Baker Audio Visual workers’ raves about “the breakfast club” aren’t nostalgia for the 1980s teen angst movie.
Every day, breakfast is free for all 50-plus employees at the Norcross audiovisual company, which designs and integrates systems and provides long-term service support to sporting arenas, government and higher education facilities, corporate interiors and houses of worship. The company reimburses staffers who volunteer to pick up biscuits and other morning fare from fast food restaurants, and sometimes others bring in a home-cooked breakfast.
The Norcross business was named the best small workplace in the metro Atlanta region by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The free morning meal began several years ago, after the company’s leaders sought to make life easier for their employees, who faced busy mornings with kids and roadway congestion. They realized employees were either not eating in order to beat traffic to the Gwinnett County office off Interstate 85, or were running late in drive-throughs or doughnut shops before starting the workday.
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“Between travel time, family and getting kids off to school, it made it difficult for everyone to have the most important meal of the day,” said company president Keith Hicks.
Southern comfort food — hash brown casserole, baked egg casserole, bacon or sausage — and some fruit is typically on the menu when Jacki Kirsch, customer support manager, brings in her signature “Jacki breakfast.”
“It’s my way of saying thank you. It’s my little way of telling people that I care about them to feed them something yummy,” said Kirsch, whose commute from Marietta is about 35 minutes in the morning and about an hour-and-a-half in the afternoon.
Offering free breakfast, as well as catered meals during meetings and holiday parties, creates a sense of camaraderie, say both employees and company leaders. Collaboration has resulted from casual conversations over breakfast and workers now arrive earlier, or stop by before heading to a client. When Hicks arrives at 6:30 a.m., about 10 workers often have beaten him to the office.
The company also nourishes employees with free fruit and snacks and 25-cent beverages from the vending machine. Other little perks add up as well, including mobile car washing services on site, a paid day off for birthdays and closing the office at noon on Halloween, another high-traffic day.
Founded in 1953, Baker provided sound for the Beatles’ 1965 Atlanta show, and is the longest-standing audiovisual integrator in Atlanta. Even as health care costs have risen, Baker has absorbed the extra expense so that the prices employees pay are comparable to 2005.
“In 2004, we became shocked and a little angered at the increasing cost of health insurance and saw that it adversely affected nearly everyone in the company,” Hicks said. “That’s when we decided that we had to do something about it. It has now been a company monetary goal to absorb the difference in the cost that we attempt to meet every year.”
Kirsch recognized the value of her health insurance after she broke her foot and was able to see a top orthopedist.
“Just to see the impact of the company absorbing those costs to ensure that we have excellent health care, it just kind of blows my mind,” she said. “Baker’s made it so that’s very affordable for their employees. When you treat people well, it shows in the way that we treat our customers and the way that we handle our projects.”
In 2012, the company renovated its existing offices to create a user-friendly, working showroom. Modular furniture in vibrant hues and fabric in energizing patterns surround screens with interactive touch displays. Employee meeting rooms also serve as demonstration spaces.
“When we bring clients here, not only do we get to use the equipment ourselves and become proficient on it, but we actually get to sit down with clients and show them how it would actually benefit their environment,” Grant said.
The employee extras demonstrate the company mission that Baker posts in an open meeting area for everyone to see: “Provide our employees the absolute best working environment possible.”
“We wanted to display it where not only our employees saw it every day, but our clients when they came in … so they understand what is at the core of our values,” said Kasie Grant, Baker’s marketing and administration coordinator.
Mentoring and feedback is a focus as well. During an employee’s first year, the company provides five reviews so they can excel in their position, Hicks said. After the first year, the progress reviews are quarterly, with an overall review on the employee’s annual anniversary.
“We never want anyone to feel like they have been left out of the mix,” Hicks said. “We want to see everyone succeed.”
Kirsch joined the company in 2015 through a mutual connection on LinkedIn. Talking to employees had built up her expectations for a more intimate, less corporate, environment where ideas could grow organically and be applauded.
“It was 100 percent true,” she said. “You’re never alone at Baker, which I love. Everyone always takes time if someone is successful to really shout it from the mountaintop.”
Kirsch said it feels as if every employee was carefully selected to fit with each other.
“We just work together,” she said.