”
Wherever Qualcomm workers obtain medical care, it won’t cost them a dime. The company is one of the rarest of birds, assuming the entire cost of health insurance without any co-payments.
In an analysis of all its compensation and benefits programs completed a few years ago, Qualcomm employees rated the 100 percent paid health care as the most highly valued offering, even above that of its salaries and stock options, said Dan Album, a Qualcomm spokesman.
The array of benefits appears to resonate with the company’s 11,000-plus employees. It has only about a 1 percent voluntary turnover rate, Album said.
Employers Of Choice
In a job market that is clearly tightening in terms of skilled workers, more companies are incorporating greater benefits to gain a competitive edge, said Mary Alcock, president of Alcock & McFadden Employment Consultants Inc., a San Diego-based employment consultancy.
“They’re creating what we call an employer of choice,” said Alcock. “If you have all these benefits, the probability is that you’re going to want to work for them.”
But few small and medium-sized companies, which make up the vast majority of local employers, can offer the same kinds of perks as those offered by much larger organizations, Alcock said.
Not all the perks offered by some companies are free. A variety of educational and recreational classes offered through Qualcomm’s Qlife program are at market rates and available on the company’s premises, said Beadle.
“When you’re busy at your job, the more things that we can help them take care of easily reduces their stress, and makes their lives a whole lot easier here and at home,” he said.
Many of the firms on the Fortune list include tuition reimbursement programs as part of their benefits package.
For example, at Booz Allen Hamilton, employees who want to enhance their education are provided up to $5,000 per year in tuition reimbursement. For technical and professional certification programs, the annual reimbursement is $2,500, said Milton Green, senior human resources manager based in San Diego.
A good percentage of Booz Allen’s staff, which features many former military personnel, use the tuition program to obtain undergraduate and graduate degrees, Green said.
Another highly prized benefit is the company’s willingness to allow employees to structure flexible work schedules and let them work from their homes part-time, Green said.
The driving philosophy behind the benefit programs offered at Booz Allen is fairly simple: The company wants to reward and keep its best workers.
“Our employees work extremely hard, and they’re extremely sharp people,” Green said. “We try to reward them in ways other than just normal compensation in order to get them to stick around.”