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July 24, 2008

CableFAX: The Magazine's 2008 Top 10 Places to Work in Cable

Our picks for cable's best workplaces reveal an increasing emphasis on diversity and innovations in child care and work schedule flexibility.

We’ve all seen the headlines telling us that jobs are being lost like hair off the head of a hedge fund swindler on the lam. A July 3 New York Times headline: "Employers Cut Workers for a Sixth Month." Is the cable industry a safe place to work while we’re muddling through this fearsome climate? Well, nothing is completely safe, but we think that cable, like Hollywood in the 1930s, will not only weather the storm, but will be a refuge for consumers who simply cannot afford to fill the tank with gas and motor to the mall or the megaplex. And cable companies — operators and programmers — need to find and retain the best talent available to provide those consumers with the best-possible entertainment and services.

So for the third year we honor those companies we feel are doing an aces job retaining, training and caring for the blood and guts of their operations — namely, their employees. In preparation for this year’s Top 10 Places to Work in Cable list, we put out calls to cable employees asking them to fill out our online nomination form if they felt their employer was tops, and to tell us why. Our judgments were based on what they told us, as well as on the experience of the in-house CableFAX editorial team. (Companies are listed in alphabetical order.)

[This is an expanded version of the story that appears in the print Top Ops issue.]

Bresnan Communications

For years we’ve heard good things about this small MSO, especially the cordial family current that flows from the top — in this case, company chairman/CEO and Cable Pioneer Bill Bresnan — on down. Nominators who work at Bresnan had this to say about their employer: "tight community and family feeling," "geared toward the success of individual employees," "even without a four-year degree the wage is higher than most degree-required positions in our geographical area," "very focused on the business and ensuring the customer is satisfied, yet the atmosphere is casual as well," "empowering...the company gives us the tools and flexibility to excel."

The company takes pride in taking care of employees in special need. These efforts were likely reflected in the results of a recent employee survey, in which 75% of all employees said they would definitely or probably recommend Bresnan as an employer to a friend. In addition to a choice of comprehensive health plans, for which Bresnan pays approximately 85% of the cost, the company offers all employees who live within the footprint free digital video service, up to two free DVRs, free high-speed Internet service and unlimited local and long-distance phone service at the company’s internal cost. Other benefits: A dependent care spending account that allows employees to pay for child care with pre-tax dollars; a tuition reimbursement program for employees working toward a degree program or taking other job-related courses. Bresnan participates in the Emma Bowen Foundation Internship and Mentoring program, and two years ago established a diversity council. It has also engaged the services of diversity consultant Rosalyn Taylor O’Neale, who has worked with MTV Networks.

Bright House Networks

One nominator who works at Bright House Networks praises the work environment, saying the company "encourages creativity, and genuinely cares about employees." Creativity and caring will only take you so far, though, without competitive pay and decent health benefits, and it’s in these areas that Bright House strives to be a leader.

Bright House reviews its pay plans at least annually, comparing them against industry data and benchmarking them against Florida labor market data. The company offers a generous 401(k) match: $3 for every $2 that employees contribute up to a maximum contribution of 10%, for a 66.66% match. Bright House offers in-house career training as well as college tuition reimbursement.

Bright House also benchmarks its health plans against industry and local standards. The feedback that we got about the health plans: "While other companies are charging employees more for health plan contributions, Bright House has consistently made minimal increases in employee benefit costs, and the coverage is extensive."

A formal mentoring program for women was developed about three years ago, and a director of multicultural community relations directs an in-house group of multicultural employees. Bright House’s internal mentoring and hiring practices have been noticed in the external world: Under the name of parent company Advance/Newhouse, Bright House was selected as one of the best cable operators for women by the WICT Foundation’s PAR Initiative.

But let’s forget about money and benefits for a moment. What do we crave most when we’re under the gun at work? Vacation time, and a work environment that encourages guilt-free use of that vacation time. You get that at Bright House: HR monitors the amount of vacation time allotted versus how much has been taken, and notifies supervisors to remind certain employees that it’s time that they booked a trip to an island paradise, or at least to their backyard hammock.

Charter Communications

Charter, the fourth-biggest cable operator in the U.S., has gone through a series of financial ups and downs over the past half-decade or more, but as an employer, it’s on a serious upward trajectory. Like Bright House, Charter Charter conducts an annual wage survey and supplements it with external surveys. To ensure wage equality, Charter conducts biannual statistical salary analyses based on gender and race. All health plans cover preventive services at 100% and include prescription drug coverage, vision coverage, disease-management programs, maternity management programs and a 24/7 health hotline.

Charter partners with a national child care chain to provide employees with discounts on child care services. It also offers flexible working arrangements, including flex time, reduced work hours, part-time positions and job sharing; on-site gyms at some locations; and college tuition reimbursement and in-house courses.

Rising talent is mentored by senior executives in Charter’s Executive Development Institute. The company also partners with NAMIC and WICT on a variety of diversity programs (Charter is one of the WICT PAR Initiative’s five best cable operators for women).

These are the basics, but they don’t tell the real story, which is this: We received hundreds — we’re talking many hundreds — of Top 10 Places to Work in Cable nominations from Charter employees. No other company came remotely close to this tally. Did supervisors stand over workers’ shoulders while they filled out the nomination forms? We think not. Despite our trusting natures, our crack IT department determined that the nominations were not sent from one overtaxed computer. What makes Charter so popular? Here’s a sampling:

“We mentor each other. I started as an installer and, with the help of the management group, I have become a supervisor.” —tech ops supervisor
“From the day I started my peers have been nothing but helpful. There is a real team environment within our group.” —engineer
“Excellent, totally engaged management, focused on improved end-to-end customer experience.” —business sales manager
“I was also able to move into my divisional role with a choice of locations throughout my local division.” —divisional training director
“There is always a new incentive going, and positive reinforcement is always the way.” —retention supervisor
“I have been in broadcasting for 30 years in the same market and the pay here put my other job to shame.” —account executive
“Many upper management employees started in low-level positions.” —retention agent
“Due to the increase in gas prices, certain groups have been telecommuting more.” —network engineer
“One of the things that I love about Charter is the accessibility to the management staff.” —dispatch supervisor
“Our director encourages everyone to use all of their vacation time. We also receive notices from the corporate office encouraging us to do the same.” —office operations manager
“Charter is a no-harassment zone, so we can safely do our jobs well.” —HSD tech specialist
“Our management team truly does have an open-door policy.” —telephone order management
“My wife works for a hospital, and we have better benefits.” —senior video producer
“If it is possible to be relaxed and intense at the same time, that is what working at Charter is like.” —technical trainer
“I know many women in leadership positions at Charter.” —office operations manager
“Charter has plenty of opportunity to climb the ladder and shoot for the stars, with several training programs and classes available.” —broadband customer service rep
“When you are at work, you kick butt. When you are off, you are off! I am able to obtain a good balance through the support of my supervisor.” —head-end tech
“Fantastic benefits, and I have household of five, so I should know.” —direct sales supervisor
“Refreshing, friendly, family oriented, supportive, adventurous...in other words, I like coming to work. —executive assistant

Considering the volume of nomination forms, it was inevitable that some Charter employees would list benefits they’d like to see added and other changes. So as a service to those employees, and to the cable industry at large, here they are: paid paternity leave, same-sex domestic partner benefits and continuing efforts to bring diversity to the upper rungs of management.

Comcast

No job is completely secure, especially in this economy. But some companies provide more job security than others and, for us, job security counts for a lot. As the No. 1 MSO in the U.S., Comcast is not about to be acquired by any other company, and FCC chairman Kevin Martin is keeping a close watch on any plans for expansion the company might be formulating. So the dangers of “redundancy” and “reorganization” are, relatively speaking, minimal at Comcast, and that’s enough to place it on our list—it’s not a bad bet to work for the top company in a given industry.

On top of that, Comcast is an industry leader in promoting diversity and the advancement of women. Its executive team is composed of 20% minorities, and 35% are women. The company was named one of the top five best cable operators for women and one of the the top five companies for women in advancement opportunities in WICT’s most recent PAR Initiative. Through its Emerging Leaders Mentoring Program, Comcast is working on positioning a diverse group of employees for leadership positions. Currently, 70% of the program’s participants are minority employees and 34% minority females. Comcast’s Diversity Council oversees progress in four areas: employees, programming, suppliers, and external/public affairs; its Diversity Steering Committee identifies best practices and progress locally. Comcast also offers more than 2,000 national courses through Comcast University, as well as locally developed courses for all employees at all levels and locations—plus a tuition reimbursement program.

Comcast makes life a little more comprehensible by sending to employees a total compensation statement that details one’s benefits package for the year. Some of those benefits: Comcast pays, on average, 85% of the cost of medical premiums; it offers on-site gyms at several locations, as well as reimbursement for gym memberships. The benefits continue to evolve: The company is piloting an emergency dependant care programs in several divisions, which provides employer-subsidized services that assist employees in finding temporary dependent care when their regular care is unavailable.

Cox Communications

Cox got the second-most nominations—nearly 50—which, of course, is dwarfed by number of Charter nominations, but still, that’s plenty. The positive work culture was stressed by nominators, who described a competitive, but not cutthroat, environment in which interdepartmental networking is encouraged and facilitated, monetary production incentives are promoted across the board. The inclusive culture is perhaps symbolized by the company’s No. 5 ranking in DiversityInc’s 2008 Top 50 Companies for Diversity list, and it should be pointed out that Cox was the only cable operator to make that list (cable’s competitor Verizon is No. 1). Cox also shows up in the top five in three categories in WICT’s PAR Initiative.

A field service supervisor has this to say about the workplace culture at Cox: “I am an African-American front-line manager, and my peer group is very diverse all the way up the ladder. Even our VP group represents a diverse culture.” Another field service worker: “I have worked for the cable company in our community for 24 years. Cox purchased our system in 2000. It was the fourth to own our cable system. It’s leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of our owners.” A customer satisfaction analyst: “We had a couple that works here that lost their belongings and apartment to a fire, and we raised money to help them by having a benefit lunch where proceeds went to help them. This type of thing is common here. We help our fellow employees.”

Cox offers complete health benefits on the first day of employment—no waiting period. Employees can use their flex spending account toward day care, and are also offered maternity leave for adoptions as well as adoption assistance programs.

We do offer college tuition reimbursement, Cox University provides training for specific Cox duties, but also offers related career-building courses. Job shadowing is allowed and encourage if an employee shows interest in advancement.

And when employees need a break, they’re encouraged to take one.  This aspect of the culture is highlighted by one employee: “You are never meant to feel like you are inconveniencing the company when you use your vacation time. They want you to take it, unlike other companies that make you feel like you’re breaking some unwritten rule by using benefit time.

Discovery Communications

Discovery employees, particularly those on the executive level, might have felt less than secure last year in the wake of job cuts initiated after the David Zaslav era began, but we can’t ignore the company’s raft of still-innovative employee benefits. Here’s the rundown:

Both part-time and full-time employees are eligible for benefits immediately upon hire; benefits include coverage for spouses, domestic partners and dependent children, with Discovery contributing 79% toward the total cost for partners and family members. An on-site Wellness Center at the Silver Spring, Md., headquarters is available to all employees, their spouses and dependents 14 and older.

This August Discovery will begin providing child care for kids up to 5 years old through its Discovery Kids Place and Crikey Cove centers. It provides 24/7 access to emergency in-home child care or elder care, and will soon offer national childcare support for employees through the Bright Horizon’s Back-Up Care Advantage Program. In addition to maternity leave, new mothers can use the Phase Back to Work option, which allows them to work half-time at half-salary for four weeks.

Last year, Discovery was recognized with the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility reflecting its commitment to enabling employees to create flexible schedules through flex days, compressed work weeks and job sharing. These initiatives are complemented by Discovery’s commuting options, which include reimbursement of up to $350 toward the one-time purchase of a bicycle or up to $100 annually for the purchase of athletic shoes, a $60 per month transit subsidy and car-sharing services. You can’t get much greener than that as an employer.

What else? Plenty else: specialized training courses through Discovery University; a Global MentorNet Program; the Discovery Points of View diversity initiative; and a Talent Scout Award program awards an employee $1,500 if Discovery hires a person an employee referred. 

Cable programmers have a reputation as having a thin glass ceiling—or none at all—and Discovery deserves some of the credit for that reputation. Women network general managers currently outnumber male general managers.

ESPN

Like Discovery, ESPN is an industry leader in offering cutting-edge benefits. ESPN employs a “pay for performance” philosophy and maintains a bonus incentive program in which all employees are eligible for an annual bonus award. Benefits packages are managed by the Walt Disney Co., and are supplemented by an on-site Wellness Center at the company’s Bristol, Conn., headquarters. The Center, which is open seven days a week, offers state-of-the-art fitness equipment and services such as a full-time occupational nurse, personal training, massage therapy, nutrition consultation, health-education seminars and health screenings to name only a few. Employees outside of Bristol get discounted membership rates at health clubs nationwide and other services that closely mirror those at the Bristol location.

Coming in 2010: a child-care center that will be adjacent to Bristol headquarters. For now, ESPN offers backup emergency child and elder care services to all employees—these services will continue after the opening of the child-care center.

Last year ESPN launched a formal diversity council, which is co-chaired by two members of ESPN’s executive committee. The members represent all six ESPN divisions and the office of the president. ESPN is preparing to launch employee resource groups designed to advance the company’s integrated diversity strategy, and also keeps a workforce diversity scorecard for each business unit. ESPN also hosted this past March its first companywide Women’s Leadership Conference, which served to address women’s workplace issues, as well as provide a networking opportunity.

Scripps Networks

Scripps Networks, the parent of HGTV, Food Network, DIY Network, Fine Living Network and Great American Country, is in turn a division of Scripps Networks Interactive, which was itself spun off recently by its parent E.W. Scripps Co. Hopefully that hasn’t caused much of a ripple among the Scripps (you’re wondering which "Scripps" we’re referring to, aren’t you) workforce, which has benefited from a forward-thinking emphasis on work/life balance and, in particular, offers opportunities for growth and salary boosts for women. Scripps Networks is one of the top five cable companies (programmers and operators) for women in pay equity in WICT’s PAR Initiative but, more important, women run two of Scripps’ networks (Food Network and DIY), the Interactive division and Scripps Networks Affiliate Sales & Marketing. Women also hold one-half of the company’s SVP positions.

While there’s no gym on site at the company’s Knoxville, Tenn., headquarters, Scripps offers substantial discounts at a nearby health club. The company encourages in-house and external development opportunities as well as tuition reimbursement. Its formal diversity council includes representation from all levels of the organization. Scripps Networks encourages and rewards employees for referrals, and offers bonuses when employee-referred positions are filled.

Employees are encouraged to take all of their vacation time available to them within a year — this attitude is a basic component of the promotion of work/life balance. We’re all for that.

Time Warner Cable

Speaking of spin-offs, Time Warner Cable is destined to separate itself completely from its parent, Time Warner Inc. What will that mean for employees? Is there some kind of merger on the horizon? We know a couple of things, but that’s not one of them. What we do know is Time Warner Cable, as an employer, is dedicated to training and job growth, diversity initiatives and unlimited growth opportunities for women, personified by its programming czar, Melinda Witmer.

Time Warner Cable—which was named one of the best operators for women in cable, one of the best companies for women in advancement opportunities and one of the best companies for women in resources for work/life support by WICT’s most recent PAR Initiative—recently announced the hiring a new EVP, Gail MacKinnon. That makes five EVPs at the company, representing about one-quarter of all EVPs. A Women Leaders Council for senior leaders focuses on advancement opportunities and work/life resources at all levels.

A formal diversity and inclusion council is comprised of 30 regional and corporate employees, each completing a two-year term. Among the areas of focus for the council: mentoring, employee networks, communication, supplier diversity and multicultural outreach. Diversity councils also function at each operating region. Among managers and directors, representation of people of color companywide was 21.4% in 2007, and women accounted for 36.4% of managers and directors.

Besides being offered tuition reimbursed for successful completion of course work from accredited institutions, Time Warner Cable’s Learning Management System gives all employees access to a catalogue of job-specific training and professional growth.

Coming in the fourth quarter of 2008: a formal companywide mentoring program.

Turner Broadcasting System

Turner Broadcasting is a pretty desirable employer for those living in the Atlanta area, and here’s why: external and internal companywide compensation studies and surveys are conducted on an annual basis to ensure compensation levels are equitable and competitive; comprehensive health benefits that include coverage for same-sex domestic partners of employees; a company-sponsored near-site child care center, Turner Second Generation, for children ages six weeks through pre-K, with extended operating hours and holiday hours; an off-site Time Warner Backup Children’s Center in New York available to New York-based employees and employees traveling on business; membership to Turner Athletic Club; and company contributions of 160% on the first 4% of employee contributions to 401k plans.

Like its (for now) corporate sibling, Time Warner Cable, Turner Broadcasting is dedicated to employee training and education, and to a diverse workplace. The company’s Professional Development Center offered nearly 500 class sessions worldwide in 2007, with employees completing 41,697 hours of development. The company’s tuition reimbursement program provides up to $5,000 in reimbursement for undergraduate, graduate and professional certification programs. Last year Turner launched a pilot Circle Mentoring program, which offers employees the opportunity to network with executives and peers across the company.

The Turner Diversity Council appears to be doing a good job: Turner Broadcasting was one of just two cable companies that made DiversityInc’s 2008 Top 50 Companies for Diversity list (Cox was the other one). Turner also made the top five list for four of the PAR Initiatives main five categories. The only reason it didn’t make the fifth was that it is not a cable operator.

Honorable Mentions:

Cable One—This small MSO has created a "one for all, and all for one" working environment. Employees say they are treated like people, not revenue producing units, and as such they tend to stick around for the long haul.

Hallmark Channel—The small size of this network makes it easy for everyone to know each other and the CEO, Henry Schleiff, who makes a point of meeting with staff members for one-on-ones.

Back to 2008 Top Ops table of contents







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