Employee support community service earn TowerPinkster national award

December 12, 2010
| By Pete Daly |
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The West Michigan-based TowerPinkster architectural/engineering firm has been nationally recognized as Best Architecture Firm to Work for in the Nation, according to Stagnito Media, in collaboration with independent research firm ZweigWhite.

The annual award is a ranking of the nation’s best A/E firms, based on the firms’ commitments to provide a positive work environment and achieve high levels of employee satisfaction. Stagnito, based in Chicago, publishes several trade magazines including CE News, Structural Engineering & Design, and Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure.

“This award means a great deal to us at TowerPinkster,” said Arnie Mikon, president and CEO of TowerPinkster, which has offices in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids.

“The nation is facing an extremely challenging economic climate. We are fortunate, particularly as a Michigan-based firm, to rise among the rest in the nation and to be recognized for who we are and what we are doing. I believe it is a testament to the work ethic and ‘can do’ spirit of West Michigan,” added Mikon.

TowerPinkster completed a corporate survey, and employees were asked to complete an anonymous satisfaction survey. Results were compared against criteria set by ZweigWhite and other competing A&E firms across the nation. ZweigWhite is a research firm that serves professionals and companies in architecture, engineering and environmental consulting.

Jennifer Bauer, HR manager at TowerPinkster, said more than 100 A/E firms are included in the competition each year. In its first year competing, 2008, TowerPinkster finished in the top 20. The year after that, it was first among firms in its size range. This year it finished first among all entries.

According to information from TowerPinkster, some of the firm’s unique features that stood out among other national firms include commitment to community and teamwork.

In 2009, more than 75 charities were supported by TowerPinkster through donations of time and money, including YMCA, the A.C.E. Mentoring Program, Habitat for Humanity, United Way, Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Arcadia Commons West, ArtPrize, and the Grand Rapids Public Schools Design and Construction Academy. Each employee is given a full day every year to donate hands-on time to the organization of their choice. That company-wide initiative resulted in more than 600 volunteer hours in 2009.

Perhaps more unusual are the extensive personal services available to employees through the firm’s HR department. Bauer said a key concept at the firm is management’s belief that if employees have less stress and fewer personal matters to deal with during the work day, they will be better able to focus on serving their clients.

“So we do what we can internally to make your life easier,” said Bauer. “We do that for everybody” employed at TowerPinkster, which has a total staff of 62, including 16 in the Grand Rapids office at 678 Front St.

For example, Bauer and her assistant, Dawn Chapman, are always busy during the annual open enrollment period when employees renew their insurance options for the coming year.

“When we’re going through open enrollment, we do everybody’s paperwork for them,” said Bauer. That may even include doing a comparison of the TowerPinkster plan with benefit plans the employee’s spouse may have, to help the employee make the choices that work best for the family.

The HR staff also helps employees with medical insurance claims, something that Bauer said many HR departments will not do because privacy laws require legally documented permission allowing the company to make calls to health care providers on an individual’s behalf.

The concierge services include expediting the booking of vacations for employees — and even the arrangements for care of their pets while they are gone, she said.

Bauer has made arrangements with many types of service companies that are willing to send representatives to TowerPinkster to meet with employees. That includes a travel agency and auto detailing and repair shops that will send someone to the firm to pick up and drop off employee cars. A dry cleaning business makes pickups and deliveries at the firm, and TowerPinkster employees receive discounts on corporate apparel. Other services available during the work day are an emergency greeting card selection, a notary public, weather and traffic reports upon request, help with special research projects, floral service, hospitality supplies, a corporate library card and more.

If the spouse of an employee loses his or her job, the TowerPinkster HR department offers to try to help the spouse find temporary employment, and will also help family members fine-tune their resumes. Bauer said she has a wide network of contacts in HR departments throughout the region and has, at times, made calls to some of them on behalf of an employee’s spouse or relative who is seeking work or an internship.

Bauer knows the feeling of being unemployed. She came to TowerPinkster in 2000, after having been in HR for five years at Leiner Health Products in Kalamazoo, a manufacturer of over-the-counter medications. Around 1999, Leiner consolidated its five Midwest locations in one location in South Carolina and moved its operations there.

Despite the fact that she lost her job, Bauer said Leiner was a good company to work for, and its management adhered to the human resources principle that “you can’t get a good product out unless the people are happy.”

Bauer introduced the concierge concept for employee support when she started at TowerPinkster. As to the cost to the company of the services, Bauer said that Mikon “has said to me that it’s hard to put a number on something like that.”

She said Mikon has attended HR conferences with her and is always interested in learning what other HR executives have come up with to make their employees’ lives easier. She said Mikon personally believes that when an employee can come to work without the stress of having to figure out how to deal with pressing issues at home, it is worth it.

Bauer said she and Chapman “do put in a lot of hours. I think we’re very unconventional — but to me, that’s part of the job.”

In the category of community service, TowerPinkster also tries to take the lead. That might be exemplified by Tom Mathison, a principal at the firm who founded the AIA Michigan Mentoring Network in 1999, architect mentors who voluntarily meet with architecture and design students at no cost to the students. It is open to all architecture students at the four accredited architecture programs in Michigan: University of Michigan, Lawrence Technological University, University of Detroit Mercy and Andrews University.

Starting with 100 students, the network has grown to an average of more than 200 each year, and the Michigan model has since been duplicated in other AIA chapters across the country.

Formed in Kalamazoo in 1953 with a small staff of six, TowerPinkster today specializes in design and engineering of facilities for health care, K-12 education, higher education, sophisticated industrial companies and government. Recent projects include designs for Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo Public Schools, Ferris State University, Grand Valley State University, Kent County and Spectrum Health.

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