Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Collections issue 11/19/2012

It might sound like a bunch of lip service or a line from a Hallmark card, but at Eileen Fisher, employees come first — so much so that the company has an executive devoted to the contentment of its workforce.

This story first appeared in the November 19, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“We really care about people having integrated lives, with work and personal,” said Susan Schor, chief culture officer. “We care a lot about individual development and well-being. We want people to be able to develop their passion and their love. We really believe that the company wins when people are doing work that they love and can grow doing that.”

Schor oversees areas ranging from health to education, as well as the general office environment. To that end, she works with a number of departments within the company, from human resources, leadership and development to internal communications and social consciousness. It is this cross-department teamwork, said Schor, that sets the tone for the company culture.

“We’re about circles and overlapping,” she said. “We have a very strong value around teams and people collaborating with each other, with the basic belief that there is a lot of wisdom in the company, and if people can share wisdom with one another, we’re likely to get to a better place.”

Collaboration is at the center of Eileen Fisher’s internal infrastructure. The brand is overseen by co-creative officers Candice Reffe and Rebecca Perrin. Rather than relying on the traditional role of the chief executive officer, the company is run by what’s called a “facilitator leading team,” consisting of seven employees. The word “executive,” in general, is frowned upon.

“We believe in teams within departments as well as teams across departments,” said Schor. “When we think about our product, we have to conceptualize, merchandize, sell — we need to bring together people in teams that cut across functions in order to deliver what it is we want to deliver externally. We’re all in this together.”

The teamwork mentality also extends to the brand as a whole, which is employee-owned. “Every year, the employees buy more and more of the company from Eileen,” said Schor. “Many firms are bought by outsiders, but Eileen has always thought that, when the time came to start selling the company, selling it to the employees really reflected her philosophy of ‘We’re all in this together.’ It also means that, come retirement, people will be able to cash in on that.”

All employees are included in year-end profit sharing, too.

“The formula for profit-sharing is the same, whether you are in a high-level position or a sales person in our store or someone in the warehouse — everyone gets the same formula,” Schor explained. For the 2013 fiscal year, all employees received an additional 11 weeks’ pay — a record for the company. The average year garners about six weeks’ pay.

“The premise behind it is, we have profits because of our employees,” she added.

On the individual level, workers receive several yearly stipends, including a $1,000 wellness benefit to be used on gym memberships, massages and other services. To better accommodate employees’ needs and time constraints, the company has dedicated space within its offices to massage and yoga rooms, bringing the services straight to the workplace.

Employees also receive another $1,000 for educational purposes, including continuing education, museum memberships or classes to acquire a new skill, such as cooking, art, photography or music.

Schor describes the Eileen Fisher offices as relaxed, or “very much like the aesthetic of our clothes.” She continued, “None of our leaders have offices because of our belief that we should connect with one another. There is very little that we need privacy for. We don’t generally sit around a table for meetings — we’re much more relaxed. We begin our meetings with a chime and a couple of minutes of silence, so people can let go of where they were and transition into being with one another.”

This focus on both the individual and the collective team has landed Eileen Fisher on the Great Place to Work Institute’s “Best Medium-Sized Workplace” every year from 2003 to 2013. Added Schor, “It’s a huge feather in our cap.”