Companies Put Employees First, Enhance Work Life

November 10, 2017 | Companies put employees first, enhance work life

Tecton Industries in Spencer has always put its employees first ever since the company was founded 36 years ago.

The company doesn’t have traditional time clocks, seniority, fixed-pay scales or scheduled breaks and lunch hours. Instead, employees are asked to follow three principles: maturity, courtesy and honesty.

“If we give and receive those three things, there has been nothing in this world we cannot beat. Period,” said Chief Executive Officer and founder Bruce Tamisiea.

Workplace culture has been a focal point of Principal Financial Group in Des Moines for years. The company has always been progressive, but executives wanted to ensure the company stayed ahead of its competition and brought more attention back to employees and the company culture, said Kathleen Souhrada, an assistant vice president who oversees workplace culture. That’s why collaboration has become a focus on the workplace’s culture in addition to flexibility and employee empowerment.

Part of this required reconfiguring workspaces so employees could physically collaborate on projects in different types of workspaces. Employees also are given the flexibility and empowerment they need to complete their job and to choose the type of workspace––whether it’s a booth in the cafeteria or a cubicle--that best fits their ability to perform their job. Employees also have been given the digital tools they need to collaborate with their counterparts across the world.

“Going forward, it won’t matter that I’m in Des Moines and another person is in Chile,” Souhrada said. “We can come together and work toward how we can better serve customers.”

The flexibility component of workplace culture also has been a big part in helping employees balance their home and work lives. That’s why the company changed its vacation and time off policies to “FTO” or flexible time off.

“They are one whole person, and they have responsibilities in their personal and work lives, and those don’t all fit neatly into work hours,” Souhrada said.

The work-life balance concept is not a new one, but it was something Principal employees would comment on in their company’s annual employee survey.

“We’re trying to empower our employees to figure out both physically and from an hours perspective how they can bring their personal and work lives together, so they can do their best work for our customers,” Souhrada said.

The creative nature of the workforce at Trilix marketing in Des Moines means there’s more emphasis on company culture and ensuring employees have the tools to do their jobs, Ron Maahs, the company’s chief executive officer, said.

“It’s my job to make sure everyone can do their job,” he said. “That might mean they need a better chair or computer or workflow or environment. We try to give people, within reason, things to do their jobs and to make it comfortable for people to work together as much as possible.”

From 2004 to today, the company has grown from fewer than 10 employees to 52, many of whom are in their 20s and 30s. This group has devised its own take on committees and created a “mmittee” for many of the things they want to do at work with both work and play. This includes beer tastings, fitness and fun. They’ll soon develop one for philanthropic acts.

These “mmittees” are responsible for healthy snacks and food in the breakroom/kitchen, holiday parties, Friday afternoon beer tastings, step competitions and more. All of these things were driven by employees and a desire to find ways to balance fun with work, Maahs said.

“It comes from the type of folks who are here,” he said. “It’s a creative group. There’s a lot of energy. There’s not a lot of ‘I just want to sit at my desk and sneak in and out each day.’ ”

Part of the culture at Trilix is a collaborative environment where employees can easily work together on projects. There are also areas to respect other groups of employees who don’t want to work in a collaborative space, Maahs said.

CIPCO realizes culture is important to company’s future

About five years ago, executives at Central Iowa Power Cooperative (CIPCO) in Creston decided a change was needed to increase and improve its workplace culture.

Each of the company’s facilities received updates, with the offices in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids receiving large renovations. More effort was made to encourage collaboration among employees with updated office space that is open and contemporary. Individual workspaces have been updated with the employee in mind: Desks can be raised and lowered; each employee has a laptop and moveable monitor; there are break rooms with couches and other collaborative spaces; and offices have glass doors and windows for an open, welcoming feel.

“It’s really designed to be a space that works best for you as an individual but also encourages that group collaboration,” said Kerry Koonce, CIPCO’s manager of communications and public affairs.

CIPCO executives also wanted to know why employees worked at the company and how to better engage them. Focus groups helped create an employee values proposition. Annual employee engagement surveys monitor how employees are doing at each of CIPCO’s locations, and managers make changes as needed.

“We knew we were going to have a lot of people retiring, and we wanted to make this an attractive place to work,” said Janel Cerwick, the company’s vice president for human capital.

CIPCO also provides wellness initiatives for employees and hosts lunch-and-learns that are video conferences for all employees to view.

A lot of effort also has been put into employee interaction and communication, Cerwick said. Employees create profiles through an assessment tool called DiSC that is used to improve communication, so employees can adapt their behaviors with others to work together and provide feedback.

CIPCO also has created a culture of personal responsibility and empowerment. Employees are encouraged to seek out the resources they need. There’s no chain of command requirement for them to request information.

Companies see increase in job retention

The employees-first culture at Tecton has helped the company retain its workers with little turnover. Until this year, Tecton has never advertised for employment. All employees come from referrals. Prospective employees interview supervisors and other employees after talking with Tamisiea to determine if the company is right for them.

Employees receive the help they need when they need it even with personal problems or to adjust their schedules to accommodate their desires to be at home with children or attend their activities, Tamisiea says.

The company was founded with these principles because they are morals that are all important to Tamisiea, as well as two parts from the first line of his life plan.
“We want to have fun and be happy,” he continues. “I don’t think a work environment has to be unfun or unhappy because we spend the majority of our time there. We understood early on that it was going to take a tremendous amount of time to build a company from scratch. That’s why we did as much as we could to include family in activities.”

This includes a dining area where employees, especially those who work the night shift, can dine with their family members.

“We encourage them to invite their families to have dinner with them,” Tamisiea says.

Tyler Tamisiea, the company’s sales and marketing manager, says culture doesn’t happen overnight. It’s something that has to be ingrained into the company at all levels, so everyone is working toward the same goal.

“This is something that we’ve been working on through the decades,” Tyler Tamisiea says. “Those beliefs haven’t changed. We haven’t been willing to compromise even though things might have gotten difficult. This is embedded into our workforce.”

Principal managers spend a significant amount of time focusing on employee experience--everything from workspace configurations to flexibility to benefits, Souhrada said.

“We work hard to create an employee experience that is desirable,” she said.

This is measured through the annual employee survey and the company’s high employee retention rate. The company also receives a large number of applications and external recognitions as a best place to work, Souhrada said.

Culture becomes a common interview question

Prospective employees take a tour through Trilix to see firsthand what the company culture is all about, Maahs said. He’s also upfront about what the company stands for and what is expected of employees.

“That gives them a vibe, and then we talk about some of the things with do with the ‘mmittees’ and the events,” he said.

Questions about the workplace environment are becoming more and more common, Souhrada, with Principal, said.

“People want more than just a 9 to 5 job,” she said. “They know that working is an integral part of their life and want to make sure the employer they’re going to has the same values they have. ... They want to know that the employer’s values around work-life balance or around flexibility will work with what they want from their life.”

To some degree this is a cultural shift , Souhrada said. Workplace culture was a common question among the company’s 225 interns last year. “Culture is evolving, and what we expect in our work life is changing,” she said. “Now, it doesn’t have to be an either-or. I don’t have to have either a great home life or a great work life. Now I can have both.”

About 40 percent of CIPCO’s 100-employee workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next decade. Employees with more than 30 years of experience have already begun to retire.

“People tend to stay for their careers,” said Memorea Schrader, the company’s human resources generalist and recruiter. “These long tenures are pretty common throughout the organization.”

Part of this is because of the company’s strong benefits package that includes vision and dental insurance. Managers also want to ensure the company stays attractive to new workers, which is why they created a video message about working at CIPCO that’s shown to prospective employees. One of the hiring factors is whether the individual fits the company and department’s culture, Schrader said.

“It is a very common question for interviewees to ask what the culture is like or why whoever is in the interview works for CIPCO or continues to work for CIPCO,” she said.