Exclusive: Candid chats with HR at America's healthiest workplaces

Three award-winning HR directors talk about how they keep turnovers low, slashed worker's comp costs by 70%, and saved an executive from a kidney tumor

Exclusive: Candid chats with HR at America's healthiest workplaces
Every year, the American Psychological Association highlights best practices with its ‘Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards’, and this month, four organizations took out the honor: Tasty Catering, Certified Angus Beef, St. Luke’s hospital in Duluth, and the University of Southern California.

We spoke to three of the organizations about what their secrets were to creating those successful workplaces. USC did not respond to requests for comment.

What’s your turnover?
Tasty Catering director of communications Jamie Pritscher: One employee left, making for a 1.3% turnover rate in 2013.

St Luke’s HR director Marla Halvorson: In 2013 it was 12.2%. I think the national average for healthcare was 15%. We had a little bit of a jump in 2013, but what really happened was our retirees who were holding out for their 401(k)s to bounce back did (see them) bounce back because of the markets, so they were able to leave.

Certified Angus Beef HR director Pam Cottrell: 2-3% every year.

What has been the number one reason your turnover is so low?
TC: It definitely is the culture that’s been created and is fostered by employees. It’s like one big family: everybody truly cares for each other both professionally and personally.

SL: It’s a good place to work.

CAB: The turnover is one thing that is impacted by the culture of our organization, which is very positive, very focused, very engaged. It’s not one thing. Like a good recipe, it’s a lot of different ingredients.

What initiative gives you the most pride?
TC: The financial transparency gives all employees pride in their work. Sales is one of the most lauded parts of an organization because they bring in the money, but how does everyone else fit in? It’s through the Great Game of Business program that helps everyone else understand how they affect the business. I think it’s the Great Game of Business that gets people pride in their work and knowing how they affect the organization and that everybody in the organization matters.

SL: Our most remarkable accomplishment in HR is a reduction in employee injuries. From 2006 to 2013, we’ve increased our number of employees by 14%, but we’ve reduced our number of workers’ comp claims by 29%, and that is just unheard of. Another way that you measure workers’ comp is the cost, so in 2006 if you were to take the cost of workers’ comp per $100 of payroll, for every $100 we spent $1.36 on workers’ comp claims. In 2013 we spent $0.41 per $100. We’re really proud of that.

CAB: We do a number of things, but one we implemented last year for the first time. We did a program that was outcome-focused: a preventive screening with their physician. The drive was to get people to go to their family physician to get their preventive screening which would measure those verified predictors of health risk. So it was required for all staff on our health plan, and we have had some amazing success stories. We had several employees who had not been to a physician in a number of years, and one in particular has been very open in sharing how at his examination they discovered a tumor in his kidney. That person is part of our executive team and is a great example of how we know that our program makes a difference. When he tells that story, he says ‘I don’t know what would have happened had I not had that screening’. If anybody grumbled about having to go to the doctor, they’re not grumbling now.

What does your company do that nobody else does?
TC: In our common areas and weekly there’s a huddle and that’s a half-hour long, and everyone from every department reports certain numbers of forecasting based on sales. All those lines on a P&L statement are listed on a whiteboard and every week they’re talked about and it’s not the CFO that’s responsible for it. If they go over whatever number they’ve budgeted, they’d better have a good reason why they’re overspending. Everyone understands where the money’s coming from and where it’s going.

SL: I would be surprised if companies are as active in managing workers’ comp claims once they occur as we are. A lot of people, once a workers’ comp is filed, they just turn it over to their carrier. We had to work very very hard with our workers’ comp carrier in the beginning to get them to let us be involved. They don’t settle any claims without talking to us.

CAB: We actually have a psychologist who comes on-site and is available for employees to visit. She also does on-site guided imagery for us, which is basically meditative therapy. We have not heard of anyone else that has an on-site shrink. We love to call her that, because we were trying to remove the stigma of visiting a psychologist. Everything is confidential. We’ve made it OK to talk about life stress and the challenges that everybody faces today.

How does the size of your organization affect the way you do HR?
TC: We have right under 50 full-timers. It fluctuates throughout the year, so we get up to about 200 in the high season. We do have a huge seasonal intake so it’s very important when we hire, and primarily those people we’re hiring are college and high school kids. And even though they’re part-time, they’re at very, very low turnover. There are comprehensive training programs that all these (part-time) servers and event supervisors go through, so they can understand how they’re truly a part of the organization.

SL: We’re growing at a rapid rate and I think HR has had to respond to that in terms of, you know, really building relationships with the managers, because when I say we know the employees, a lot of the times it’s not we, HR, it’s we, the managers. And we really have to rely on their knowledge of the work environment and employees and how people really do work in their areas.

CAB: We have 120 employees. Our size allows us to have more flexibility, be more creative, be more innovative. Every year we look for what can we do to take things to the next level, so being small allows us to be a bit more flexible.

What’s something you’ve planned going forward?
TC: We’ve started bringing in outside organizations that we admire. We had Zingerman’s brought in to talk to the majority of our full-timers; they have a best practice about visioning in your professional and personal life. So I think it’s that continuing education piece that we’re really going to look into expanding upon and that’s what matters. The more they know, the better service they offer, the more the organization grows.

SL: We’re stepping back again and looking at employee engagement and making sure that we’re able to communicate in effective ways all the things that are being done here.

CAB: One thing that we just started doing and that we look to expand moving forward is a program called CAB healthy meals to go. We have several kitchens in our building so we are preparing healthy CAB meals so beef is the primary ingredient. Prices are super reasonable – most are coming to about $3 per serving, so you can take home a dinner for four for $12 including an entrée, a salad and a dessert. It’s about reducing stress, supporting employees with life balance, and what an amazing opportunity we have to make sure employees eat healthfully, and they get to take it home, so the family eats healthy as well. Right now we’re doing one meal every other week and in April we’ll be doing two meals a week.

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