- Acuity was named Best Company for work-life balance the second year in a row.
- The insurance company was losing money and employees before Ben Salzmann became president and CEO.
- Salzmann and Joan Ravanelli Miller, vice president of human resources, told Insider how Acuity changed their culture.
When Ben Salzmann became President and then CEO of Acuity Insurance in 1999, the company was under water.
“We had 28% revenue – the whole company quit every three years,” he told Insider. “We were losing $ 116 for every $ 100 we wrote, and we lost a third of our sales. One in three employees didn’t know if they would still have a job.”
Today, 22 years later, the Wisconsin mutual insurance company is booming. Acuity has a 98% employee retention rate, says Joan Ravanelli Miller, vice president of human resources. During this period, Acuity grew 220% faster than the insurance industry and was 8 percentage points more profitable, Salzmann added. The company was also recently named Glassdoor is the best place to work to balance work and private life by evaluating employees for the second year in a row.
Acuity’s success is proof that taking care of your employees is good business, said Salzmann and Ravanelli Miller. Speaking to Insider, the duo described two key principles that have helped them through the process: embrace individuality and demystify leadership.
Ravanelli Miller attributes the company’s commercial success in part to Salzmann’s guiding principle: “fierce respect for the individual”.
Acuity once had an employee who grew up with missionary parents and never wore shoes, Salzmann said. While the employee had worn shoes during her interview, she showed up barefoot on her first day on the job. This prompted management and colleagues to ask, Is this allowed?
“Well of course it’s okay,” said Salzmann. Respecting an individual means allowing them to be authentic themselves, he said. The company let the employee work barefoot.
And when the COVID-19 pandemic forced Acuity to rethink how the business works, the decision was once again straightforward. “I said [employees] they would never have to come back to the office, ”he said.
The company also offered employees a $ 100 Amazon gift card when the workplace first went live.
Casual dress codes and gift cards are paired with institutional perks, including a health insurance plan designed by Salzmann’s own wife, a nurse with 33 years of experience, and a master’s degree in medical ethics. Acuity pays 85% employee health care premiums.
As Acuity embraces the non-traditional rewards and benefits of employees, company management recognizes that the health of employees comes first, Salzmann said.
“If you are partying and you are not meeting the basic needs of the employees, you are making fun of them,” he said. “And you could give them everything in the world, but if you don’t listen to them, you don’t communicate with them, then you can’t see them as an individual.”
When employees feel comfortable sharing their desires with leaders, a company can create policies better suited to its workforce, say Ravanelli Miller and Salzmann.
“People have no fear or reluctance to come to us and say, ‘Hey, we’d be interested in …’ and then they tell us, then we take it into consideration,” said Ravanelli Miller.
One employee even felt comfortable enough to request an aquarium under the office floor. Unfortunately for this worker, an aquarium was over budget, but the office has a 65-foot ferris wheel.
The Ferris wheel and “Free For All Wednesdays”, a day with free food, alcohol and social activities for all employees and their families, are part of Acuity’s family culture. The office also organizes summer picnics and Christmas parties.
In both business metrics and Glassdoor reviews, events seem to be working. Employees are always comfortable talking and joking with leaders.
When Salzmann was leaving a construction site in his office one day, he met a group of recently graduated employees. The group asked him where his helmet and glasses were. Salzmann was originally confused by the line of conversation, but then he became aware of it.
“They tease me,” he said. “They were comfortable teasing me.”