Erika Stiskal polishes a computer illustration at Root Learning, which was praised for creative excellence.
When editor Alma Reising offered to sew a costume as part of a charity fund-raiser at Root Learning Inc. in Sylvania, mischievous colleagues commissioned an Elvis Presley getup that they then cajoled a salesman to wear into the office.
"Everyone has a really good sense of humor," she said. "That's one reason why clients come back to us. They can sense the fun."
The firm's relaxed yet productive atmosphere helped earn it the designation of ninth best small company to work for in America.
The honor was handed out yesterday by the 245,000-member Society for Human Resource Management at its annual conference in Chicago.
Another northwest Ohio company also was feted. RightThing Inc., an employee recruiting and screening firm in Findlay, was named the 12th best employer among midsized firms, those with 251 to 999 employees.
The two local businesses were among 50 honored nationwide.
In making the award, the trade group cited the Findlay firm's emphasis on teamwork and its above-average pay. "There are no managers, so in a sense you are your own boss," organization officials said. Base pay is one-fourth higher than at the average Ohio firm. And half of profits go to employee bonuses.
At Root, a management consulting firm that specializes in educational aids for employee training, staff members are known as "Rootizens."
'Rootizen' Jason Stafne executes part of a project at Root Learning.'
They vote over the Internet to determine which co-worker best exemplifies company values: creative excellence, servant leadership, authenticity, engagement, and fun and giving.
Employees also participate in the annual "Root Olympics" that include games like "map rolling" popcorn toss, word puzzles, and mini-golf.
"Top U.S. companies succeed by using smart people-management strategies to develop highly productive and satisfied work forces," said Susan Meisinger, president of the Society for Human Resource Management.
Root Learning employs about 90 people in Sylvania and at small offices in Chicago and London.
"We don't have strict policies," explained Tricia Richards, senior marketing manager.
"A lot of large corporations, and rightly so, get caught up in being by the book. We like to be flexible and accommodate each person individually."
Company officials granted a manager in Chicago's request to move closer to his aging parents in Iowa.
A number of other employees telecommute long distance, Ms. Richards said.
Winning firms were picked on the basis of employee surveys and evaluations by a private consulting firm, Great Places to Work Institute, of San Francisco. Root Learning ranked seventh last year among small firms with 250 employees or fewer, and RightThink ranked 13th.
Ms. Reising, an editor and proofreader at Root, said she has worked at several firms over the years with less progressive personnel policies.
"This is quite different," she explained.
"It's not stuffy. We can laugh. Our individual traits are recognized and our input is valued."
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