From Dreaded to Delightful: How Acuity Transformed its Workplace While Growing Its Business

Posted by Peter Barnes on December 30 2014

On the day Great Rated! CEO Kim Peters happened to visit Acuity, she found the Wisconsin-based insurer was not only hosting its "Thirsty Thursday" happy hour for employees, but it had also trucked in hundreds of apple pies for people to take home. Acuity has placed the happiness of its team members at the center of its business for more than a decade, which shows in its headquarters that features an expansive gym, a subsidized cafeteria and even an indoor Ferris wheel.

"The most noticeable thing is that it's so bright and airy," said Peters, who met with Acuity's leaders in November. Lake Michigan is visible in the distance on a clear day, artwork hangs below vaulted ceilings in public areas, and even the parking lot is sheltered so people won't have to dig out their cars when it snows. You can read about the many other perks and programs that help to rank Acuity among the county's best workplaces in the company's Great Rated! review. Although one of the most remarkable things about the organization is how much it's changed.

"It really was a horrible place to work before the new CEO took it over," Peters said. People who worked there before its new name and business plan described a place with high turnover and extreme micro-management. That began in the parking lot, where arriving employees were prohibited from backing into their spots. The workday started with the ring of a bell, followed a few hours later by more bells that signaled a mandatory migration to the cafeteria for an allotted break. Everyone's desk had to be cleaned off at day's end, and managers roamed the building to enforce the rules.

When Ben Salzmann took the helm in 1999, he bet big that giving substantially more independence and support to employees would pay off in the long run. By 2004, Great Place to Work had named Acuity the country's best mid-sized employer, an accolade it went on to earn four more times over the next decade. At the same time, business increased dramatically. Not only did Acuity's team generate more business, the company found its people became much more supportive of their clients. Today, more than 98 percent of Acuity's agents rate its claims service as "very good" or "excellent." Meanwhile, the company has grown to employ more than 1,000 people with a turnover rate of just 2 percent and revenues in excess of $1 billion.

"It's very clear that Acuity has made looking after employees a top priority, and everything else has fallen into line after that," said Peters.

Stay tuned for an exclusive interview with CEO Ben Salzmann on Acuity's generous culture and how it has contributed to the company's substantial growth in recent years.