Putting Employees First

Generous salaries; 401(k) matching; health and dental plans, even for part-time employees; hundreds of hours of training and employee development; a world without layoffs, where team members share sacrifice to save colleagues' jobs when times are hard.

The Container Store
Photo: containerstore.com
The Container Store

No, that's not a list of niceties from a bygone age: it’s the everyday reality of life working for the Container Store, according to a recent Sunday Morning reporton the company.

The firm, run by Chairman and CEO Kip Tindell, pays sales associates up to $46,000—more than double the average wage for retail workers, according to BLS data. It also offers health care benefits for all employees, and survived the worst of the recession without having to resort to layoffs—although salaries were frozen and 401(k) matches suspended for a couple of years.

As Tindell put it in the Sunday Morning segment, "you can't go around calling yourself an employee-first culture and then lay people off."

That culture has long been protected by the firm: even when Tindell and his co-founder Garrett Boone sold the company in 2007 to raise funds for expansion, preservation of the corporate culture was one of the terms of the sale.

What's most striking about the example set by the Container Store is that, while the company isn't doing anything exceptional, it's flying in the face of prevailing business orthodoxy.

Look again at the list at the top: there are many companies currently in business that could put those things into effect, if they simply made the choice to. And if they did, at a single stroke they'd create a workforce that was more motivated and engaged, better at their jobs, and significantly more likely to remain with the organization for an extended period of time.

Instead, many major employers choose to pay marginal salaries to workers on the lowest rungs of the career ladder, eschew benefits in the name of cost-saving, and give little thought to training or development. And, as they saying goes, most of the time those companies get what they pay for: workers with little sense of attachment to the company or its goals.

It's little wonder that the Container Store has appeared on Fortune's Best Companies to Work For list for 11 consecutive years. And, given the success the firm is enjoying (it’s still expanding, and will have 51 stores nationwide by year's end), it's also clear that the firm isn't in this for philanthropic reasons.

As Tindell put it in that Sunday Morning segment, "We're not just being nice; it’s a successful profit strategy."

Which raises an obvious question: why aren’t more companies doing it?

Phil Stott is a Producer at Vault.com, where he covers anything related to jobs, career advice and the economy for Vault's Careers Blog. Originally from Scotland, he has lived and worked in Eastern Europe, Asia and the U.S., in fields including consumer banking, education, journalism and … bowling. He currently resides in New York. Comments? Send them to executivecareers@cnbc.com