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Creating A Great Workplace

Three companies keep employees engaged and productive.

Creating A Great Workplace

HR officers tend to say a lot of the same things about great workplace cultures.

But unless the employer backs up the rhetoric with actions, they’re just good intentions. In many companies, employees don’t even feel comfortable taking advantage of generous work-life policies. For instance, a survey published by the U.S. Travel Association in August reports that 41 percent of Americans don’t use all of their paid time off.

So the question is raised: In which Minnesota companies do employees not only have considerable time off, but work in a culture where they’re comfortable taking it?

Fortune magazine went looking for these companies, here and across the country, for its annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. This year three Minnesota companies made the grade (rank is in parentheses):

  • Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America, Golden Valley (47)
  • Mayo Clinic, Rochester (53)
  • General Mills, Golden Valley (64)

So we approached senior HR officers at these three companies and asked them: What are you doing right when it comes to fostering a great workplace culture? Why do people come to your company, and why do they stay? One of the common themes we heard was that the company pays attention to employees’ entire life, not just their work life. And they hold their managers accountable for the satisfaction of their direct reports. They’re measured on it, and their compensation is based in part on it. In other words, in these three companies, tending to workplace culture is more than lip service. It’s policy.

Allianz Life

Rank on Fortune 100 List 47
Number of years on list 3
Total U.S. employees 1,647
New jobs (one year) -122
Full-time job growth in past year -7%
Percent voluntary job turnover 7%
Fully paid sabbaticals No
On-site child care Yes
Pays 100% of health care costs No
On-site fitness centers Yes
Subsidizes off-site gym memberships Yes
Job sharing Yes
Compressed work weeks Yes

Source: Fortune

Allianz Life Employee Ratings

Great challenges 97%
Great atmosphere 97%
Great rewards 97%
Great pride 97%
Great communication 97%
Great bosses 96%

The review is based on 847 employee surveys sent by Fortune, with a 95% confidence level and a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3%.

Source: Fortune

Allianz Life: Employee engagement

Community outreach gets a lot of buzz around town. Some companies do a good job of supporting the annual United Way drive and organizing shifts during the holidays for Feed My Starving Children. But few do community outreach like Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America, which treats it as a year-round commitment.

Employees collectively pick four local charities that the company supports for the next 12 months, with $25,000 grants to each. Workers interact with the organizations as they see fit. During the holidays, employees make a special effort, participating in a Spirit of Giving drive to collect food, clothing and toys for a local organization that meets basic needs. “Last year, we donated 20,247 pounds of clothing, 26,363 pounds of food, 3,505 toys including 85 bikes, and $97,739,” one employee told Fortune magazine. “We participate in a human chain to load all the donated items into the semi-trucks. It is great to belong to such a giving organization.”

It’s good for morale. And it’s among the factors that are good for keeping employees. At Allianz Life, employees tend to stay with the company for a long time (voluntary turnover was just 7 percent last year).

Allianz Life also puts a lot of stock in employee recognition.

“When I talk to groups about what is important, I would say that is No. 1,” says Suzanne Zeller, senior vice president and chief human resources officer. “You just have to recognize people. We have an online system that we call ‘Recognition Central.’ That’s where you can thank people for doing a good job, and people can ‘like’ comments, like on Facebook. People really love it.”

The company also sponsors an all-day event called Supporting Ongoing Achievement Recognition, or SOAR, as part of a month-long series of events that includes giving a variety of employee awards.

The office includes an on-site child care center, fitness center, two cafés, mini-grocery store, dry cleaning and shoe shine. These amenities are part of the company’s overall approach to work-life balance.

“We have a strategy we call true balance. This has three components: There’s physical health, social well-being, and financial fitness. It’s all about having the tools and the amenities to allow you to design your own true balance, which is a big differentiator for us,” Zeller says.

The results show up in the employee engagement data. The company uses a tool provided by Kenexa (see “Kenexa: Bringing Big Data to HR”) to survey Allianz Life employees around the world. “Two years ago the Minnesota office scored the highest in engagement in all of our offices,” says Zeller.

Allianz Life is a sizable company and has the resources to offer attractive perks and programs, and generous salary packages. But Zeller says it would be a mistake to conclude that the workplace culture is held together with money.

“People just say we throw a lot of money at the programs, but we haven’t,” she says. Zeller indicates that the company makes reasonable investments in training, development and rewards, and it has seen strong business results. “If your employees are engaged they’re going to give you 100 percent.”

Mayo Clinic

Rank on Fortune 100 List 53
Number of years on list 11
Total U.S. employees 44,297
New jobs (one year) 415
Full-time job growth in past year 1.1%
Voluntary job turnover 5%
Fully paid sabbaticals No
On-site child care Yes
Pays 100% of health care costs No
On-site fitness centers Yes
Subsidizes off-site gym memberships Yes
Job sharing Yes
Compressed work weeks Yes

Source: Fortune

Mayo Clinic Employee Ratings

Great challenges 94%
Great atmosphere 93%
Great rewards 82%
Great pride 95%
Great communication 91%
Great bosses 92%

The review is based on 979 employee surveys sent by Fortune, with a 95% confidence level and a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8%.

Source: Fortune

Mayo Clinic: Employees’ needs beyond work

To Brent Bultema, director of recruitment strategies at Mayo Clinic, the secret to employee recruitment is all about storytelling.

“Mayo Clinic has 150 years of stories to rely on, and we tell those frequently. It starts at orientation through leaders providing their personal stories and tying our cultural norms back to the Mayo brothers,” he says. “That’s been important to make sure that your history and your culture resonate with your employees, since culture can be an abstract thing.”

What’s not abstract is the pride Mayo employees have in their institution. In the Fortune survey, more than nine of 10 employees are proud to tell others where they work, and proud of their accomplishments.

The company shows gratitude for the pride employees feel at work by doing its best to make sure they feel healthy and happy outside of work.

“How you assist employees in times of their personal need is important,” says Bultema. “As an employer you need to focus on the whole person, not just the person who comes to work. We have a fund for individuals who may have a personal circumstance where they just need a little bit of assistance to get over the hump. We have adoption reimbursement. We have a lot of policies that reinforce the culture we want to set.

“The bottom line is if employees aren’t engaged they will look elsewhere, and turnover is incredibly costly,” he says.

Communication programs are taken seriously at Mayo to keep morale at a high level. Because Mayo is open 24/7, its leaders communicate in multiple ways with employees.

“Whether it’s Dr. Noseworthy [Mayo CEO] sharing a video on the intranet or our employee blogs or direct emails or our weekly e-newsletter, we want to keep employees engaged with what’s going on,” Bultema says. He notes that through these communications, Mayo’s culture is reinforced. “We also encourage employees to ask questions or post comments to stories, as that is an opportunity for transparency and direct feedback.”

People who work at Mayo tend to be people who support public health and want to express this viewpoint outside of work. Mayo has created programs to assist them in this way, says Bultema.

“HR plays a key role here in developing pathways for employees who wish to support their communities during times of need, such as disaster relief,” he says. “We’re also a big supporter of the outreach of United Way.”

Ultimately it comes down to keeping employees engaged as a whole human being, so they don’t just come to work every day, but look forward to coming to work. Turnover is incredibly costly and “very much a reflection of culture” and engagement, Bultema says. Mayo’s best recruitment tactic has nothing to do with recruitment, he says. “It’s that we have turnover that is half of the industry norm.”

General Mills

Rank on Fortune 100 List 64
Number of years on list 11
Total U.S. employees 16,101
New jobs (one year) -612
Full-time job growth in past year -3.7%
Voluntary job turnover 3%
Fully paid sabbaticals Yes
On-site child care Yes
Pays 100% of health care costs No
On-site fitness centers Yes
Subsidizes off-site gym memberships Yes
Job sharing Yes
Compressed work weeks Yes

Source: Fortune

General Mills Employee Ratings

Great challenges 93%
Great atmosphere 92%
Great rewards 91%
Great pride 95%
Great communication 92%
Great bosses 91%

The review is based on 979 employee surveys sent by Fortune, with a 95% confidence level and a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1%.

Source: Fortune

General Mills: Fostering employee satisfaction

The corporate mission statement of General Mills is “nourishing lives.” The company repeatedly ranks high on workplace culture lists—it’s made the Fortune 100 list for 11 years—so it seems company employees feel well-fortified.

General Mills employs more than 41,000 people worldwide, and more than 16,000 of its employees are in the United States. Jacqueline Williams-Roll, head of global human resources for the company, says it takes time to nurture the careers of each one of them.

“The single biggest reason that people leave companies is about managers; the single greatest reason that people are engaged with companies is that they’re working for a great manager. That’s why we have our Great Manager initiative. Fifty percent of our performance appraisal is based on ‘Did you get the results you said you were going to get?’ and the other half is about how you went about doing that. It’s really based on our leadership expectations,” she says.

The company has given deep thought to how it defines employee engagement, says Williams-Roll. General Mills has bucketed it into four categories: purpose, my manager, my leader, and pride in the company. It figures that if an employee is feeling good in these areas, chances are the person will be happy, doing good work and sticking around for a while.

“We have many engagement programs within each function: town halls, listening sessions, level-down meetings where managers do focus groups—not with direct reports, but the next level down,” she says. “We also do some quick surveys to get the pulse in our respective units. We put in these measurements of engagement as we hold our managers accountable.”

General Mills offers an impressive menu of amenities in its Golden Valley headquarters, including a fitness center, a health clinic, an infant day care, a company store, time off for volunteer opportunities, and classes offered through the General Mills Institute.

According to Fortune, 83 percent of employees say that they have access to training and development that will further them professionally. And the company has a track record of rewarding this training: 80 percent of its managers are promoted from within.

The company acknowledges that employees have actual lives outside of the office, and has these perks in place to help them manage all aspects of their lives. “If we can help people be happier and healthier in their whole life, that’s better for everyone,” Williams-Roll says.

Kenexa: Bringing Big Data to HR

Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America works with a company called Kenexa to help it foster strong employee engagement.

IBM acquired Kenexa in 2012 for $1.3 billion and in 2014 rolled out IBM Kenexa Talent Suite, which marries HR functions with big data.

Kenexa offers services including recruitment process outsourcing; onboarding (form management for electronic signature, legal documents and workflow tracking); Kenexa Prove It, which assesses abilities to choose and target employment candidates; and Kenexa Interview Builder, which provides a structured interview archive with hundreds of example questions as well as employment branding solutions.

Using big-data analytics, the suite evaluates employee information such as work experience, social engagement, skill development, and individual character traits to fine-tune the recruitment process and helps employers understand their workforces, the company says. This could enable better-targeted candidate searches through social recruiting sites such as LinkedIn.

The suite is also designed to improve onboarding and employee retention. Through IBM Connections, the company’s social software platform, employees can share information and find subject-matter experts.

On its website, IBM cited a study that surveyed 342 HR executives and found that only 50 percent of organizations use workforce analytics. Even fewer apply predictive analytics for decisionmaking in areas such as sourcing and recruiting (7 percent), employee engagement and commitment (9 percent), talent development (10 percent), retention (13 percent), and collaboration and knowledge sharing (3 percent).

The changing role of the HR officer

Many people have viewed human resources staffers as the people they turn to for information on topics such as vacation time or payroll questions. For some employees in certain workplaces, that’s still the primary role.

But there are many large companies with more expansive HR operations. In those companies, such as the three large employers in this article, the HR function has become much more sophisticated.

“In the past, HR folks were viewed as bureaucrats and paper pushers,” says Connie Wanberg, professor of industrial relations at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. “HR is now widely viewed as an essential function and one that can make a dramatic difference in the success of the organization. In particular, this is because human capital is so important to the success of today’s organizations, and the HR function has many tools to help ensure that organizations select, develop and retain the best talent.”

That’s been Brent Bultema’s experience at Mayo Clinic, where he serves as the director of recruitment strategies.

“It used to be that human resources was there to develop policies and reinforce policies. It used to be called personnel. It’s evolved much further than that,” he says. “We are there to personify and to translate and to reinforce the culture, and that starts with recruitment.”

In addition to making sure that candidates you may want to hire have the skills, licensures and credentials your organization needs, Bultema stresses that it’s equally important that the person represents a “cultural fit.”

Today’s HR leaders need to bring a wider variety of skills to the job than they did a generation ago. “Individuals in the HR function need strong leadership skills, business knowledge and change-management skills,” Wanberg says. “They need to be able to help maintain morale and they must be good communicators. And they have to be able to create a rapport with both managers and employees alike.”

Adam Wahlberg is TCB’s senior editor.

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