Freedom to Thrive

Where employees should plan to retire

Those who join the company should come with the expectation of retiring there. This extraordinary stance is what the Nashville, Tennessee-based provider of accounting and finance, technology and office solutions takes when bringing employees on board.

It’s an unusual philosophy, given the recruitment industry’s reputation for having high employee turnover, but it has paid off for Vaco. The company has been a Best Staffing Firm to Work For grand prize winner twice in a row. “We believe that Vaco is a place where the best and the brightest can come and spend the rest of their careers,” CEO Jerry Bostelman says.

For a company to want its employees to retire with it, then there must be something different that it offers that other firms cannot compete with. And for Vaco, it starts with the individual. “One of the things I think we do a really good job of is understanding what each individual wants and trying to set a path where we can reach that goal together,” Bostelman says.

It’s this expectation and desire to connect with the employee that makes Vaco stand out from other staffing firms. Vaco looks at each person as an entire individual rather than the sum of their skills.

“Our first core tenet is ‘outlaws welcome,’ and there’s a saying in our business that you hire for a résumé and then the whole damn person shows up,” Bostelman says. But Vaco looks at the entire person from the start. “If we are going to retire together, that means we need to do life together. We accept the entire person and their entire life, and we work to celebrate and cherish both of those.”

So far, Vaco’s outlook on hiring to retire has worked well. The company cites the freedom and flexibility it gives its employees, its work culture, team spirit and family-like environment as the main factors that attracts employees and keeps them.

Sandra Shugart, managing director and staffing practice lead, joined Vaco 15 years ago from another recruitment firm. She says the freedom that Vaco gives her is like nothing she’d ever experienced before. “I’m approaching my 15-year mark here and I do plan to retire with Vaco; I cannot imagine working with any other company,” Shugart says.

For Shugart, the freedom and work-life balance that Vaco provides means that the company trusts her — which in turn makes her want to work even harder for Vaco.

“They give us all the tools we need to work anytime, anywhere and trust that I’m going to do what’s best for the company,” Shugart says. “So, if I have to run out at two o’clock, I can work from home later tonight, and nobody’s micromanaging my time.”

Shugart adds, “The results are measured by the bottom line, and it doesn’t really matter how you back into that — and that’s a very unique perspective with staffing firms.”

Advancing Your Career

Vaco knows that employees don’t want to remain stagnant in a role, so it invests in its employees, too.

“Vaco wants to teach you, take you under its wing, and empower you to have a whole career here,” Shugart says. “That means there’s lots of opportunity. You may be doing one thing today, but if you see something within our company as it grows that you’d like to be doing, you have the freedom to transfer and create a new path for yourself.”

Vaco’s approach to investing in its people is what led Mallory Young to join Vaco as a staffing recruiter. Originally, Young was set to join the company on a short-term assignment, but after discussing roles in-depth, she was instead assigned to her current position.

“Vaco is personable and willing to work with you to find the perfect position that you’re looking for,” Young says. “They’ll actually give you more information about the company and about the position; they’re truly trying to help you advance within your career.”

Bostelman considers this approach as part of “doing life together” and says the company will invest in employees’ needs, whether it’s coaching or holding events that bring the team together.

Lean on Me

Despite the massive number of employees — Vaco has more than 1,100 employees spread across its 37 US offices as well as two offices each in Canada and India — Vaco cultivates camaraderie and considers this attribute to be a major appeal for employees to want to work for Vaco.

“When somebody walks into the office and sees the players who are there and the culture that we have, they want to be a part of that,” Bostelman says.

The team aspect of Vaco not only brings employees in, it keeps them there too. For Young, the family-like environment has been a big part of why she has stayed with Vaco. “Everybody treats you like a family with open arms,” Young says. “And if you need help, somebody’s always there for you.” And at Vaco, she says employees always have someone there to lean on, who will answer questions and be supportive.

Shugart echoes Young’s view: “We’ve become like a family in an industry that has very high turnover. A lot of my colleagues have been here 10 to 15 years, so it is very much like an extended family. However, we are growing by leaps and bounds, so we are bringing new people on all the time and showing them what it’s like to work for a company that really cares about its people and wants them to retire there.”

Making Bigger Better

While some companies lose their family-like environment as they grow, Vaco has managed to bring its employees closer together.

Vaco holds an annual event for high-performing personnel dubbed Vatopia, where employees from its offices around the globe can network with each other. There’s no set limit to the number who can attend. Their latest trip — its 15th Vatopia — took them to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.

“It was almost unanimously ranked by those who attended as the most intimate experience yet,” Bostelman says. “What’s awesome about that is the fact that we are making ‘bigger’ better because we’re engaging more people while maintaining our culture. It was my favorite moment last year, just recognizing that we are keeping what’s sacred and investing in that as we continue to grow.”

In keeping with the family theme, employees at Vaco are supportive of each other both in and out of the workplace, such as through its “Vaco Cares” program, in which employees can donate money to a shared fund available to fellow employees who might need assistance through difficult times.

For example, when an employee’s mother’s home was hit by a massive flood and the family car was destroyed, not only were funds from Vaco Cares used to assist the employee, but many colleagues brought food and volunteered their time and energy to help clean up.

Freedom to Play

Culture at Vaco is key. In addition to its annual Vatopia event, other extras that Vaco offers its employees are fully stocked bars in the office, time off for life events, flexibility and employee recognition. Both Shugart and Young describe Vaco’s vibe as “work hard, play hard.”

If you’re contributing to the bottom line and working hard, there’s a lot of freedom, Shugart says. “At times, you want to ask yourself, ‘Are we really getting away with this?’ — because it’s a lot of fun.”