November 3, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Want to know how much fun it is to work at Omaha digital marketing firm Ervin & Smith? Just ask Peanut, Gwen, Duke, or Daphne Jane.

They won’t talk to you…but you’ll probably see their tails wagging.

“Any week we have probably a couple dogs in the office,” says Heidi Mausbach, Ervin & Smith president and CEO. “You find them at your desk begging for a little treat. They follow their owners around the agency.”

Erivin-&-Smith2The furry friends are there as one of many workplace benefits garnering Ervin & Smith attention here and nationally. In February the agency founded 31 years ago by Executive Chairman Doug Smith made the 2015 Best Places to Work in Omaha list sponsored by Baird Holm and the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. That came three months after Advertising Age ranked Ervin & Smith number 13 on its list of 40 Best Places to Work in Advertising & Media based on hiring practices, benefits packages, salaries, office perks, and more.

“You spend…a good percentage of your life at work,” Mausbach says. “You want to be at a place you love to come to. People do love it here. You don’t dread Monday morning.”

Even if you’re on vacation—which is unlimited at Ervin & Smith, as are sick and personal days. The new leave policy, established in January 2014, is among the most intriguing initiatives at the agency.

“People are free to come and go as long as they are fulfilling their client commitments and meeting their other goals,” Mausbach says.

So have employees been abusing the policy with copious vacation days? Mausbach can’t say—Ervin & Smith isn’t tracking days. If there’s any challenge to the time-off policy it’s been with employees not taking enough personal time. Mausbach, who joined the agency 15 years ago, was among those who took “a lot less” vacation than she typically would.

“People need vacation to recharge and get inspired to continue to love what they do,” she says. “A lot of times when you give people that break they come back more energized and with great ideas. It makes them happier, it makes us a better company.”

While employees appreciate the flexibility the policy allows them to get away from work, Ervin & Smith has seen benefits in the office—less idle activity, greater communication and collaboration, and, perhaps best of all,  fewer and shorter meetings as employees focus on goals and commitments.

Ervin-&-Smith3

The company also allows employees to work from home as needed or even full-time from cities across the country (one Ervin & Smith employee lives in Oregon, another in Colorado). The company also established an annual “Slush FUNd,” giving each employee $100 to spend on something that will enhance company culture, such as a popcorn machine. Some pooled their money to buy meditation classes open to everyone. Others adopted a family at Christmas.

Workplace enhancements can be simple. A couple of years of ago the agency added a ping pong table. Sometimes, that’s where the best work happens. “It’s interesting how their minds work,” Mausbach says. “A lot of times they’re playing and brainstorming. There are amazing ideas that come out of work and play at the same time.”

Other initiatives to enhance the Ervin & Smith environment include redesigned offices, an expanded client conference room, a per-person training budget more than twice the industry average, catered lunches and happy hours, and a monthly wellness stipend reimbursing employees up to $25 a month.

The most popular benefit is Flame Schoeder—a professional certified life coach made available for monthly development sessions.

“Of all the benefits, they feel this is the one definitely helping them the most professionally and personally,” Mausbach says.

The initiatives seem to work. Ervin & Smith promoted 12 employees and hired 15 others last year. Its retention rate in 2014 was 84 percent, better than the typical industry rate of 70 percent or worse, Mausbach cites.

Ervin & Smith is building employee relationships. Perks are great. People are better.

Making Ervin & Smith a doggone great place to work.

Ervin-&-Smith

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