Fast-food jobs get a bad rap. Movies, TV shows and maybe even friends or family members have all convinced us that quick-service restaurants make for bleak workplaces, filled with grumpy co-workers and meager pay. But walk into In-N-Out, and you'll find the polar opposite. Associates -- clad in white slacks and shirts, red aprons and iconic paper hats that recall the days of mom-and-pop soda shops -- are cheerful, if not downright ecstatic.

And they have good reason to be. With a starting rate of $11 an hour, a 401(k) plan, paid vacation days and health insurance, In-N-Out associates receive salaries and perks that are well above the industry average. Pair that with strong on-the-job training, opportunities for advancement, people-focused leaders and a fun, friendly environment, and it's no wonder that In-N-Out has been honored as a 2018 Best Place to Work in Glassdoor's annual Employees' Choice Awards.

With an overall rating of 4.6, In-N-Out has now cracked the Best Places to Work list for four consecutive years -- their fifth win overall. At the head of the cult-favorite burger chain is Lynsi Snyder, whose grandparents founded the company in 1948. We recently reached out to Snyder to learn more about why Associates love coming to work, her decision to never take the company public and how her time spent leafing lettuce at an In-N-Out at 17 helped her prepare for her role today. Here are a few highlights from our conversation.

Hamburger on a bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, and cheese.

Image source: Getty Images.

Glassdoor: Congratulations on being named a Best Place to Work. This is your 5th win, and you're the number one restaurant on the list. What does a win like this mean to you?

Lynsi Snyder: It's a great honor, especially since it's based on the input of our own Associates.  It is very important to me that In-N-Out Burger is a great employer because I value our Associates so much. They are the reason for our success and they deserve to enjoy coming to work, to feel appreciated and to be treated like family, which is what I consider them.  

Glassdoor: Your employees love working here, as we see by the strong rating on Glassdoor -- how do you make this a great place to work day in and day out?

Lynsi Snyder: We have a strong company culture that goes back almost 70 years, and an important part of that is having fun at work and being surrounded by great people. Day to day, the work environment has to be positive, and the Associates actually create that themselves by being so upbeat and enthusiastic. We select leaders who are strong in the area of engaging Associates in taking great care of our customers with great quality and service. They must also be able to create a team-oriented atmosphere, which is part of our mission statement. Other things like a favorable pay structure and flexible scheduling definitely help, but it really comes down to our Associates being part of something that they take a lot of pride in.

Glassdoor: How have you improved employee engagement over the past few years? What strategies have worked and which have not?

Lynsi Snyder: We always work to make our training programs as strong as they can be. Our programs include both interactive learning and one-on-one, hands-on training. Our managers participate in onsite classroom sessions at our In-N-Out University. I'm personally involved in upgrading our management training program as we try to make it more effective and flexible for each manager. We have to do a good job in this area because all of the managers and assistant managers in our restaurants started their careers as entry-level Associates and earned their way to leadership roles. This is also good for our culture, but it means there is no shortcut to growing great leaders through training. Aside from that, our Associates have told us that when they are growing and learning new things, they are more engaged in their job. Listening to our Associates is a serious priority for me.

Glassdoor: Why has it been so important to you, Lynsi, to never franchise or go public? Does the choice have something to do with maintaining the impeccable work culture?

Lynsi Snyder: In-N-Out Burger was founded by my grandparents. It is very important to me to carry on and grow the vision that they started and that my uncle and my dad built on. This company, and the people who work here, are much too important to me to consider changing the way we operate just for the sake of change. Remaining privately owned allows us to do only the things that are right for our company and our Associates.  

Glassdoor: What is your personal philosophy when it comes to leadership and employee engagement? How would you describe your leadership style?

Lynsi Snyder: I prefer that our leaders adopt a servant leadership style and I try to lead by example. It's hard to argue with the approach that puts your people and their well-being first. The shortest road to connected Associates is to lead them as they would like to be led. Of course, connected and engaged Associates do the best work in any company. We have very high standards which means we have a lot of procedures and policies in place, but they only work when you have Associates who are eager to follow them.

Glassdoor: Good leadership is not just one person -- how do you work with your management teams to make sure employees have great leadership here?

Lynsi Snyder: We look for a combination of strong leadership skills and proven operations ability. It is my intent to let our leaders know at every opportunity how proud I am of them, of how they treat our In-N-Out family and of their achievements that allow our company to continue to grow and be successful.

Glassdoor: If you were talking to job seekers, why would you say they should start or grow their career at In-N-Out?

Lynsi Snyder: While many of our Associates decide to stay with us and eventually join our management team, we also have many Associates who work with us for a time and then move to their next step on their chosen career ladder. Whatever his or her career goals might be, my hope is that anyone who spends time as an In-N-Out Associate finds the experience valuable -- an opportunity to learn and grow, and to have fun.

Glassdoor: What are some of your best practices when it comes to recruiting? In-N-Out is known for friendly, well-trained associates. What makes someone a perfect fit for In-N-Out?

Lynsi Snyder: We look for great smiles and people who love being around people. We also want Associates who have a natural commitment to serving our customers. We can teach just about everything else. We find a surprising number of our best new hires are referrals from current Associates. Great people tend to hang out with other great people.

Glassdoor: How does In-N-Out retain talent -- what are some of your best practices?

Lynsi Snyder: We have a special culture at this company. I really believe that it's my job, and the job of the whole management team, to make sure we nurture that culture and keep In-N-Out the unique place to work it has been for all our Associates -- from the 30-year veterans to the ones putting on their aprons for the first time. The simple answer to keeping Associates with us is to treat them the right way. To us this means creating a positive, fun atmosphere, allowing them to grow with us, paying them well for their hard work and remembering to thank them for what they do for our company every day. They are amazing, and so is the management team, which has grown along with the company. Showing my appreciation and recognizing their dedication is much more than a matter of salaries and bonuses. We spend a lot of time doing activities together -- we have annual trips, we play sports and every year we have several trips to my Dad's ranch, sometimes for workshops and play, sometimes just for In-N-Out family time.

Glassdoor: Now a fun one, what was your first job and what life lessons did it teach you?

Lynsi Snyder: You probably think it was at In-N-Out, and in fact, when I was 17, I was hired at the store in Redding, California, where my first job was leafing the lettuce. But before that, I got my actual first job, which was as a receptionist in a dentist's office. I did the billing by hand on a typewriter, scheduled appointments and greeted patients. The dentist was a good friend of my father's and remains a close friend to my mother and me even today. It was a special experience -- so much fun because I was surrounded by great people and I loved the work, and it taught me how important it is to have a good team. When I started at In-N-Out, I took orders, served food to customers and learned to properly wrap a Double-Double, which is harder than you might think. The experience was priceless -- I learned the importance of attention to detail and providing customers the product and overall experience they've paid for.

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