I recently visited the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, a beautiful attraction in Asheville, N.C. that is the setting for the largest privately owned home in the U.S.
Built by George Washington Vanderbilt between 1889 and 1895, it is nearly 179,000 square feet.
Of course, with that kind of square footage and the thousands of acres that surround it, it's clear that this is a home that has always needed dozens and dozens of employees.
One of the interesting facts I learned by visiting (besides the fact that I should have worn better walking shoes), is that while the Vanderbilts hired staff from overseas (nothing beats an English butler, they say), the family also employed many locals.
As time went on, more locals began to work in and around the home. As the years went by, sons and daughters of the staff began to work at Biltmore -- and eventually even the grandchildren.
Was it because there were no other jobs? That's part of it -- the Great Depression and then wartime certainly made some jobs difficult to come by. But what struck me was that the Vanderbilts ensured there was a decent quality of life for their laborers as they built a nearby village that had a school and post office.
In addition, workers received necessary medical care, and the Vanderbilts took an active interest in ensuring their workers' families also received care.
Of course, the cynical view is that the Vanderbilts had so much money these kinds of benefits hardly put a dent in their wallet. But at the same time, it's certainly true that these local people and their families knew good jobs and and an employer when they saw them.
In return, the Vanderbilts had loyal employees, and never a lack of willing new talent.
So here's the bottom line: If the Vanderbilts figured this out more than a 100 years ago, how come so many employers today won't offer their own employees the same level of compassion and concern? Why are they often so stingy about offering flextime or decent benefits? As the Vanderbilts proved, loyalty is something that is earned by doing the right thing for workers -- and the payoff lasts for generations.