The most loved employers do unto their employees as they would have them do unto themselves. At least they try. That's one thing the 2005 Best Christian Places to Work survey suggests.

The finalists see their employees as so much more than brains or muscles they can use. They see them as parents who need flex time, as bodies that need exercise, as souls who need prayer, and as the sick who need compassion and good insurance.

Zondervan, top finalist in the large media category, showed extraordinary forbearance in the way it treated Jen Abbas, who was hired as associate marketing director in October 2003. Shortly after that, on January 21, 2004, Abbas fell and suffered a "mild traumatic brain injury." She became a walking wounded. "I looked fine, but my brain was bruised," she says. She lost the ability to be introspective and the concept of time. For most of last year, her short-term memory was gone. She had 157 doctor appointments in 2004.

But she told herself she was fine, and came in to work. In June, after a period of pushing too hard, she relapsed. Neurological tests found she was using 17 percent of her brain's functioning level. After several months of spotty attendance, doctors told her to stay home, this time for three months.

Abbas's two vice presidents—head of human resources Nancy Thole and vp of marketing John Topliff—"spent a lot of time with my speech therapist to find out what happens when you have a head injury," she says. "They wanted to structure my return to set me up to succeed. I'm blown away by that. So many people with head injuries lose their job or insurance." Instead, Abbas says, "I was told, 'Don't worry about the job, it's here for you.'"

The survey also showed that this year's winning workplaces "engage employees in decisions that affect them," says Best Christian Workplaces Institute executive director Al Lopus. A key sign of well-managed companies is that "they seek their employees' opinions" and, just as important, "act on them."

Three-time finalist Coalition for Christian Outreach never rested on its laurels. The first survey (which they won in their category) showed something that surprised the head of this parachurch organization. While the employees clearly loved their jobs, "we had a lousy pension plan," says CCO president Daniel J. Dupee. "Most of our people are in their 20s, so the deferred compensation plan never rose to the top of our concerns." CCO has since not only rolled out an impressive pension plan, but also begun growing in its geographical reach and in number of employees after giving its workers the ownership of its goals.

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Coaches Wanted

The survey also revealed the Achilles' heel of many Christian workplaces: inadequate feedback and rewarding of good performance. "There are many Christian workers who have not received direct feedback on their performance in years," Lopus says. "So they're anxious to know how they can be more effective. Often, managers put on their Christian face of being positive, but they aren't helpful if they do not coach employees toward improvement."

In Jesus' parable of the talents, the master gave different amounts to different people. The servants who doubled his investment were given more, but the servant who buried his talent was treated harshly. In the same way, Lopus says, Christian companies shouldn't shy away from giving different rewards to workers who perform at different levels, "rewarding good performers and coaching others to improve poor performance."

The good news is that the employees polled in the third annual survey report higher-than-before satisfaction with opportunities to learn and grow. "Clearly," Lopus says, "these employees are taking the Scripture to heart that they consider it all joy when they encounter various trials."

Agnieszka Tennant is an associate editor of Christianity Today.

Related Elsewhere:

Last year's Best Workplaces articles included:

The 50 Best Christian Places to Work | The second annual survey highlights companies that focus on building a culture of trust. (April 23, 2004)
The Complete List & A Closer Look at the Top Finalists | Christianity Today salutes four finalists in ten categories. (April 23, 2004)
How They Were Chosen | Independent panel weighed employee surveys. (April 23, 2004)
Too Much Information? | Communication is necessary, but avoid information overload. (April 23, 2004)

Our 2003 series included:

Inside CT: Great Places to Work | There is indeed much to praise and imitate in the Christian companies. (Feb. 28, 2003)
The 40 Best Christian Places to Work | What makes them so good? (Hint: Not money) (Feb. 28, 2003)
The Complete List & A Closer Look at the Top Finalists | Christianity Today salutes four finalists in ten categories. (Feb. 28, 2003)
Best Christian Places to Work: Co-CEO Synergy | Sharing leadership works at Christian Medical and Dental Associations. (March 03, 2003)
Best Christian Places to Work: Rigorous Hiring | Group Publishing places importance on the quality of the product and its staff. (March 04, 2003)
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Best Christian Places to Work: People of the Hugs | Howard Publishing's pajama day, adoption support, and National Hugging Day celebrations create a family-like ambiance. (March 05, 2003)
Best Christian Places to Work: Freedom and Grace | Covenant Christian High School teachers and staff are encouraged to be creative, lead classes in innovative ways, and take initiative. (March 06, 2003)
Best Christian Places to Work: Lives in Balance | At Evangelical Christian Credit Union, professional development is not just a nice bonus but also a spiritual responsibility. (March 07, 2003)
Best Christian Places to Work: What Burnout? | The Coalition for Christian Outreach takes seriously its responsibility to care for employees. (March 10, 2003)
Best Christian Places to Work: No Prayer, No Results | Medical Ambassadors International's emphasis on praying creates a strong sense of commitment. (March 11, 2003)
Best Christian Places to Work: President in Sweats | Leadership's informal style reflects an atmosphere of openness on the Whitworth College campus. (March 12, 2003)
Best Christian Places to Work: Practicing What They Teach | Dallas Theological Seminary and Multnomah Bible College and Seminary share a philosophy on managing employees. (March 13, 2003)
Best Christian Places to Work: Shepherding Hearts | Phoenix Seminary focuses on mentoring the balance of head knowledge with character development. (March 14, 2003)

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