Case Study
SEPI Engineering and Construction


Location: Raleigh • Year Founded: 2001 • Number of Employees: 325

Founded by Sepideh Saidi, SEPI Engineering and Construction is a multi-disciplinary engineering firm based in Raleigh with branch offices in Charlotte and Wilmington. The firm provides a range of engineering, planning, environmental, and construction management services to clients in the education, private sector, local, state, and federal markets.

SEPI’s core values of integrity, quality, collaboration, passion, creativity and community are reflected in both their approach to working with clients and their approach to creating a work environment that places the needs of their employees front and center. The company offers a range of traditional benefits, but it may be the less traditional benefits that set SEPI apart.

SEPI offers a flexible work schedule between 7 am and 6 pm and allows employees the ability to create their own schedule to meet their family needs—whether that be a doctor’s appointment or shifting school schedules or an early arrival to accommodate traffic. An employee commits to a defined and consistent schedule, allowing managers to plan, but has the flexibility to create a schedule that best accommodates life outside the office.

“You would not believe how much that one change has positively impacted the tone of our office. People are more relaxed. They have more fun, and they work harder.

“This policy is definitely one of our biggest competitive advantages,” says Mariah Agsten, SEPI’s human resources manager.

Additionally, employees benefit from a dress-to-your-day policy, allowing casual dress as long as it is fitting to the work environment. Instead of spending time and money on dry cleaning and new work clothes, employees can wear jeans—not just on Fridays, but every day not involving client meetings.

“You would not believe how much that one change has positively impacted the tone of our office,” says Agsten. “People are more relaxed. They have more fun, and they work harder.” 

The firm creates and adapts their policies by listening to their employees. They have an annual employee survey, benchmark their benefits against competitors in the industry, solicit input from managers and employees, and actively seek to subsidize or increase benefits when and where they can. The company also encourages an open-door policy. “Anyone can come and talk to me or Sepi at any time. We want to hear what people have to say,” says Agsten. “And Sepi listens. Everything starts at the top with her; the tone she sets makes us who we are.”

Martha and Robbie Kirk with their son, Fox

For example, when Robbie Kirk, assistant vice president of the Roadway Department in the Charlotte office, and his wife, Martha, started a family, he approached Saidi to discuss the paternity leave policy. He asked if they would consider extending the policy from one to two weeks. With 83 percent of SEPI’s employees being male, and 32 percent being between the ages of 25 and 40, the change had the potential to impact a large number of staff members.

“Sepi was behind the change 100 percent,” says Agsten. “She wanted to know what other companies were doing, so we did our research and it seemed like two weeks was much more competitive than is offered elsewhere. The policy change helped Robbie, but it also helped us a company, and there have been a handful of people who have taken advantage of the policy since it was implemented.”

“My wife, Martha, went into labor on a Thursday night,” recounts Kirk. “I took a vacation day on Friday and then took two weeks of paternity leave, although I could have spread the time out if I had wanted to. Being with Martha and not having to rush back to work or use additional paid time off was a huge benefit. One week is barely enough time to develop a routine, but being there with my wife and our son, Fox, for that additional week helped us settle into a sustainable schedule.”

“Sepi unequivocally understands that human capital is her number one asset,” says Agsten. “It’s hard to put happiness into a return on investment that is a dollar amount. I think happy employees are much more productive. I’m more apt to plug in when I go home if I have to and our team puts in the time when asked. Through our surveys we know our people are happy, and implementing policies and practices that make a big difference in their happiness has not been hard.”

At the same time, the company is exploring better data capabilities to capture more information about how the investments in their employees translate into data. “We want to know how we can do even better,” says Agsten.

The investment appears to be paying off. “I don’t have any plans to leave SEPI and would be hesitant to go anywhere else that has lesser benefits,” says Kirk. “It’s a really good retention tool.” 

Sample Benefits at SEPI Engineering and Construction

  • A medical, dental, and vision plan, with prescription drug coverage and access to a telemedicine network; a Health Savings Account; Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account; short-term and long-term disability insurance; an employer assistance program that provides counseling; and basic life insurance and additional death and dismemberment insurance
  • Paid parental leave of four weeks, which begins two-weeks after a birth or adoption and is covered in part by short-term disability insurance and in part by the company
  • Paid paternity leave of two weeks.
  • Nine paid holidays per year; one floating holiday; and paid time off ranging from three weeks per year for new employees to five weeks per year for employees with five or more years of service
  • Tuition reimbursement for continuing education to support professional development
  • Opportunities for team-building, socializing, and for employees to get to know one another—including volunteering in the community