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21 Nicest Things CEOs Have Done for Their Employees

What goes around, comes around, right? These CEOs have taken that lesson to heart—and in the process, they've changed their employees' lives.

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In praise of great bosses

Good bosses respect their employees and practice transparency. Great bosses inspire, are part of the team, go above and beyond to make their employees’ lives easier and better, and always follow these 24 golden rules to being a great boss.

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The boss that turned down a raise—and gave it to his staff instead

Tony Bennett, the head coach of the University of Virginia (UVA) men’s basketball team, was offered a hefty pay raise after his team won the national championship in 2019. But to everyone’s surprise, he turned the offer down and requested that the money go to his staff and the basketball program instead. What’s more, Bennett and his wife, Laurel, donated $500,000 to a career-development initiative for current and former UVA men’s basketball players. Bennett said it was all his wife’s idea. “She’s always said, ‘Is there something we can do that can make a difference?’ That’s been on her heart and mind,” he told CBS Sports. These are the secrets your boss won’t tell you—but everyone needs to know.

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The boss that bought an employee a new car

On the night before Alabama student Walter Carr’s first day at Bellhops Moving company, his car broke down. Nobody could give him a ride to work, so in order to clock in at 8 a.m. the next morning, Carr decided to walk the 20-mile distance overnight. After a whopping seven hours—and a little help from the local police—he arrived right on time, the New York Post reports. When Bellhops CEO Luke Marklin heard about Carr’s incredible story, he drove from Tennessee to Alabama to give the young student a Ford Escape. “[There are] decisions in your life that are sometimes big and that you make pretty quickly because they’re the right thing to do—and this was one of them,” Marklin told WMBA. Rather not have someone to answer to? These are the 14 best jobs where you can be your own boss.

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The boss that forgave a costly mistake

A diner at a British steakhouse had a stroke of luck when he was accidentally served a bottle of red wine that cost £4,500 (almost $6,000). Neither the customer nor the restaurant realized the error until one of the managers cleaned up the table, according to a spokesperson. Instead of berating the server who made the mistake, as some might, the restaurant’s management decided to poke fun at the situation on social media. “To the customer who accidentally got given a bottle of Chateau le Pin Pomerol 2001, which is £4,500 on our menu, last night—hope you enjoyed your evening!” the steakhouse tweeted. “To the member of staff who accidentally gave it away, chin up! One-off mistakes happen and we love you anyway.” Besides, the bottle of wine was a drop in the bucket compared to the 13 most expensive mistakes ever made.

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The boss that gave his staff a free trip to Hawaii

Imagine sipping a cocktail on a sunny, warm beach—with 500 of your closest employees. That’s how Brian Scudamore, the founder and CEO of home service provider O2E Brands, chose to spend his vacation in 2017. Back in 2012, Scudamore promised his employees that if they could double the company’s revenue in five years, he would take them on an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii. Needless to say, they achieved the goal. “The ultimate lesson: give your people a stake in the outcome, and your company’s bound to go far…and I don’t just mean to Hawaii,” Scudamore wrote for Inc.com. Sounds like he deserves a “best boss” mug.

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birthday card

The boss that sends birthday cards to all 8,000 of his employees

For over three decades, CEO Sheldon Yellon has sent personalized birthday cards to each of his 8,000 employees at Belfor Property Restoration. He views it not only as a gesture of gratitude but also as a way to boost morale in the workplace. “It does take time, but I really view my position as working for all of our great people,” he told CNBC. “These people have sacrificed for this company and my dream and my vision.” The CEO was in for a big surprise on his own 60th birthday; in return for his years of generosity, Yellon’s employees gifted him with 8,000 signed birthday cards of their own. Inspiring their employees is one of the 17 amazing things great bosses do every day.

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The boss that saved his employee’s life

Car salesman Mike Bell was looking a little worse for the wear one day, so the dealership’s owner, Gus Rodriguez, told him to take a sick day and go to a doctor. Turns out, that small piece of advice would end up saving his employee’s life. As Bell was making his way to the hospital for an X-ray, he collapsed and was rushed into emergency open-heart surgery to repair a tear in his aorta. Rodriguez even took his generosity a step further, supporting Bell financially until he could get back on his feet. Doctors say that Bell’s condition was so serious that he would have died had he not gone to the hospital that day, WFAA reports. Can you answer this CEO’s favorite interview question? 

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The boss that prioritizes mental health in the workplace

After a recent string of celebrity suicides, Crisco CEO Chuck Robbins sent a company-wide email about the importance of prioritizing mental health, asking his 75,000 employees to “talk openly and extend compassion” to each other and encouraging them to seek professional help if needed. He never expected the overwhelming response: More than 100 staffers replied to his email opening up their own mental health struggles. Realizing the problem was widespread, Robbins worked to provide his employees with anxiety and depression screenings, meditation and yoga classes, counseling for staff and their families, and on-site treatment and health centers.

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The boss that recognizes random acts of kindness

Daniel Lubetsky, founder and CEO of the snack company KIND, has always aimed to use his entrepreneurial spirit to spread kindness and compassion. But in order to truly practice what he preached, Lubetsky started the “Kindos” initiative, which encourages any KIND employee—even Lubetsky himself—to recognize a colleague’s act of kindness with an email to the team. Staffers also carry “#kindawesome cards” to hand out to anyone they see doing something they believe is generous. “It sounds simple, but it helps people celebrate and more regularly spot opportunities to be good humans,” Lubetsky told Forbes. “It also helps everyone in our community feel like co-owners, much as we would in a family.”

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The boss who pays his employees to take vacations

Get this: Employees at SteelHouse, a marketing and advertising company, are paid a whopping $2,000 each year to take a vacation anytime and anywhere. As a result, staff turnover at the company has shrunk dramatically, and employees are more energetic and productive in the office. The brains behind this policy, SteelHouse CEO Mark Douglas, says he was inspired by what he saw in workplaces that encouraged people to take vacations. “The first time I got exposed to real corporate culture that had elements of what we’re talking about, it changed my perspective for the rest of my life,” he told Business Insider.

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The boss that gave his staff a $4 million holiday surprise

During his company’s annual holiday lunch, FloraCraft owner Lee Schoenherr announced that all 200 of his full-time employees would receive a total of $4 million in bonuses—an average of $20,000 per worker. “This idea has developed over the past year and is my way of saying thank you to our team for the role they have had in our success,” Schoenherr said in an interview with Newsweek. The announcement drew cheers and applause from the staff members. “I started crying—it was huge for him to do something like that for everybody,” a supervisor told Newsweek. On the other hand, these are the 18 signs you have a terrible boss.

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The boss that helped a grieving father preserve his son’s memory

For nearly 15 years, Ray Olson has meticulously maintained a memorial to his son, the younger Raymond Olson, who was killed in a crash involving a drunk driver in 2003. There was just one problem: The memorial stood on a piece of Chevron property that needed an upgrade. Thankfully, Chevron executive Joe Lorenz teamed up with Cesar Zepeda, president of a California neighborhood council, to build a permanent memorial at a nearby park, complete with a bench and plaque with a photo of Olson’s son. “It shows you people do still care,” Olson told NBC News. “The world has hope.” These random acts of kindness can change someone’s life right now.

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The boss that lent a grieving company his ear

Ingar Skaug’s first CEO position was no ordinary gig. A few months before his first day, tragedy had struck Wilh. Wilhelmsen, an international shipping company in Scandinavia, when a plane carrying two levels of its management team crashed and killed all 50 passengers on board. Eager to get the company back on its feet, Skaug spent time listening and empathizing with his grieving employees. “I had to work at keeping my mouth shut and my ears open,” Skaug told Forbes. “I walked around and asked a lot of questions. And I’d look into my employees’ eyes. It told me a lot.” One year later, the company is on a path to success and thriving. This is what bosses really notice about their employees.

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The boss that took a pay cut…and gave everyone else a raise

Whoever said money can’t buy happiness? In 2015, Dan Price, CEO of the credit card processing firm Gravity Payments, slashed his million-dollar salary down to $70,000—a 90 percent pay cut, according to the New York Times. He used the savings to raise his employees’ salaries to the exact same amount. When Price announced the raises to the staff, “my jaw just dropped,” said employee Phillip Akhavan. “This is going to make a difference to everyone around me.” Price made the decision after reading a study showing that personal happiness improves until one’s salary reaches $70,000, after which happiness stops increasing.

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The boss that gives his employees “workcations”

Swiss entrepreneur Christian Mischler believes that his staff should be able to work whenever—and wherever—they want. Inc.com reported that the employees of his company HotelQuickly, a hotel booking app, can work from anywhere in world AND choose their start and finish times, as well as workday duration. According to Mischler’s philosophy, not only does this make his employees more productive, but it also provides a healthier work-life balance. The only catch? Their work still needs to get done.

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The boss that goes on nationwide motorcycle tours

Some say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but Harry Herington, CEO of the information service provider NIC Inc., takes the opposite approach. He builds trust among his employees by visiting NIC branches across the nation via motorcycle. Called “Ask the CEO,” his trips always include a dinner where Herington’s employees can ask him business and non-business related questions. “They see me in a different light. They see me as human—and not trying to be one of them, and not trying to be something I’m not,” Herington told the New York Times. “That really did change my entire perspective.” You can build trust among your coworkers with these easy steps.

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The boss that donated a kidney

When a longtime firm employee needed a life-saving kidney transplant in 2010, Matthew Deffebach, a partner at Houston Haynes and Boone labor and employment, went above and beyond his role as a boss and came to the employee’s rescue. According to Business Insider, the man who needed the transplant is the father of a six-year-old son, and “Deffebach said he could not stand the idea of the son growing up without a father.” Check out these other life-changing random acts of kindness.

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The boss that runs a company microbrewery

Forget grabbing a beer with your staff—CEO Andrew Fingerman of PhotoShelter, a website for photographers, brews it. Fingerman hosts a microbrewery in the office every month, purchasing supplies and inviting team members to stay after hours and “move the beer along” if they wish, according to Fast Company. But when all is said and done, there’s more to gain than just sipping on a pint of homemade brew. “Because group members range across teams and seniority, inevitably we talk about work challenges and ideas,” Fingerman said. “We also get to know each other as friends. It brings us closer together, and some very innovative ideas have emerged.”

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The boss that surprised employees with a hefty bonus

Instead of pocketing the money from the sale of his online food ordering company Yemeksepeti in 2015, co-founder and CEO Nevzat Aydin gave his employees the surprise of a lifetime. To reward the staff for their hard work and talent, the entrepreneur divvied up the equivalent of $27 million among his 114 staff members. His employees were stunned, and some even cried. “Yemeksepeti’s success story did not happen overnight,” Aydin told CNNMoney. “I believe in teamwork, and I believe success is much more enjoyable and glorious when shared with the rest of the team.”

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The boss that started a book club

Looking for company bonding time outside of your cubicle? Welcome to Mark D’s Book Club, a venture started by Mark Dankberg, CEO of ViaSat, a broadband services and technology company. The idea began as an effort to facilitate engagement and the exchange of ideas across the company’s global team. Dankberg’s employees read books on business strategy, leadership, and innovation and discuss them in a group setting. “It has become a way for the ViaSat employees to better know how we think, how we view the world, and how we make decisions,” Dankberg told Fast Company. “And it helps each employee be more prepared in shaping their own career development.”

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The boss that wrote letters to her employees’ families

When Indra Nooyi became CEO of PepsiCo in 2006, she would never have guessed how proud the promotion would make her parents back in India, and how well it would reflect on their parenting skills. “It dawned on me that…I’d never told [my employees’] parents what a great job [they] had done for [their kids]. I’d never done that,” she told Fortune magazine in 2014. So Nooyi put pen to paper and began to write letters. “I said, ‘Therefore, I’m writing to thank you for the gift of your son, who is doing this at PepsiCo, and what a wonderful job this person is doing.'” Some parents were so touched that they even wrote back to Nooyi, and she says it built a sense of loyalty among her employees.

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The bosses that give staffers paid time off when they get a puppy

We’ve all heard of maternity leave, paternity leave, and even family leave. But puppy leave? It’s true. In fact, many companies—some 5 percent, according to PetPlan—now offer employees the opportunity to bond with their fur baby and introduce house training. Mars Petcare, BitSol Solutions, and BrewDog are among those offering “pawternity leave,” and a growing trend is companies allowing time off, from one to three days, after the loss of a pet for bereavement.

Brooke Nelson Alexander
Brooke is a tech and consumer products writer covering the latest in digital trends, product reviews, security and privacy, and other news and features for Reader's Digest. She's a two-time Emmy-nominated reporter with nearly 10 years of publishing experience, and her work has been recognized by the Columbia Scholastic Press Association.