Design Concepts

At Design Concepts in Madison, one of the companies named in the Top Workplaces survey, a third-floor cafe opens up to a patio. The cafe, dubbed "The Tree House," provides an area for employees to relax and recharge and includes a snack bar, foosball and ping pong tables.

A common thread runs through companies in this year’s Top Workplaces – they have all carefully crafted cultures in which employees are engaged, where customers are prized and values and goals are shared.

Leaders at these companies have worked to engineer strong cultures, building employee loyalty and a sense of shared purpose, burnishing their public image, helping to increase employee retention and strengthening the bottom line.

“Creating a great workplace culture requires raising the level of trust and connection among employees so they commit their best every day. Top Workplaces do this, and they do it consistently well,” said Doug Claffey, CEO of the research firm Energage, which partnered with the Wisconsin State Journal on the project.

“So, when leaders at aspiring organizations ask me how they, too, can capture this advantage, my answer is this: Get intentional about workplace culture,” Claffey added.

Business leaders at Top Workplaces are committed to maintaining strong workplace cultures.

“It’s everything,” Cat Caruso, general manager at pc/nametag. “Companies begin and end with culture. It sets the tone for the organization. You want to create a culture that attracts good people who strive and grow with you. When you neglect to develop the company’s culture which encompasses a vision, core values, and unique work environment, you can stifle your employees.”

Claffey said that of the 47,000 organizations Energage has surveyed in more than a decade, Top Workplaces achieve almost double the employee engagement rate. Companies that score in the top 10 percent on our surveys see engagement levels above 85 percent.

“Recognition and bragging rights aside, employee engagement translates into stronger retention, higher productivity, and better performance,” he said. “Employee engagement is the outcome of a healthy workplace culture. In today’s business environment, culture distinguishes the world’s most valuable companies. It’s where value is created or destroyed.”

Chuck Hulan, CEO and president at The Douglas Stewart Co. says culture is central to success. “We want people to enjoy coming to work and to feel part of a community that not only works hard, but has some fun doing it,” he says.

And in the technology sector, culture helps drive the retention of employees with specialized skills. At PerBlue, a Madison-based mobile game developer, chief operating officer Forrest Woolworth said benefits and a healthy culture help keep the firm successful.

“We are competing for talent against game studios across the country, and even the world,” Woolworth said. “We have to make sure that people are happy to be here. … A lot of that comes out of the culture and the passion here.”