INDEPENDENCE, Ohio. Michelle Massucci and Melissa Smith were once in Massucci’s office, covering them with pillows, protecting each other from Nerf bullets.
Massucci, an underwriting manager at Liberty Home Mortgage, teamed up with Smith, the company’s vice president, to ambush the sales force.
The attack has become a symbol of the fun Liberty employees have at their Independence headquarters. Smith said that sometimes Nerf shootouts are planned, especially if company executives see people need reinforcement. But sometimes they are completely spontaneous. Whether it’s casual Nerf shootouts, listening to music, or watching movies in the office, Liberty Home Mortgage prides itself on its employee experience.
The company is ranked # 1 in the Top Workplaces 2021 among mid-sized companies, and this year it has been on the list for the second year in a row.
For List of Best Jobs of 2021, cleveland.com and Plain Dealer collected 175 of Northeast Ohio’s distinguished employers based on employee surveys. We focused on their response and adaptation during the coronavirus pandemic.
In the midst of high stress in the mortgage industry, recreational activities help create a balanced environment.
“It creates a sense of morale that I think no one can compete with,” Massucci said. “You won’t go to the bank to have two of your company executives shoot you with a Nerf pistol. It just doesn’t happen. So it creates a sense of morale, like, “We’re all human, we’re all on the same team. We are all on the same playing field. ” And we are doing our job, and we are working very, very hard, but there is a sense of the atmosphere of what Khash (Saghafi) created. “
Saghafi, President of Liberty Home Mortgage, founded the company in 2014. But at first, he didn’t introduce a laid-back culture.
With a bachelor’s degree in biology from Oklahoma State University, Saghafi had no business experience when he graduated from the university in 1996. Saghafi has an orderly mindset, so he doesn’t like music or any other distractions while working.
However, after about 15 years in the mortgage lending business, he realized that he could not continue to run the business the way he used to. His current employee-centric philosophy is inspired by Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group.
“He said he didn’t put the customer first,” Saghafi said. “He believes that employees should come first, because if you put your employees first, they will take care of your customers. And honestly, I’ve learned so much about it because when you show employees that they care about them and that they matter, they become proud of the company. This means that when they are proud of the company, they don’t want customers to complain or say things that are dismissive of the company, because they also take offense personally. ”
While Nerf shootouts are an advantage, employees can also eat free breakfasts and lunches, courtesy of the company’s chef. No dress code is enforced and employees are allowed to work from home on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Smith, who founded Liberty Home Mortgage with Saghafi, has seen the company’s culture evolve over the years. She said that when the two started hiring, she spoke to Saghafi about how happy employees are doing better. One of the aspects of improving the quality of service for employees was the improvement of the free time policy.
“We kind of set something up where you have vacation time, but if you choose not to take it because we needed everyone to be ready at all times,” Smith said. “So, if you didn’t take a vacation, you were paid one and a half times for all those hours, and did not lose it or just get paid without interruption.”
Sonny Lucas, Marketing Officer, has been with Liberty Home Mortgage since December. He has a Nerf basketball hoop and a popcorn machine in his office. Lucas enjoyed his time with the company.
“It’s just super casual,” Lucas said of the Liberty Home style. “Everyone is very friendly. Everyone is trying their best to help you. If I have a question and no one around me can answer, I can ask a question to anyone in this office, and they will help me find the answer. “
The relaxed and flexible style has helped Liberty Home move into the COVID-19 pandemic. Saghafi said that with his hard work, working from home is already possible. When COVID began to creep into the United States, employees were sent home about a week and a half before the shutdown.
Saghafi believes that working from home helps his employees do their jobs better as they had no choice but to work remotely.
Still, working from home has changed, Massucci said.
“Your atmosphere, especially because the Liberty has such a completely different and unique atmosphere, is different when you are just sitting at home,” Massucci said. “Then it reinforces the need for communication to even be the next step, I think you mean. The effort must be even greater, because you do not have all your resources at hand, as if you were sitting in an office. “
Now that the pandemic has subsided, Liberty Home is in a hybrid setup. About 125 employees have returned to the office, Saghafi said, with about 20-40 working from home and the rest working in branches in other states.
The pandemic added a new layer to the culture of the home of freedom as Saghafi saw how people can work effectively from home. For example, Saghafi will now allow an employee to work from home after maternity leave.
“If you talked to me before the pandemic, I would say that many people cannot work remotely and independently, isolated on the islands by themselves. No way, ”Saghafi said. “So when I found myself in this situation, it showed me that it was possible.”
While Saghafi has focused on creating a complete employee experience, he still strives to do his best.
“Running a business is like playing a tool,” Saghafi said. “It is very easy to get bad very quickly. It takes a lot of time and a lot of practice to get it right. This is reality. It doesn’t take long to ruin everything. It takes a long time to fix everything. And I cannot say that I have it right, and I am still wrong. “