Cirrus Logic makes workers’ families part of the team

Jeff Alderson was already a 12-year chip industry veteran when he started working at Cirrus Logic five years ago.

Having worked at three other semiconductor companies, he thought he knew the drill.

“Chip companies can be kind of sterile places to work at sometimes,” Alderson said. “People can close their office doors and work at hard problems. They don’t want to interact with other people and engineers’ social skills aren’t really very high.”

But his thinking changed after he joined Cirrus. He noticed that employees ate lunch together, socialized together, even played cards together.

“The social aspect of people getting together and doing things is very different here,” said Alderson, who now leads a design team at the company. “That makes it a more fun place to work than other places I’ve been. And the quality of work done here is really good. I have worked on hard problems with a really good team.”

Cirrus makes specialized low-power chips, many of which are incorporated into smartphones, tablets and other portable devices. The company has rebuilt its business over the past seven years or so and part of revamping the company has included an effort to create a fun workplace that would help recruit and retain skilled employees.

The company, which employs about 650 in Austin, ranks second among large employers on the American-Statesman’s Top Workplaces of Greater Austin project.

“We wanted people to be proud of where they worked,” said CEO Jason Rhode, who helped push efforts to make work fun and to have include employees’ families in the celebration of its successes.

The company has three holiday parties a year and two of them are aimed at kids, complete with a “Santa Claus” and age-appropriate gifts.

“You get your Santa pictures done right there and you don’t have to schlep to the mall,” said Tom Strandwitz, an information technology program director at the company who has three sons aged seven to 12. “All of them are Cirrus kids. They know Jo-Dee Benson” and her staff.

Benson, among her other duties, is the company’s designated chief culture officer. One of her hobbies is knitting a personal cap for each baby born to a Cirrus family.

Cirrus has other special events, including Boo at the Zoo, a summer picnic at Schlitterbahn, a “Kids Club” that encourages employees children to so summer reading and even date nights, where the company coordinates couples activities including movies, cooking classes and trips to Esther’s Follies. The company also serves free ice cream to families that show up at work during the summer.

“Some kids don’t even know where their dads work,” Alderson said. “My kids know where I work and they like the company. They always want to come here in the summer and have free ice cream.”

Many of Cirrus’ family events are extensively planned, down to small details.

But some things are impromptu. One Valentine’s Day, Benson backed a spur-of-the moment effort to bring flowers and cards and other small gifts that workers could take home to their spouses.

It was called the Valentines Day Bailout and it has become a yearly event at the company.

Tom Strandwitz didn’t forget Valentines Day that year, but he told his wife Becky about the company effort that helped other workers.

“I was just blown away,” Becky Strandwitz said. “A lot of the things Cirrus does don’t necessarily benefit our family, but I think what they do is so incredibly delightful and cool.”

She appreciates the attention to detail that the company shows at family events, such as age-appropriate gifts at the Christmas party.

“It absolutely counts that the company cares,” she said. “I don’t think there is another company that does these kinds of things. It’s been a very special part of our lives and it really hooks you into the company from a family standpoint.”

Alderson says the company’s family events give his family and his wife a sense of connection to the company and the people he works with. “Families are a part of the larger team at Cirrus.”

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