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Companies That Care

Oakton-based Northern Virginia Family Services presents 14th annual CARE awards.

Business companies may not often enjoy a reputation for compassion and consideration, but the Oakton-based Northern Virginia Family Services is trying to change that, at least in this region.

At the organization's 14th annual CARE (Companies As Responsive Employers) Awards Breakfast, held at the Hilton McLean in Tysons Corner on Nov. 15, six Northern Virginia companies were recognized for offering outstanding benefits packaging and other perks to their employees. A winner and a runner-up were selected from each of the small-, middle- and large-size business categories.

NVFS is a nonprofit organization that has been working for 82 years "to strengthen children and families and the communities in which they live," said Senior Vice President George Lane, who chairs the CARE Advisory Committee. He said the organization has pursued this mission through "a variety of human service programs, from counseling to job training, homeless prevention and foster care."

"A lot of the issues NVFS deals with arise from stress within the family," said Lane. "It became apparent that a lot of this stress was being brought from the workplace. So, the feeling was, if we could reduce one, we could reduce the other." Hence, the start of the CARE awards in 1992.

Lane pointed out that considerate treatment of employees not only benefits workers and their families but also is good for business — reducing absenteeism, raising productivity, building loyalty and attracting new employees. He noted that companies often feature their CARE awards in their employment ads.

Mary Agee, CEO of NVFS, said companies who come to the awards breakfasts often come away with new ideas for improving their work environments, based on what other attendees have been doing at their workplace. She said the organization often helps companies consult each other for tips on implementing such policies. "They see us as a broker that helps do a lot of that linking," she said.

RUNNERS-UP for this year's CARE awards included the Alexandria-based Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), the Manassas-based information technology company Oberon and the Chantilly-based American Systems.

The CARE award in the small business category went to Ventera, a management and technology consulting firm based in McLean. The company's benefits package includes the payment of all medical, dental and vision coverage for employees and their families; a 25 percent match on 401(k) up to $8,000 a year; unlimited sick leave; five weeks leave and other benefits. Some other perks highlighted at the awards presentation included flexible hours, the option to telecommute, the use of career coaches, semi-annual bonuses, and activities like ice cream Fridays, bagel breakfasts, summer picnics and golf outings.

The National Counsel of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), based in Reston, won the award for mid-size companies. Some of the NCTM's employee benefits include generous retirement plan contributions; open communication programs such as employee climate surveys, a "Walk and Talk" campaign, an open door policy and an intranet; employee recognition programs including recognition for volunteer committees and project teams, achievement bonuses and employee service awards; access to counseling; 11 paid holidays; paid sick leave for employees and their dependents; several investments in employee professional development; and community involvement such as math tutoring and "lunch buddies" at the local elementary school.

In his acceptance speech, NCTM Executive Director James Rubillo recalled one of his former employers, an Italian with an exceedingly large family of his own, whom Rubillo said treated his company like an extension of that family. "We adopted that sort of philosophy, of trying to treat employees as family," he said.

The award for the large business category went to the Fairfax-based Argon ST, a company that provides support for defense and intelligence agencies. Argon won the award for flexible, employee-designed schedules; leave packages that include three weeks of vacation, 11 holidays and eight sick days; low-cost medical and dental coverage; medical reimbursement to help pay expenses not covered by insurance; life insurance equaling 2.5 times an employee's salary; 401(k) contributions up to 9 percent of an employee's salary; complete reimbursement for education and professional development; adoption assistance; and fitness reimbursement.

NEXT YEAR, Lane told the audience, more companies will be receiving awards. "It has become increasingly difficult and troubling to choose only one winner in each category," he said. From now on, companies who would have been runners-up will also get awards and be recognized on stage, and consecutive awards will be allowed. Lane said NVFS hopes this will encourage more companies to apply for awards.

After the presentation of awards, Terry Collins, CEO of Argon, reiterated the idea that what is good for employees is also good for business. "Our whole philosophy is that a company is nothing more than a group of people who agree to work together," he said. "The only way a company gets anything done is with its employees."

Collins said NVFS‚ awards "create some recognition for companies that care for their employees," adding that they also create awareness of the importance of respecting workers and encourage other companies to do so.