What makes employees want to stay with a company in today’s tight labor market, when they could look for more money or a better health insurance package somewhere else? The results of our online survey (see sidebar) indicate that employees value opportunities for advancement, trustworthy managers and good working relationships. They also want to be considered partners in the company, sharing in its risks as well as its rewards. When employees find a job situation that satisfies these needs, they tell friends and business associates, and the company develops a reputation for knowing how to keep employees happy.
Nevada Business Journal enlisted the help of several of the state’s staffing firms in deciding which Nevada companies are among the Best Firms to Work For. The staffing firms were asked which companies generated positive feedback from clients who were placed in positions there, and also which firms were most requested by job applicants who had heard of their good reputation. We chose a cross-section of companies from this list of recommendations, and asked them to fill out an extensive survey about their relationships with employees. In Northern Nevada, we interviewed the three companies nominated by the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce for Excellence in Commerce awards in the “Workforce Investment” category. Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) Edison Campus received top honors at the chamber’s Salute to Business luncheon on May 23.
TMCC’s Stephen Salaber, assistant vice president for administrative services, revealed a key component in the college’s success when he explained, “Our core value is the development of people.” Helping employees improve themselves speaks to the most basic need mentioned by respondents to our survey ¾ “career development, growth and promotional opportunities.” It also indicates a long-term commitment to staff members and a concern for their well-being. Without exception, our Best Firms made extraordinary efforts to train their people and also to reimburse them for obtaining an education outside the workplace. Cintas, a uniform rental firm that operates a 60,000-square-foot plant in North Las Vegas, employs college interns who work during the summers while attending college. Cintas management stays in touch with them during the school year, and when they graduate, they can enter its management trainee program. International Game Technology (IGT) hosts an on-site college degree program provided by TMCC. Berry Plastics, a manufacturing plant in Henderson, received an award last year from the Nevada Literacy Coalition for its in-house program to teach English as a Second Language (ESL). PurchasePro’s corporate university is being considered for accreditation by the University of Reno and University of Nevada, Las Vegas. It offers courses in management, computer skills and time management, in addition to traditional business development classes. Citibank offers a learning resources center, a self-directed educational facility accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It also reimburses employees up to $5,000 per calendar year for degree programs and offers a Management Readiness Program, a 10-week training program that provides personal and professional development to salaried employees.
The Eastridge Group of staffing companies recently released the results of its 2001 Southern Nevada Benefits Survey. According to Jane Whisner of Eastridge’s Las Vegas office, “Some employers offer free Sam’s Club memberships, massages every two weeks, smoking cessation programs, and discounts on dry cleaning and film processing. These types of incentives contribute quite a bit to an employee’s morale, which in turn benefits the company.” Our Best Firms reported a wide range of benefits packages. High Sierra Industries, a non-profit company that trains disabled people for jobs in its factory, was proud of being one of the few non-profits to offer basic health benefits. “This helps us compete with other agencies,” said CEO/Executive Director LaVonne Brooks. In contrast, larger for-profit firms are able to provide a wide range of expensive perks. Citibank, for example, offers generous insurance coverage from the first day of employment, with no waiting period, in addition to a wide range of other benefits, from stock options to an on-site fitness center. Yet, both companies made our list of Best Firms.
TMCC, Citibank and IGT offer on-site care for children of employees. Citibank was the first Las Vegas firm to open a corporate on-site childcare center in 1991. IGT and High Sierra offer flex time for salaried employees. Although Cintas has no official flex-time policy, “we try to be understanding if a special situation comes up,” said General Manager Joe Thomas. “We are a third-generation family-owned business, and we believe in family values.” Cintas has also made a decision to operate only on weekdays, so all staff members have weekends free to spend with their families. IGT and Citibank offer on-site fitness centers and employee assistance programs that include counseling for substance abuse, family problems and financial difficulties. PurchasePro provides on-site shoeshines, car washes and hair cuts.
Our Best Firms were asked if they offer rewards for performance or for achieving goals. With the exception of TMCC and PurchasePro, they all used some form of pay-for-performance model. LaVonne Brooks of High Sierra Industries, who joined the non-profit firm last year, had been a consultant for 11 years for Fortune 500 companies helping them implement high-performance work systems. She made sure that everyone at High Sierra has written goals related to his or her job performance, as well as personal goals such as education. “We link rewards to achievement of goals, not just length of service,” said Brooks. Sierra also offers quarterly cash awards for attendance, as well as on-the-spot awards (usually movie passes) when managers see someone going above and beyond the call of duty. Cintas also believes in pay-for-performance, and rewards exceptional achievement with stock options that employees can use to purchase Cintas stock five years from now at today’s price. Its salespeople work for commissions and bonuses, and this year they are competing to win a Chrysler PT Cruiser. IGT conducts annual merit reviews, after which employees get a raise based on their performance. At Lionel Sawyer & Collins, rewards for good job performance are reflected in salary increases and bonuses at year-end. Citibank’s employees who work in customer service and sales can earn incentive-based awards. Its RSVP (Refer Some Valuable People) program recognizes employees who refer people to work at Citibank. If an employee’s referral is hired, he or she earns a cash award.
Our Best Firms seem to be making genuine efforts to develop a sense of community and teamwork that stretches across the entire firm. Tom Baker, CEO of IGT, presides over a million-square-foot campus in Reno that employs 2,000 people in several divisions. Molding such a large and diverse workforce into a cohesive unit presents quite a challenge, but Baker is proud to point out that his firm currently has the lead in the Corporate Olympics in Northern Nevada. In addition, any employee group that wants to set up a sports team can count on company sponsorship to pay its fees and provide uniforms. Departments within the company are encouraged to promote team spirit by hosting potlucks, birthday celebrations and other group activities.
“Excellence is impossible with a disengaged heart,” according to Dr. Jim Harris, author of the 1996 book, Getting Employees to Fall in Love with Your Company. He suggests reaching employees’ hearts by creating a compelling corporate vision, developing partnerships with employees at all levels and encouraging celebration and fun in the workplace. Our Best Firms to Work For seem to have picked up on these lessons. “We try to make things fun by having impromptu events in the dining hall —we may have Root Beer Float Day or Popsicle Day just to cheer people up,” said Jennifer Dart, human resources manager for Berry Plastics. “We operate 24 hours a day, so we make sure employees from all shifts are included. There’s always something crazy going on.”
Lionel Sawyer & Collins hosts three main annual events: a summer picnic, a formal holiday dinner/dance and a retreat, held in a resort setting, where employees are treated to relaxing amenities such as massages and facials, as well as outdoor activities like horseback riding. PurchasePro offers a variety of family-oriented programs including monthly picnics, a children’s Christmas party and a family “sun and fun” day at Wet ‘n Wild water park.
Participating in charitable activities and fundraisers is a popular way to bring people together to work for a common cause. Each of our Best Firms sponsored some form of charitable outreach. PurchasePro fosters team spirit by participating in community outreach, including Rebuilding Together (formerly known as Christmas in April), which renovates the homes of low-income people.
“Babies cry for it, grown men die for it,” says the old proverb about appreciation. Highlighting the achievements of employees and making them feel valued is a relatively easy way to strengthen their bonds to the firm. All firms surveyed offered some form of recognition for length of service, usually in the form of an annual appreciation event, and most had an Employee of the Month or similar program. The employee of year at TMCC gets a $1,000 cash award. Cintas features a “Wall of Fame” where it posts calls and letters recording positive feedback from customers about employees. Mission Possible Awards at Citibank is a peer-to-peer program in which staff members can nominate a fellow employee for exemplary performance. Recipients receive a check for $150, a letter from their director and a desk plaque. IGT nominates employees for awards from community organizations which recognize volunteers, and Berry Plastics honors employees for their involvement with the community by donating $200 to the charity of their choice. Lionel Sawyer & Collins produces an in-house newsletter featuring articles and photos about staff members honored for outstanding performance and for longevity.
Another common thread among our Best Firms was a desire to bring employees into the decision-making process, which involves a level of communication not usually enjoyed between management and front-line workers. LaVonne Brooks of High Sierra Industries said, “The most important form of recognition is to bring [staff] into the decision-making process. We have daily and weekly meetings where we set and discuss goals. We also share our financials with employees so they understand the agency’s situation. People can’t perform if they don’t know what our goals are.”
Terminology in the business world has given us phrases like “Human Resources,” “Human Capital” and “Workforce Investment.” From an accountant’s point of view, it makes sense to train employees, in order to increase their value as company assets. Likewise, flextime and Root Beer Float Day may help decrease the turnover rate, which affects the bottom line. However, our interviews with executives at Nevada’s Best Firms to Work For seemed to indicate a genuine concern for their employees as individuals with feelings, personal goals and a life outside the workplace. If building people helps build their businesses, then our Best Firms should enjoy continued success in the future.