CARE Awards: 25 Years of Leadership and Innovation

Winners and business leaders share best practices for creating strong, engaging company cultures to benefit their employees

On Friday, Nov. 17, Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS) recognized 25 responsive employers in Northern Virginia for their leadership and innovations in creating employee-centric workplaces that benefit not just the company, but the community on the whole.

The CARE Awards, which began in 1993, is an annual ceremony hosted by NVFS to honor Northern Virginia companies that exhibit workplace flexibility, community stewardship and employee well-being. During its 25-year history, the event has spotlighted positive work-life changes in the workplace, such as telecommuting, paid volunteer leave and better parental leave for new parents.

These changes are not just positives for employees; they have a direct effect on the company’s bottom line as well. “When employees are happy and healthy, the company improves,” shared Misti Muhkerjee, EVP, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary at Towne Park, and CARE Advisory Committee member.

George Lane, principal at Mercer and CARE Advisory Committee chair, helped put into perspective just how much has changed since the CARE Awards first began.

“Smartphones — which many of us probably can’t imagine life without — have only been around for 10 years,” he observed. “The CARE Awards have been around for 25 years.”

The room came alive as Lane polled the audience about their use (or lack thereof) of carbon copies, onion paper and floppy disks, among other things that have since become workplace relics of the past.

The CARE Awards are more than just a celebration of how much the workplace has evolved, though. One of the principal drivers of the CARE Awards, as Lane explained, is also about learning best practices from one another to drive continued innovation across our community. Industry leaders shared such insights through their acceptance remarks, as well as a special panel discussing the impact and importance of the pillars of the CARE Awards, and what businesses leaders can expect in the years ahead.

2017 CARE Awards Panel

Moderated by Douglas Fruehling, editor-in-chief of the Washington Business Journal, the panel included CARE Award winners Robert Acosta, CEO of Ventera Corp.; Jennifer Aument, group general manager of Transurban (USA); and Alisa Valudes Whyte, senior partner & CEO of Merritt Group. Employee well-being and flexibility were key themes throughout the discussion.

“We’re a people company. Many of our employees are parents, commuting can be terrible, so flexibility is essential,” Acosta stated. “Trust is also at the heart of it. Our culture is a reflection of its leadership, and it’s really important to leadership to have trust.”

The conversation continued and dove deep into why employers are choosing to make the necessary changes in their structure to accommodate individual, familial and even generational needs to better cater to the varying age groups present in the workplace.

“Millennials are looking at personal fulfillment and connection at work,” Aument noted. “We’re trying to make sure the young people in our generation are also finding a purpose.”

Addressing these specific generational needs is a way companies are building trust in their workplace culture. So is authenticity and the concept of bringing your whole self to work, while also creating a strong balance between work life and personal life.

“Employees want authentic leadership,” observed Valudez Whyte, on the importance of maintaining her own authenticity in the workplace through work-life balance. “I have to balance personal and professional and keep my family a priority. I preserve the time I have with my children when I get home from work.”

Employee morale is also imperative to a strong workplace culture, with even seemingly simple practices making a world of difference in promoting work-life balance and the value employees bring to their organizations.

“We close early every other Friday to really push employee well-being,” Aument shared. “They’re worth it.”

We couldn’t agree more.

The event concluded with the presentation of awards to the 25 CARE Award-winning companies, including nine first-time winners as well as multiple veteran CARE Award recipients. Winners spanned various industries, from management consulting and government contracting to nonprofits and trade associations, and we anticipate more industries will continue to be attracted to this type of award.

As the workforce is ever-changing, it is imperative that we know exactly how and when to respond to our employees’ needs, and we’re thankful to continue to present the CARE Awards to recognize fellow employers who are on the leading edge of change in the workplaces of Northern Virginia.

“We believe deeply that when businesses invest in their people, they’re building a stronger company and thereby a stronger community” — NVFS President and CEO Stephanie Berkowitz

For more information on the CARE Awards, including an honor roll of winners, please visit our website. We also invite you to check out our Storify feed, showcasing the top tweets and mentions from the CARE Awards.