Diversity & Inclusion

Employer Shining Beacon During Economic Slump

For the third year, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) teamed up with Winning Workplaces to create its list of Top Small Workplaces for 2009. As the article notes, when faced with tough economic times, many employers try to cut just about everything that may be considered nonessential, including employee benefits, wellness plans, and other innovative programs. In doing so, they often shut employees completely out of the decision-making process. While the idea behind their actions is simply to stay afloat and make sure that employees at least have a job, the unintended consequence can be a negative workplace with low employee morale.

However, as the WSJ recognizes, there are still several companies committed to their employees’ well-being and development. Having happy, well-trained employees pays off now and continues paying off in the future. That’s because companies with a high rate of employee satisfaction and low turnover save money in the long run and put the company in a good position to rev back up when the economy turns around.

Innovative Business Makes the Cut

Making the cut among the innovative businesses recognized in WSJ’s article is the Arizona-based Tohono O’odham Nursing Care Authority. The Tohono O’odham nation is a Native American tribe with reservations in the Southwest. In the late 1990s, the tribe built a nursing home and hospice care program to attend to tribal elders so they wouldn’t have to move off the reservation to cities that are sometimes hours away.

The tribe formed a governing board, the Tohono O’odham Nursing Care Authority, to oversee the program’s development standards. The board hires tribal members to the greatest extent possible. Approximately 75 percent of its current nursing home and hospice care staff are Tohono O’odham members.

To ensure the success of its employees, the board pays tuition for employees who want to pursue degrees in nursing, nutrition, and other areas that fill the program’s needs. Employees also have access to subsidized apartments on the reservation and low-cost meals from the nursing facility’s dining room. The employer teaches employees about Tohono O’odham traditions, offers lessons on the native language, and hosts cultural events for both residents and employees.

Success Stories

The Tohono O’odham Nursing Care Authority has garnered rave reviews for its investment in employee training. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services gave the nursing home its highest rating, and Harvard University’s Project on American Indian Economic Development presented the facility with its Honoring Nations award last year. The awards acknowledge the board’s positive investment in its employees and its goal of achieving long-term business success.

There are other ways you can invest in your employees to ensure positive morale and less turnover. Some of the more innovative methods that businesses use include providing in-house daycare and laundry services so employees won’t have trouble making it to work on time or finding time to do necessary tasks. Another idea is cross-training between departments to help employees feel energized about the work they do for the company. Some businesses educate employees about how their work performance affects the company’s bottom line and seek employee ideas on how to make their jobs more efficient.

Other ideas include letting employees work remotely, allowing them to scale back on hours for personal reasons, and setting up Web conferencing with clients for more efficient use of time. Several businesses have employed innovative methods to promote employee health and wellness, including providing gym memberships and equipment, making on-site yoga classes and basketball courts available, and renting out Nintendo Wii game systems that employees can take home to enjoy with their families.

Bottom Line

All of these ideas have a common purpose — to promote healthy and happy work environments so that employees will stay with the employer longer while providing long- term benefits to the company. In addition, these methods save money in the long run and cut down on the cost of training new personnel. Maybe it’s time to consider whether one of these innovative ideas could help revamp your business.