My 10 Year Tenure: How My Company Turned My Co-Workers Into My Family
Wondering what Praxent jobs are like? When I started in 2007, I had no idea I would be here more than a decade later. Learn why I stuck around.
I have been employed at Praxent for over 10 years. That’s a long time compared to the industry average of two, and it’s staggering considering how many millennials switch jobs every year.
Not surprisingly, these low tenure numbers make business owners nervous because losing top talent is emotionally and financially painful.
As technology continues to accelerate and as competition for market share increases, job seekers have plenty of options.
When I started in 2007, I had no idea I would be here more than a decade later, but as you’ll learn throughout this article, there are traits instilled in the Praxent culture that make it a place worth the long haul.
The Average Employee
According to the latest research from PayScale, the average employee tenure for fortune 500 tech companies is 2.02 years, which includes tech giants like Facebook, Google, and more.
The costs these companies incur for high turnover is undoubtedly high, to put it lightly.
Every business owner knows it takes a long time and costs thousands of dollars to find a great fit for each role. But, it’s not just about the money.
Retaining top talent is a major competitive advantage, especially for the big companies.
Payscale says it well:
“Tech companies usually aren’t making sure they’re great places to work out of the goodness of their heart, whatever they may claim.
They’re doing it because they need to attract the best software developers, engineers, product managers and other employees in order to beat the competition.”
How does Praxent fare? Our average tenure is 3.14 years.
What’s more interesting is these low tenure rates come from companies I would expect to have higher numbers given the employee perks they offer.
Take Google for example.
When you browse Glass Door, you’ll find some of their employees’ favorite perks: free, healthy food, 50% matching for 401k plans, extra vacation days for longer tenure, beer and wine in the office on Friday, pets at work, onsite gyms, etc. And yet, Google still struggles to keep their top talent.
Unfortunately, that’s impossible for me to say.
I’ve never been a Google employee and even if I had been it would still be hard to say.
However, I can say what has kept me at Praxent for so many years and despite our company not being in the fortune 500 (yet), and even though we don’t employ thousands of people, I believe our cultural success is worth exploring because it offers insights as to how to increase employee tenure at a time when it’s desperately desired.
I believe our cultural traits can be a model for your business so that you can achieve similar success.
Why Praxent? | Praxent Jobs
I started at Praxent in 2007 as a web designer. I was the second hire the company ever made and like most designers back then I was hired to be jack of all trades: do some SEO optimization, some copywriting, print work, IT support, graphic design, and website design/development.
As a 3-man shop, we made it work. We grew slowly, but I loved my work. The results we generated for our clients was very motivating for me (more on that later).
Fast forward to 2018.
Our team has grown from 3 to 50. We’ve gone from $250k in 2007 to $5.4mm in annual revenue. We have built systems, refined our service, standardized our tools, and created a ton of value for dozens of clients.
Most importantly, we have created a business environment that feels like a family.
So, what’s our secret?
What is it about Praxent that makes it feel like a family rather than a job? What does Praxent do that has compelled me to stay well beyond the industry average?
Perhaps I’m just a complacent sloth going through the motions for a paycheck.
Or the inverse.
Maybe I stay for an unbeatable salary? Maybe it’s ping pong tables? Beer?
All joking aside: Here are the traits that I believe keep people around year after year, traits that you can implement for your own business that I believe will lead to increased employee tenure.
A vulnerable team
To kick off the list of Praxent’s cultural qualities I’ll start with the one that resonates with me the most: vulnerability.
Praxent is what I would call a human-centered organization; one built on trust, humility, and autonomy. In other words, we have a culture that embraces vulnerability, a trait that allows us to be real and uplifting.
And for me, it started the first week of the job.
This major component of our culture began as weekly Friday meetings with our CEO, Tim.
Every Friday, Tim and I would meet at the 15th street Texadelphia over cheesesteaks and curly fries. During these meetings, Tim wanted to know from my perspective how things were going, how I was feeling, what he could do better, how I felt about the projects and my work.
At the time I was only his second employee and Praxent was his first business. He wanted to make sure he was being a good boss.
Well, it worked. We still have “Feedback Fridays” every week, where employees are encouraged to meet with Tim and managing partner, Kevin, to share concerns, wins, fears, and goals.
My weekly meeting with Tim was the first piece in building an organization that bleeds honesty, feedback, and humanity.
But that’s not all. Our culture of vulnerability goes far beyond conversations about professional development.
Many of us cry when someone leaves Praxent. For me, holding back tears when someone announces they’re leaving is near impossible because of the relationships we build here, and also because of what Tim does after the announcement is made.
He reads a heartfelt goodbye letter aloud to the team.
He reads his first impressions of said person, how he/she not only made a difference, but exceeded his expectations, and he expresses his sadness about the impending loss.
After being here for more than 10 years, I sometimes wonder what my letter would be like.
I have so many memories from my time here and I have grown so much personally and professionally with this company. For me, this kind of sadness only comes when I’ve put my heart and soul into something and I think tears come from vulnerability.
Here’s my last personal story that illustrates vulnerability at Praxent.
In 2016, we outsourced the design on a couple of projects to another vendor; Praxent planned to do the engineering, another firm would do the design. We did this a few times and I started to notice a pattern that scared me. After all, I am a designer, and at the time I was the only designer on the team. If we outsource the design to other agencies on every project I’ll be out of a job.
I started to wonder if this was a sneaky way of cutting costs and I figured I’d better start looking for another job or eventually be let go. I should’ve known better.
What happened next is what makes our company unique.
I walked into Tim’s office, visibly shaking, and spilled the beans. Our conversation went something like this:
“I’m nervous about my role here, Tim.
We’re outsourcing design more and more now and I’m worried about losing my job. What’s to stop you from continuing to outsource design and just letting me go?
It could be a business opportunity to just focus on development at Praxent. I don’t like it but I would understand the business case for such a decision.”
I’ll never forget the way Tim responded.
“Nick, I’m so sorry you got that impression and I absolutely do not want to outsource our design work to other agencies.
I see design as a critical component of our business and I see your growth and leadership in this area a valuable asset to this company.
I would hate to see you leave and I apologize for not being more forthcoming about our decisions in this area.”
How many companies embrace this level of psychological safety?
I never doubted my role after that day and that single interaction has led to my most productive year at our company.
Praxent is vulnerable because its leadership is vulnerable. Tim and Kevin are real with us. They share their concerns candidly and in so doing, encourage all of us to do the same.
This strong connection with one another has been years in the making. It wasn’t some master plan devised one evening to lure and trap people into staying.
You can’t fake vulnerability. You’re either all in – from the CEO down to reception – or it won’t work.
From the very beginning of my tenure, I have had the freedom to speak candidly about anything heavy on my mind, share new ideas, and express general concerns over anything. That’s what makes a vulnerable culture and it’s the main driver for my long tenure.
But it’s not the only tool in our belt.
Let’s move on from vulnerability and talk about the second aspect that makes Praxent unique: a results-obsessed culture.
At first, this might sound like I’m describing every company. What company doesn’t focus on results?
The difference for our team is that we publicly link individual contributions to the results we achieve, to the value we bring to our clients. And we do this regularly.
Here’s an example of me being called out in our weekly company huddle:
“Nick’s design work on the Bluebird website has helped in doubling their conversion rate leading to an increase in $16,000 per month.”
To compare, another company might say: “User adoption increased by 125%.”
The difference is the link between the result and the individual. We are constantly identifying each other’s work and tying it to successful outcomes.
And, personally, it’s why I do what I do.
Culture of support
Aubrey Daniels, author of Bringing Out the Best In People (and many others) talks about positive reinforcement as a way to increase employee tenure AND to boost learning and productivity.
In one study, he showed that giving frequent, positive reinforcement to air traffic control trainees reduced training time by 400%, and the quality was even better than that of their more experienced colleagues.
I believe it.
In my 10 years at Praxent, I have never felt demeaned, put down, blamed, or thrown under the bus.
Quite the opposite: I’ve been uplifted, encouraged, empowered, and cared for. We’ve built a culture that does not blame or shame. Ever.
Here are two ways we achieve this positive vibe:
First, Tim (CEO) stops by our desks a few times a month to see what we’re working on, what problems we’re solving, and what we’re producing.
He’s not there to criticize; He’s genuinely curious (and I’m pretty sure he’s living vicariously through us because he misses tactical work).
He asks questions. He looks us in the eye, smiles, nods. He’s present and listening intently.
He sets a tone for being interested in our work and giving regular positive reinforcement, and not because he knows it boosts morale (though I’m sure he does) but because he cares deeply.
The other example I’ll share is about the whole team congratulating each other.
We have a tool (TinyPulse) that allows us to send our co-workers a virtual pat on the back for something they did well or something that was impressive.
It’s called Cheers for Peers.
We used to read the cheers publicly every Friday during our company huddle, but now we have so many cheers that we have to select only a few at random.
Here’s one of my recent cheers:
“We have just won the largest ever design engagement in company history and Nick had a lot to do with this.
We heard directly from our new client how impressed they were with their first mini engagement with us, which is why they have decided to give us a huge chunk of work that would have otherwise gone to another agency.
Great work Nick!”
This example shows both the positive feedback we regularly receive and the results-oriented focus I mentioned earlier.
For me, our positive culture has become so normal that I tend to take it for granted. I wouldn’t even think to mention it in the list of traits important to me until I hear stories at other companies.
- “He yelled at me for being 10 minutes late.”
- “She called me on my vacation to complain that it wasn’t done right and that I should redo it.”
- “He said I was the one who made the mistake.”
- “She blamed me for losing the client.”
At Praxent, not only does this not happen to me, but I feel like we’ve baked positivity into our culture so deeply that it could easily be labeled cheesy.
I’m okay with it.
I’ll take cheesy over demoralized any day.
Our company has a competitive benefits package that includes standard paid time off, holidays, medical insurance, parental leave and disability insurance.
However, what’s more compelling to me are the random acts of kindness given to promote a healthy work-life balance.
I have received random gift cards from Starbucks thanking me for my hard work. I have received random days off because I put in late hours trying to “fight fires” for a client.
Our entire team has received random days off to celebrate big wins or just to get a much-needed break.
We meet regularly during quarterly celebrations and “socials” to meet outside of work. Family members are encouraged to attend.
Last year, when Tim sent a random email before Labor Day recognizing our hard work and celebrating our record growth.
On my 10 year anniversary (also last year), Praxent sent me, my wife, and son to a resort in San Antonio for the weekend. I got the rest of the day off and we had an amazing weekend.
Our team has been on conference trips; we’ve been to plenty of company dinners, lunches, breakfasts; all of our family members have company t-shirts. Praxent has done an amazing job giving us the autonomy, freedom, and flexibility to deliver great services to clients without jeopardizing our personal lives outside of work.
One last example.
A friend of ours (me and my wife), Natalie, recently passed away from breast cancer.
She had been sick for several years, and as you can imagine she and her family fought hard. Natalie never complained, ever. Even when she lost her house two years ago in the Luecke fire in Bastrop County.
Many people lost their homes in that fire and it’s painful for us in Bastrop because it seems like only yesterday when ashes were falling in Austin (30 miles away from Bastrop) from the 2011 fire.
As part of an effort to help her rebuild her home, her family started a gofundme campaign. My wife and I wanted to pitch in and try and raise some money. I told Natalie’s story to our team, and I casually invited anyone to pitch in if they had the means.
I was blown away when Tim decided to match our donations 1 to 1. We ended up raising $2,000 for Natalie and her family.
I never asked or expected this to happen; it just goes to show you how far the company goes to support each other and our families.
Last on my list is of things that Praxent does to keep me around is the ability to change roles and grow professionally.
This trait is farther down my list for two reasons:
- It’s not as unique–many businesses have similar perks
- Because it’s simply not as important to me as the traits listed previously.
Still, it’s important enough to cite specific examples as you may find new ideas.
From 2007 to 2016, I not only designed many of the websites and apps Praxent created, but I also coded the front end as well–the HTML and CSS to be specific.
Being able to work this way throughout a project has been very beneficial for me as a professional because I have knowledge of what is required for implementation when I design something.
However, in 2016, as our design practice began to grow, and as I became less interested in coding, I decided to ask our management team to limit my focus to design.
To make a long story short: I don’t code anymore.
In less than a month, my time was fully allocated to design.
Here’s another example.
One of our engineers, Sam, was promoted to Director of Engineering in 2014. Since then he’s built the engineering team while intermittently served clients by supporting the teams on those projects or interacting with the client directly to resolve issues or address technical complexities.
Several months ago he spoke with the management team that he’d like to step down from his director role in favor of solution architecture – serving as a consultant to client projects – as opposed to management.
Almost overnight the management team started looking for his replacement.
These examples may not blow your hair back, but they further drive home my point that Praxent is dedicated to its people and that this dedication can keep talent longer than the industry average.
Apart from these examples, in general, Praxent also offers a professional development budget; the company encourages us to attend conferences and online classes; and we purchase new books on a regular basis.
It makes it easy to stay put when I don’t feel like I have to jump ship to learn something new.
Up until this point, I’ve talked about the things that Praxent does as an organization that keep me coming back year after year.
But I haven’t talked about something equally important: how my personality is a good match for this culture.
Until now, I’ve been writing about Praxent’s traits as if they were universally applicable. I still believe that’s true.
I think any company could implement the above traits and benefit.
However, to strive for high employee tenure, you must factor in personal traits as well.
Here’s some information about my personality and how it has played well with our company culture.
I am adaptable and I crave variety
Because my parents are divorced, I grew up with four parents, two homes, and the freedom to choose where I wanted to live.
For many years I switched homes a lot, and schools even more – a different school each year until high school.
The relevant knowledge from this childhood story is that I am comfortable with change. Change doesn’t scare me; in fact, I find it exciting.
I want variety. I like new things, people, places, projects.
What this means in a business context is I don’t have a problem moving my desk or moving our entire office; I don’t panic when new people join the team or when they leave; and I love starting new projects and finding out about new problems.
Because Praxent is a digital agency, we serve many clients and we’ve worked on hundreds of projects, and we have to evolve constantly in order to stay competitive and grow.
You can see how this constant change works for me.
This environment may not work so well for someone who hates change and it’s worth mentioning here before you run off to change your company culture without understanding how much personality plays a role in tenure.
I enjoy “boring” problems
I don’t want to design for the sake of making something pretty.
I’m more interested in solving problems and publishing my work. I want my designs to be used.
I do enjoy aesthetics, but I value pragmatism first.
I crave real-world problems and I’m not interested in glamour – where the wires are hidden and the lighting is perfect.
I want to see the dirt and the grit because it’s more representative of how the world works and that’s what motivates me.
Again, you can see how my personality supports longer tenure at a digital agency.
Most of our clients aren’t interested in experimenting. They’re not interested in glitz.
They’re interested in solving real business problems: optimize a supply chain algorithm, sell more product to a new market segment, validate an idea before seeking funding, increase leads via organic SEO, create a new brand strategy.
We thrive on candid conversations and challenging problems. We’re all about business value and generating results from which our clients can profit.
So do I.
Compensation vs. Culture
There is one thing I haven’t addressed yet: money.
Compensation. You may be thinking: all of these traits are great, but people need to get paid.
Yes, that’s true. Absolutely. I wouldn’t have stayed at Praxent for 10 years because I’m able to share my feelings with the CEO.
But when I think back on my time here, the moments that stand out are not when my salary increased but the very real, human experiences I shared with many of the people on this team.
Perhaps your business is just starting and you can’t attract top talent because you can’t afford competitive compensation and a massive benefits package.
To you, I would say: focus on culture first.
You can start by being transparent. Open your books and educate your employees about the constraints of running a business.
That’s what we did.
Second, try to plan the culture you want and hire people that fit both the role and the culture. It takes longer, is more challenging, and more expensive but it pays off.
Most importantly, be honest and be willing to listen and evolve.
Once you do grow to the point where you can competitively compensate: do so. Show those that gave so much to your growth that you appreciate it.
Wrapping it up
I really believe the traits that make Praxent a great place to work are universally applicable.
Any company can benefit from implementing some of the experiences I’ve shared.
At the end of the day, being able to be passionate, candid, and vulnerable with others that do reciprocate these same values is so motivating that I could easily see myself here for another ten years.