Best Friends Animal Society recognized as a 'Top Workplace' for 2022

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Smiling person wearing a Best Friends T-shirt next to a smiling dog with upright ears
By Julie Castle Photos by Lori Fusaro

The American workplace has evolved significantly over this generation and even more so during the Covid-19 pandemic. Most work was once compartmentalized into an 8-5 bucket, with a traditional commute to the office from home and a clear delineation of work life and home life. It used to be that the only way you could be reached after hours was via your “attached-to-the-wall” home phone. Those days are difficult to conceptualize now, especially the ability to truly unplug and check out after work hours.

Today, work and personal life are obsessively connected, from the time we wake up until our head hits the pillow. There are a multitude of channels in which we all can be reached after hours. Unplugging after work and truly checking out has become a rare luxury that requires thoughtful discipline. Our “new normal” work environment has introduced into our daily lives so many destructive and soul-destroying expectations that it’s going to require extreme action by leaders everywhere to shift the tide into the “next normal,” focused on health and well-being.

When I was seated as CEO, one of my top priorities was focusing on improving culture and making Best Friends Animal Society the best place to work on the planet. It’s important to me because I believe we should view our workforce as human beings first and employees second. Leading through this lens develops better humans, which in turn saves more animal lives.

We spend most of our waking life at a job. Think about that fact for a minute: We attend grades K-12, then potentially undergraduate and graduate school, all preparing us for a career. We graduate and set off into the workforce where we spend the next 45-50 years at places of employment. Then we retire and within the next decade or so, we're no longer gracing this earth.

Sorry, I know I’ve just painted a grossly depressing picture, which is why I strongly believe that where you choose to work and, essentially, spend your life should bring you tremendous gratification and be extraordinarily rewarding. It should be a place where you feel valued, respected, safe, happy, contributive, fulfilled and, most important of all, a place where you’re making a difference. You should love where you work.

Animal welfare is one of the most rewarding career paths anyone could choose. But lifesaving is an inherently emotional profession, and even the best days can be exhausting. Making sure that we provide the best possible culture ― one in which our staff feels supported and can thrive ― is essential to what we do. And on top of that, as an organization founded on the principle of kindness, our culture is a reflection of just how well we’re living the very principle that was set out to define Best Friends some 38 years ago.

This is why it’s very rewarding to me that Best Friends received a 2022 Top Workplaces award from Energage, a company specializing in the analysis of culture and engagement for companies throughout the country (not just nonprofit companies, but all companies). The answers from an engagement survey completed by our staff in 2021 were compared to those from more than 23 million surveys from 70,000 companies, completed over the past 15 years. And, based solely on feedback from Best Friends staff, it was determined that Best Friends was among only 269 comparable companies qualifying to be named a Top Workplace.

The questions that resulted in this award were based on what Energage has determined to be among a handful of drivers essential to the success of an organization by virtue of the quality of its culture. They measured whether Best Friends employees felt that the company’s values aligned with theirs, how they felt about the direction the company was headed and (so important) how they felt about the meaningfulness of their work.

To be clear, however, this award is not only based on the feedback from our staff. The culture and cultural change that resulted in that feedback are due to the dedication and hard work of Best Friends employees. Cultural change can never be a “top-down” directive, and although the Best Friends leadership decided to prioritize culture, it was our people from across the organization who created, developed, implemented and embraced all our culture initiatives. And every time we rolled out something else, the number of people raising their hands to participate was overwhelming.

An award will never mean that we’re done working on our culture. But it is an acknowledgment that, as trying as the last couple of years have been, we’re moving in the right direction. We’ll keep leading through the lens that in our workforce, we’re committed to human beings first: by prioritizing mental, emotional, physical and social well-being; by providing an equitable and inclusive environment; by celebrating diversity, taking time off and disconnecting; and by giving employees the flexibility and resources to attend to their families and achieve an even work-life balance. We're also committed to providing the benefits and compensation necessary, so that none of our staff think that they’ve made a financial sacrifice in order to pursue their passion.

Yes, we’re an animal welfare organization but, like all organizations, we’re comprised of people. And by continuing to live our principal of kindness, by providing the best possible work environment and by always looking to do better, we will cross the no-kill 2025 finish line as a healthy, engaged and invigorated organization, ready for the next big challenge.

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Julie Castle with dog
Julie Castle
CEO
Best Friends Animal Society
@BFAS_Julie