XMission, an Internet service provider operated by Pete Ashdown, recently earned the 2009 Psychologically Healthy Workplace award in the small-business category from the Utah Psychological Association. Ashdown hired his first employees in 1995, one of whom is still with the company. The company’s average employee tenure is about seven years, he says—unusually long-lived in the tech field.
Do you consider yourself psychologically healthy? Does it start at the top and work its way down?
Uh, sure. That’s a pretty hard question to ask an individual because I think that’s probably best judged by other people. But, yeah, I feel OK about myself.
Ever worked for an un-psychologically healthy company?
Sure. One place I worked, I did data entry. I was essentially stuffed in the back of an office late at night. This was after-business hours, and I had to sit there in a dress shirt and tie and type records onto a computer. It felt like there was no hope of progressing inside the company, no sense of accomplishment and certainly no socialization when I was the only person around.
Name something a small business can do to improve morale.
Casual dress is a big one—if employees don’t have to interact with customers on a regular basis. Certainly, there are limits to casual dress but just not having the Mad Men uniform, so to speak, is a big one. Another thing is giving employees the liberty to make suggestions and changes to how the company does things. I’ve gotten good suggestions from entry-level employees.
Do you offer unique benefits to make quirky tech-types feel appreciated?
We definitely have unique benefits here, like being able to bring in your own server and set it up on the Internet and have access to all the bandwidth we have here. We don’t care what you’re doing on the server as long as it’s not a problem or illegal. We probably play a lot more video games in this office than most other offices.
We tend to socialize online after work as well with other employees. One of things that’s the core of this company is a chat channel where we communicate and pass on knowledge and help people, and there’s a lot of socialization that goes on there, too.
Any other notes from your acceptance speech?
(laughs) It’s a real honor. I hope that other employers strive to make their workplace a place that they’d want to work—not just someplace they want to lord over.