In September, we sent email and ran notices in CableFAX Daily and on Cable360.net asking people to fill out nomination forms for our second annual list of the Top 10 Places to Work in Cable. We received more than 100 nominations; these submissions formed the basis of our selections, which are listed alphabetically.
As Mike Grebb pointed out in CableWorld‘s 2006 Top 10 Places to Work in Cable list, this is not a scientific process outsourced to a research firm. In some cases we selected companies that were nominated so many times we couldn’t ignore them; in other cases we selected companies that were nominated once, but offered such outstanding benefits and had such good track records in their diversity hiring and opportunities for women that we had to consider them as well. We also weighted heavily whether a company had a formal diversity council and day-care benefits, and considered WICT’s PAR Initiative ranking of the best companies for women and the NAACP’s 2007 Report on the General Telecommunications Industry.
In all cases, we, meaning the CableWorld and CableFAX staffs, took into account the status of a company: if there had been major executive shake-ups at the top in the past year, if a company was on the block or perceived widely to be on the block, or if there had been layoffs or if layoffs were expected. Wide-scale job insecurity tends to flourish like a virus in such environments. With that in mind, we favored companies that appeared to us to have stability at the top and ambitious growth plans.
This time around it was easy to spot trends in the workplace. Employees of cable operators and programmers want more flexibility in their work schedules and want more portability in their benefits, and human resources departments are scrambling to meet the needs of a multi-generational workforce as they compete for the best workers. "The whole concept of flexible work arrangements will continue to grow," says Loretta Walker, SVP, human resources, Turner Broadcasting System. "We’re in a world where the current generation of workers coming in are not looking to do the same jobs nonstop. So we have to give people the chance to be innovative."
"We send out employee surveys [asking staff] what [benefits] they [value]. I can tell you that in our decentralized business environment, we’re looking at workplace flexibility," says Charisse R. Lillie, SVP, human resources, Comcast.
Like her peers, Mae Douglas, SVP and chief people office for Cox, is focused on the intensifying competition for talent. "We have spent time around what we call workforce planning," she says. "With boomers retiring, how do we attract talent in 2010, 2020? There’s not enough labor to supply what companies need."
That competition might make life tougher for employers, but it could also make life sweeter for cable employees. "We do think that cable is a fabulous place to work," says Pamela Williams, executive director, CTHRA. "Because there’s so much competition for great employees, there are a lot of fantastic benefits that companies are offering. One of the things we’re starting to look at are the new benefits like elder care. We expect that’s going to become more popular. [This will meet the needs of] the sandwich generation, people who still have children but are also taking care of their elderly parents."
Julie Cookson, SVP, human resources, for Scripps Networks, has been on the CTHRA board since 1999 and headed the organization’s 2007 Benefits Survey. She says that in the coming years, the workforce will be asking for more choice, more quality and more options. "[They’ll want] more flexibility, everything from part-time jobs to virtual jobs to managing family situations. With the sandwich generation, it’s a difficult dance. Companies are acknowledging that they have to do that. I think cable is ready to roll out some of those concepts. If you care about the next evolution of your company, you should be talking about benefits trends [and] compensation trends."
Bright House Networks
This was one of the companies that received multiple nominations from employees. One nominee wrote, echoing others, that working at Bright House, "you feel like you are important to the success of the company and they care about us personally."
Management tends not to dictate and makes a point of including employees in decision making, says Linda Chambers, VP, human resources. "A lot of people might not think that this is good, but I do — we really are very team oriented," says Chambers. "Decisions are made in a way that incorporate a number of viewpoints. I can’t think of anyone better to give us input or suggestions than the people who are dealing with our customers on the front line."
Bright House has a strong formal mentor program. Fifteen women are selected annually to participate in a nine-month leadership development program. As part of the program, each participant is matched with a senior-level executive as a mentor. Bright House, which was listed under its parent company’s name (Advance/Newhouse) as one of the top five best cable operators for women by WICT’s 2006 PAR Initiative, doesn’t have a formal diversity council, but Chambers says the company is working hard to mirror the diverse community in its home base of Orlando, Fla.
Chambers says she keeps hearing from employees that they want to have more flexibility in their work schedules. She expects to hear a lot more of that. "We have four generations in the workplace, so everybody has their own viewpoint and their own expectations."
In our survey form, we asked nominators to indicate whether their employer encouraged employees to use all of their vacation time every year. "Work-life balance" and "flexibility" are buzzwords in the workplace today, but allowing for telecommuting and adaptable schedules is not exactly the same thing as creating an environment where workers don’t feel guilty about taking their full allotment of vacation time. So we took notice when respondents wrote that Cable One not only encourages staff to use all their days off lets them buy additional vacation time. The $5,000 per year offered for education, regardless of the degree pursued, also caught our eye. To our way of thinking, that means Cable One values its employees, who tend to stick with the company for the long haul.
"The average tenure of the company’s executives with Cable One or its predecessor companies is almost 20 years, and the average tenure of the company’s system managers and system associates is almost equally long," says Tom Basinger, VP, Central division. "We have the benefit of being part of a much larger company, The Washington Post Co., and we offer medical, dental, preventive programs with rewards for participating, tuition reimbursement, two retirement plans. [But] what makes Cable One a great place to work isn’t so much whether we have a particular program or a particular benefit, but rather it is more a reflection of the personality and style of the company."
Cable One conducts an associate attitude survey every two years and holds training classes in Phoenix most weeks of the year. Offerings range from field technician training and direct sales to management and leadership. "We have a particular leadership style we endorse in this company, a style based on recognition and empowerment and rewards," Basinger says.
That leadership style stems from company president Tom Might and the parent company which, Basinger says, is "patient, thinks long term and treats people like adults."
The biggest cable operator in the U.S. has compiled an impressive list that demonstrates the high quality of its workplace: It issues a personal compensation statement annually to each of its 90,000 employees, laying out their whole package of pay plus benefits; in addition to a comprehensive health and wellness plan, Comcast offers legal insurance and pet insurance; it pays 85% of the cost of medical premiums; it’s piloting an emergency dependant care program in its West division; it has on-site gyms at several locations; it’s got a formal diversity council; it runs an employee referral program that includes an incentive bonus; it offers more than 5,000 courses through Comcast University; its Emerging Leaders Mentoring Program develops a diverse roster of employees for leadership roles; it ranked second in WICT’s 2006 Par Initiative list of the best operators for women; and last, but certainly not least, Comcast employees get free cable.
Most important, Comcast employees work for a company that, to put it lightly, has a bright future. No one is going to gobble up the company and lay off half its workforce anytime soon. "It’s a very exciting, busy place," says Charisse R. Lillie, SVP, human resources. "And there is growth. We want to be the first company a customer thinks of when it comes to communication — the interactive media space, phone, Internet, TV, wireless."
Such an ambitious goal requires a happy and healthy workforce, a lesson Comcast obviously learned some time back.
It’s getting to be routine: WICT publishes the results of its latest PAR Initiative and once again Cox is the No. 1 cable operator for women. It’s been No. 1 the last four years. Outside the industry, Cox, the third-biggest MSO in the U.S., placed 25th on DiversityInc’s list of the top 50 companies for minorities.
"I want to get into the top 10," says Mae Douglas, SVP and chief people officer, referring to DiversityInc’s top 50 list.
That’s Cox’s competitive spirit for you — it goes beyond RGUs and customer service and extends to its drive to be a progressive employer and premier workplace for women and people of color.
Its diversity council includes 17 senior leaders and focuses on diversity and inclusion in four areas — people, community outreach, supplier relations and marketing and services — with specific goals and a metric for each. Local operations have their own councils. The management group (first-line supervisors and above) is comprised of about one-quarter people of color and about 35% women.
Douglas says that employees are telling Cox that they value flexibility. "People appreciate some flexibility in their lives. With technology, we’re more open to allowing people to work differently."
They’re also saying that they want more career development. "The one area that employees give us the lowest rating is career development. That’s where we’re spending a lot of time. The career management piece is one that we’re focusing on."
Like ESPN and The Weather Channel, C-SPAN’s focus is pretty sharp on one subject. Political junkies who don’t necessarily want to muddy their consciences by actually getting involved in D.C. politics could do a lot worse than working at C-SPAN, and get the added bonus of feeling like they’re contributing to the nation’s political discourse rather than distorting it. On top of the proximity to the seat of power — C-SPAN’s headquarters are situated between the Capitol building and Union Station — C-SPAN offers its employees a comprehensive benefits package including a 403(b) retirement savings plan, transportation supplement, a tuition assistance program, telecommuting and job share programs and access to an on-site fitness center. Opportunities for advancement for women apparently abound: 50% of VPs and above are women.
"We are very conscious of our benefits," says Jack Jackson, VP, human resources. "We review them on an annual basis so we are offering the best value for the money." C-SPAN also participates in CTHRA’s annual compensation survey and in regional surveys to ensure its compensation structure is competitive.
Jackson emphasizes C-SPAN’s collegial work environment in which employees feel great about contributing to a quality service that is valuable to its viewers. He cites a stark statistic that backs him up: More than 50% of employees have been with C-SPAN for more than seven years.
ESPN is, in a way, Comcast’s twin on this list. It’s a growing concern, and that’s good news for employees. The sports programmer has some serious global ambitions. In the last 18 months it bought a company in Northern Ireland, Scrum.com, and it’s scouting for more international opportunities. "Our employees are more and more aware that we’re in a global sports environment," says Ed Durso, EVP of administration. "For new people at ESPN, they see a dynamic and growing place that has opportunity."
Employees enjoy serious benefits options managed by The Walt Disney Co. ESPN also has an on-site gym with state-of-the-art equipment at its sprawling Bristol, Conn., headquarters. Based on employee feedback in a recent survey, ESPN plans to build a child-care center at its Bristol, Conn., headquarters by 2009. ESPN offers several options for flexible work arrangements.
"[We offer] a quality work experience and work environment, and competitive pay that meets the needs of employees wherever they are in their life journey," says Durso.
He adds that ESPN lately has been focused on diversity and inclusion. A couple of months ago ESPN established a company wide diversity council. "[It] will help us do a better job of meeting the challenges of inclusion and will benefit the product we produce."
Retirement Living TV
Columbia, Md.-based Retirement Living TV lit up screens just a little over a year ago, and it employs only 133 full-time staffers, 20 consultants and 80 freelancers. So why did we receive 27 glowing nominations — the most, by far, for an individual employer — that insisted we include RTLV in our list of the top places to work in cable?
Nominators mentioned a work environment that’s "supportive and enabling," "relaxed, fun yet driven" and "intellectually stimulating and invigorating and innovative"; the sense that the whole company is like a mentor program; competitive pay for the D.C./Baltimore market; open-door communication with executives and no micromanagement; and excellent work-life balance.
Does RLTV offer bonuses for effusively filling out nomination forms? Has it spiked the watercooler with Patron Silver? Let’s assume the answer is no in both cases. What RTLV’s got is youth (oddly enough), growth potential as it seeks more carriage and heavy hitters on its executive team, including board member Fred Dressler, the former programming czar at Time Warner Cable.
"It’s exciting to see something start from the ground up," says Lorri Levie, director of human resources. "There’s so much room to grow…People are working up from being production assistants and marketing assistants."
Scripps was one of the top five programmers for women in WICT’s 2006 Par Initiative survey, but that’s not nearly as graphic a way of demonstrating women’s opportunities for advancement there as this plain fact: Three of Scripps’ five networks are headed by women. Judy Girard, who retires in December, heads HGTV, Brooke Johnson leads Food Network and Kathleen Finch is SVP and GM of DIY. In addition, Deanna Brown runs the Interactive Group. Talk about role models.
"[This is a] supportive and affirming culture," says Chris Powell, EVP, HR. "We’ve had a lot of grand slams here, but even when you try an idea and it doesn’t go well, you’re not banished."
To develop the next generation of leaders, Scripps launched a formal mentor program last year that matches employees with executives or someone who has specific expertise. "Initially we were reaching out to employees, but from time to time employees come to me and ask for a mentor," says Powell.
Scripps Networks’ diversity committee meets regularly, and recently established diversity strategy teams in marketing and programming. Scripps also recently increased its tuition reimbursement from $2,000 to $4,000 per year; and it encourages employees to participate in professional development opportunities each year.
Powell says that since Scripps Networks is a lifestyle media company, employees can connect their vocation with their avocation, but they are encouraged to use vacation time. "It’s a dynamic and creative work environment. People like to recharge. We recognize that individuals need to enjoy the fruits of their labor. It enables them to live the category."
Down the road, Powell says cable employees will be asking for more learning and development opportunities and for portability in their benefits. "[They want] benefits that are more portable, particularly in 401k and health saving accounts. Things they can take with them."
Turner Broadcasting System
Working for Turner Broadcasting System in Atlanta is probably similar to what it must have been like working for General Motors in the years after World War II — the company’s taking care of you, it’s growing and there’s pride in the products. Here’s what Turner employees in Atlanta get: flexibility in health and wellness programs; a company-sponsored near-site day care center for children ages six weeks through pre-K; flextime, telecommuting and job sharing; full-service on-site gym facilities in two locations; and a full range of career-training and professional-development opportunities for employees at every level.
Turner conducts annual external and internal companywide compensation studies and surveys to ensure compensation at all levels is equitable and competitive. Diversity efforts are steered by the formal Turner Diversity Council (OK, maybe GM didn’t have a diversity council in 1947); and the company placed fourth in WICT’s 2006 PAR Initiative ranking of the best programmers for women.
"I’ve been part of this company since 1991," says Loretta Walker, SVP, human resources. "There’s a lot of pride in its history. It’s an easy conversation in the Atlanta metro area when you say where you work. That’s a lot of why people stay here. It’s cool to be part of a continuum that began with Ted Turner."
Walker says that at Turner, employees can work across the different networks. "The personal and professional growth that you can get is very attractive. Diversity is not just about race and gender; [it’s also] about diversity of thought and perspective. We’re in a unique perspective to entertain and inform the world. The only way to do that effectively is to recognize the diversity in that world."
There were huge layoffs at acquisition Court TV, and plenty of bitterness, but the company is reportedly looking to expand its stable of networks, so it remains, overall, in growth mode.
The Weather Channel
We all know at least one person who watches The Weather Channel obsessively, just as we all know one person who is infinitely absorbed by political posturing on C-SPAN. Some people just love watching weather patterns in places they’ll never visit — they can’t get enough of it. They should quit their watching and get a job with the company. They really know how to take care of employees over there, and they love weather patterns.
A perennial in the PAR Initiative’s list of the top five programmers for women, Weather was also recognized by the PAR survey in 2006 for its pay practices. For medical benefits, Weather contributes 85% of the premium cost per associate. In lieu of on-site day care, the Atlanta office partners with a local day-care facility to assist with day-care options. In addition to substantial maternity leave, the company offers two weeks paid paternity leave, adoption leave and adoption reimbursement. It offers alternative work schedules and college tuition reimbursement and a formal internal mentor program. CEO Debora Wilson chairs the Leveraging Difference Council, which has multiple focus areas, including diversity outreach, communication, strategy, resources and events.
"From the outside looking in, we’ve managed to develop a reputation of being a good place to work," says Lisa Chang, EVP, human resources. "We have a singular mission and purpose. [People who work here] have a passion for what we’re doing and what we’re here for. If you come here during our peak season and there’s a hurricane going on, it’s amazing, they know why they’re here. We do weather."
In terms of trends in the workplace, Chang sees increased desire for flexibility. "For us that means investment in technology to make [working offsite] seamless."
Bresnan Communications – Led by Cable Pioneer Bill Bresnan, this small MSO takes a caring approach to its workforce: It monitors the CTHRA Compensation Survey to insure its compensation plans are competitive, and offers all employees free digital video service, up to two free DVRs, free high-speed Internet service and digital phone service.
Suddenlink Communications – One of the nominators puts it best: "People [here] truly care about each other. Feels like a small company versus corporate America. Individual accomplishments are noticed and recognized. The boss doesn’t have to be right."