"You're going to Disney World!" is a phrase usually reserved for sports stars after crowning achievements, but for employees of SurveyGizmo, it became a surprise that they nor their children will soon forget.
During a January trip to Orlando three years ago, Christian Vanek, SurveyGizmo's CEO and co-founder, had an epiphany. He wanted to do something special for the 10 year anniversary of SurveyGizmo and knew that Disney was the perfect place. "We're sitting there watching Illuminations…" recalled Christian, "I wish every person in my company could experience this with me, to have that common anchor." [Listen to the full quote]
After warming his partners up to the idea, albeit without much difficulty, planning began in January of 2016. The priorities were simple: Everyone goes and nobody feels burdened by the experience. "We did the flights, we did hotels, we did meal plans," began Christian, "Turns out that is a gift to an employee that has a monetary value, unless it is a required company event." [Listen] In response, Surveygizmo added a mandatory company party at Disney during the trip to satisfy the IRS requirements.
Due to unused hotel rooms needing to be released one month prior to the trip, there were 4 new hires that missed the cutoff. However, it was important that they still felt included, "We still gave them 2 full paid days off, we gave them a little gift so they could entertain themselves, and we made it clear… there really wasn't any way to do it." [Listen]
What were the numbers?
The price for ~76 employees and 121 guests (kids and +1), a total of 197 people, came to just under $300,000 for SurveyGizmo. Employees left on Friday to Orlando and returned on Monday, while a few employee volunteers stayed behind to address any lingering support needs and ensure there was no backlog for employees to return to on Tuesday.
How did SurveyGizmo's customers feel?
Customers received a message upon accessing the service with the following letter:
This weekend SurveyGizmo is celebrating our tenth anniversary. We decided to do something big, fun and that supported the values of our community - so we flew everyone and their families to Disney World for a weekend of celebration and reflection before starting the next great initiative for SurveyGizmo in 2017!
Before I head out to join everyone, I wanted to take the time to thank you. Without you SurveyGizmo would not be here. Your continuous feedback, push to develop a better product and unwavering support is as much a part of our story as all the hard work of our staff. Thank you!
Hopefully you got our email about this weekend's limited support. Starting on Friday the 28th through Monday the 31st SurveyGizmo will have limited support. We do have some staff who opted to remain in order to help anyone who needs weekend support... and our emergency line is still active. I'm sorry for the inconvenience. ;(
The majority of customers responded positively to the letter and the idea; here are a few of their responses.
- "Hope you have fully enjoyed celebrating at Disney with your families! How fantastic!"
- "I'm eager to hear what the SurveyGizmo team and families got to do over the weekend. It was so great of Christian to put a surprise together for everyone. Makes me want to send my resume in! :)"
- "I called the other day and you were all at Disney World. I thought this had to be a great company to take such care of their employees and their families."
Reflecting on the reaction, Christian believes that, "It's the modern business economy, where you want to do business with organizations that represent the best of us." [Listen]
What did the employees think?
Rumors began swirling before the official announcement, but the extent and the details were officially announced at a full company huddle. For the employees with children, such as Seanalee Flaherty, "It was a little overwhelming… it was kind of a shock." Since the trip was over Halloween she wondered, "What are we going to dress Jackson (her 4-year-old) in." Seanalee got one extra surprise during the trip: she got engaged to her plus one, Jordan.
Chad Janssen decided to share the surprise with his family in a unique way, by only telling his kids that they were going to Disney that Friday morning. After getting them ready for school as usual, Chad and his wife had secretly packed their bags and presented their children with a surprise gift. He even recorded it.
When Kevin Foley heard the announcement, an employee for only one month prior to the announcement, his response was shock and disbelief. As a former air traffic controller where company perks were low, he was, "In awe of everything they were already doing for us. I told my wife and she couldn't believe it." On Saturday night during the trip him and his wife were randomly selected by one of the Disney employees to view the fireworks show from the dock. That experience really resonated with Kevin. "They could have just left the dock empty and no one would complain. But going the extra mile made the world of difference to me and the other people on the dock. What's that little extra thing I can do."
As one of the more senior employees, Tom Langworthy was still caught off guard by the full package deal. "I was excited. My main question was, would we also have to spend time working during that time, maybe an hour or two." Thankfully the answer was no, everything was taken care of for them. Seeing coworkers with their families left a lasting impact on him, bringing him closer to his fellow employees. This was a recurring theme with each employee; everyone developed a deeper relationship with at least one other employee, in many cases across departments.