By the late 1990s, Chris Hamlet, 34, a senior GIS (geographic information systems) administrator at Exceptional Software Strategies, and his wife Debra, 36, a registered nurse, had completed their family: Son Brandon was born in 1995 and daughter Megan in 1997.
Brandon had Down syndrome, and then at age 3 he began experiencing seizures. Roughly a year later, the little boy was diagnosed with Batten disease, a rare neurodegenerative disorder for which there is no cure. Both parents, it turned out, are carriers for Batten. Not wanting to pass the disease on to any more children, Chris Hamlet had a vasectomy shortly after his daughter’s birth. (She is neither ill nor a carrier for the disease.)
But in 2000, barely three weeks before his fifth birthday, Brandon passed away. And the hole he left in the family was too large to bear. “We mourned his loss. You know, we really had an empty spot. So we decided that we wanted another baby,” says Chris.
Two years later, Chris underwent surgery to reverse the vasectomy. While the procedure was successful, Debra still didn’t become pregnant. After three futile rounds of IUI, the Hamlets decided to try IVF, knowing that Exceptional Software’s excellent health plan would cover the expense. The first cycle was successful, and son Liam was born on his mom’s 34th birthday. He’s now a happy, healthy 2-year-old. While Liam is a carrier for Batten, he is not affected by the disorder.
“Had it not been for Exceptional Software, we would just have the two—well the one living—child. Liam would not even have been a possibility,” says Chris, who joined the company of just over 100 employees in 2004. His health plan picked up all the costs for the fertility treatments, minus a small co-pay of $100. Chris’ loyalty to Exceptional Software increased “a hundred times, a thousand times” after the birth of Liam. “I owe them one of the greatest gifts that I have.
“They’ve got the best medical coverage of any company that I’ve ever been associated with,” he continues. And the family may be making use of those medical benefits again soon, as 11-year-old Megan may require surgery this summer to correct scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine.
“Right now the benefits are there to stay,” says Paul Stasko, Exceptional Software Strategies’ co-founder and vice president. The small Maryland-based company creates software technology for government use. It’s a highly competitive environment, and stellar benefits are an important retention tool for employees like Chris with top-secret security clearance.
If Chris Hamlet is a typical example of how benefits influence loyalty, then co-founder Paul Stasko is right on the money.
“I’ve had offers for more money and more time off, but I know that if anything else were to happen and we need the medical [coverage] or even if the medical did not cover it, I feel confident that I could go to the [company’s] owners and tell them what’s going on, and they would help me any way possible,” Chris explains. “I often describe Exceptional Software as a big family.”