BPTW winners also make liberal use of food and drinks to help foster communication and engagement policies.
For example, employee-owned money manager Balentine LLC, now a four-time winner in the BPTW program, runs a "lunch and learn" series to "ensure that all employees are knowledgeable about the services that we, as a firm, offer our clients," said Robert M. Balentine, chairman and CEO.
Topics range from the Atlanta-based firm's new financial planning software; to GIPS compliance; to a presentation by a young team member whose background was in the music industry. She created a presentation to show parallels between music and finance industries, Mr. Balentine said.
"We also like to keep it fun, like when senior investment analyst Ben Webb created an interactive game to teach everyone how reinsurance works. Not only do our lunch-and-learns educate the entire staff, but they also provide an opportunity for team members to hone their public speaking skills and build confidence," he said.
The series at the 32-member firm now encompasses outside speakers, such as 401(k) plan professionals, estate planning attorneys and even a psychologist to talk about children and money.
Sharing knowledge and coffee is a tool for Spectrum Investment Advisors Inc., where executives at the Mequon, Wis.-based firm have a few favorite expressions, said James Marshall, president and founder.
One is "celebrate the wins," and the other is "enjoy the ride."
The firm's headquarters, built almost six years ago, features a large coffeehouse. "What started out as a lunchroom became a break room, became a coffeehouse, became an experience," said Mr. Marshall.
The firm, making its first appearance on the BPTW list, runs seminars in the coffeehouse covering markets, "something we need to know" such as social security, and "something fun." This year, "we had an Army Ranger that fought at Black Hawk Down," Mr. Marshall said, referring to the 1993 battle in Mogadishu, Somalia.
At these seminars, barista-quality lattes and other coffee drinks are served.
The 21-employee firm also hosts a "Go Meeting" every Monday morning to discuss goings-on at the firm, what was achieved in the previous week and what is to come. Every employee goes over what they are doing, so the "left hand knows what the right hand is doing," added Mr. Marshall.
Making its third appearance as a Best Places to Work winner, LaSalle Investment Management executives also recognize the benefits of eating and drinking together in the workplace.
Chicago-based Jason Kern, CEO-Americas, who oversees $18 billion of the firm's $58.1 billion global assets under management, said LaSalle's "happy hour concept came about sort of out of necessity, I felt. There are plenty of different meetings that happen in the normal course of our business … That is great for keeping people informed and in touch, but often fails to reach across the organization" in terms of levels of seniority and business groups, he said.
Happy hour was started to help bring people together in the firm's previous office building in Chicago, where the layout was a set of "rabbit warrens," cubicles and large structural elements that impeded views. Mr. Kern said this naturally led to a silo mentality. The company employs 264 in the U.S.
So when the firm moved to its new global headquarters in Chicago, an open floor plan was deployed. Gone were the cubicles with high walls and obstacles in sightlines.
And the cafe is significantly bigger than before. Employees get their "really good coffee and food" and chat in the café. It has "greatly increased the communication flow," Mr. Kern said.
New York-based chairman and CEO at Neuberger Berman George H. Walker even hosts informal dinners at his home with employees. Mr. Walker also answers all of his emails directly. Neuberger, which employs about 1,500 in the U.S., is making its fifth appearance in Best Places to Work.
"Our CEO answers all his emails directly—sometimes to the surprise of employees—never turns down an impromptu chat in the cafeteria, and frequently does update videos and town halls for all," said Heather Zuckerman, managing director and chief administration officer at the firm in New York. "We also see great value in more personal engagements, including when our CEO hosts informal dinners at his house with a smaller, cross functional group of employees. These dinners help build strong relationships, while also presenting a more relaxed environment to gather feedback and ideas, ask questions and dig deeper on subjects that are relevant to the group."