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Gifts By Design (asi/205947)
Jamie Stone has learned a lot in the 26 years since she started Gifts By Design (asi/205947). Like other distributors, she motivates her employees with rewards, sales contests, happy hours and time off. But the company president finds that one quality looms above them all: a safe workplace is a motivated one.
When it comes to sensitive issues like religion, race, gender and politics, hang-ups must be left at the door. “We respect all of our employees, vendors and customers, no matter what, so prejudices have no place here,” says Stone, whose company is based in Seattle. In her mind, the cornerstones of employee creativity, collaboration and teamwork are created by making work “a safe place where you feel good,” she says, “where everybody has the opportunity to be successful on his or her own merit.” Stone knows from previous experience, having worked for an employer who “exposed their personal preferences and prejudices toward their employees,” she recalls. “I have vowed never to allow such a thing in our workplace.”
She makes that fact clear to applicants during interviews, and facilitates one-on-one supervised meetings between staff members when issues arise surrounding communication between employees. Stone feels so strongly about respect for all, and that positive communication is the key to corporate success, that two years ago she hired a consultant to provide training on the subject of “confrontation without conflict.” Stone found that better communication resulted in greater productivity, a more desirable workforce and happier employees. The 12 full-time staff members learned “you can confront people without having to be negative,” Stone says. Not only did sales rise dramatically after the training, but the lessons spilled over into the personal lives of employees, improving conversations between workers and their families and friends.
And Stone makes sure that the employees at Gifts By Design have time to see those people. Rather than working 90 hours a week like Stone did as a corporate interior designer, she insists her employees leave right when their shifts are over. “I let people know from the beginning that overworking isn’t something I admire,” she says. “I don’t want them to martyr themselves by saying, ‘I was here until 11 o’clock at night.’” Instead, Stone admires workers who ask for help in, say, fulfilling orders when 10 suddenly pour in the door at 4 p.m. and have to be completed before the day is done. “By 5:05 it’s a ghost town around here,” Stone boasts. And for good reason, she adds: “When you use people as workhorses, they’ll get burned out and leave.”
By the same measure, Stone wants to make sure every last employee feels important and vital to the company’s success. As opposed to isolating one or two people as the idea makers, Gifts By Design treats everyone as enlightened entrepreneurs. “If they have an idea about how to improve a process or even for a fun event, they know that their ideas are going to be listened to and considered,” Stone says. “We’re a small company, and everybody’s input is really important.”
That kind of respect in the office makes it easy to leverage out-of-the-office camaraderie as well. Rarely do holidays pass without an office celebration, whether it’s Cinco de Mayo or Halloween. Impromptu incentives aren’t infrequent either, such as $200 gift cards for a big sale, or 10% across-the-board bonuses for all staff after exceeding sales goals for a quarter. Employees are allowed to work from home when possible, and the distributor stays closed between Christmas and New Year’s each year, giving each employee an extra week of paid vacation. The dog-friendly office policy, says Stone, eases concerns about bored, abandoned pets at home.
All of this leads to high retention, with several employees having company tenures over a decade or more. Says Stone: “We look at our office as a small community that depends on one another.”