What Makes a Happy and Productive Team Member?

News, Summer 2016

Personal autonomy and clarity of purpose top the list

BY JENNIFER LITTON
PHOTOS BY DEBRA S. KAPLAN

If you’re looking for a satisfying work experience and live in Omaha, you’re in luck. Our city is fortunate to have a wealth of forward-thinking companies where you can be engaged in your work, make your mark, and do so happily.

But just what are the ingredients in job satisfaction that give employees the warm fuzzies?

“Employees tend to be satisfied and happy when they’re doing something that is meaningful,” says Paul Estabrooks, Ph. D., Harold M. Maurer distinguished chair of public health at UNMC.

A clear understanding of their roles and their work goals is another plus. “Having that sense of autonomy or control makes people feel more comfortable at work,” he says.

Yet all of this must start at the top. Credible leaders are crucial in workplace enjoyment, Estabrooks says. “They should have the skills necessary to do the job. They’re consistent in how they deal with a worker, either with requests or conflicts. It needs to be somebody that really has the skills related to interpersonal communication and interaction so that they’re open and transparent.”

A leader who possesses those qualities makes their employees feel like they genuinely care, he says. “They care about the things I do and about me. How I’m functioning and my work quality-of-life.”

A perfect example of this type of leader can be found at Silverstone Group, a risk management agency. Danielle Crough, a senior human capital consultant at Silverstone, says that her boss Gini Collins has developed the reputation of being a good listener who is responsive to the needs of working moms at her company.
Crough says Collins has been incredibly understanding in conversations with expecting mothers. “The response wasn’t, ‘Oh, how does this affect the business?’ It was, ‘Let’s talk about what’s best for you and your family.’”

Crough, a mother of two, has a job that requires frequent travel. When her children were smaller and she was breastfeeding, she didn’t have to travel as much. She says there was an understanding that travel just didn’t work in her life at the time. “It’s nice to have that. It’s nice when you’re able to have open conversations.”
Crough says that Silverstone Group is great at supporting working moms. “They have made sure our lactation room is decked out with everything it needs. They have made radical strides in that area,” Crough says.

Silverstone Group is also committed to wellness. A complimentary food lounge is fully stocked with an assortment of energy-giving snacks such as Greek yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, fresh fruit and veggies and fruit-infused water, blended fresh daily.

Sugar is all but forbidden at Silverstone Group. “We know that cakes and cookies aren’t going to be in our building. It is that strong. We do joke that if someone has candy, that’s contraband,” Crough says.

The group has partnered with Max Muscle on a goal to lose 4.7 percent body fat as a company. Each participating employee gets an individualized food plan, protein shakes, weigh-ins and personal coaching. If they make their goal, everyone gets an extra paid day off in July.

This level of dedication and commitment to employees is also mirrored in other Omaha companies. Take for instance Medical Solutions, a travel nursing company. There’s no doubt that life as a working woman can be busy. Lunch breaks are often used to run to the bank, stop by the dry cleaners or buy a birthday gift. Medical Solutions founders realized the need for employees to slow down and enjoy their lunch break for what it is intended to be—a time for eating. So they introduced the employee concierge program.

“We have a team of ladies who actually act as personal assistants to our employees and they run errands for us, anything from picking up prescriptions or groceries or taking out our car to fill it up with gas or an oil change,” says Christy Johnston, chief people officer at Medical Solutions.

She says this allows employees to be more productive during the work day. “People just enjoy their lives a little bit more, and if they’re enjoying their lives, they’re better employees too.”

Johnston believes the reason Medical Solutions has won the Best Places to Work in Omaha survey, sponsored by the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, for the past six out of eight years, is because of the people they hire. “We have a process where we truly hire for a culture fit.”

She says it’s ‘very, very difficult’ to get hired at Medical Solutions. The company looks closely at how employees react to everyday work challenges. “It’s how you react to those challenges that really sets you apart, and sets you in front of people who just can’t get over those issues.”

They hire people who want to be the best, who strive for excellence and who are passionate about what they do, she says. Medical Solutions focuses on the basics. “Do people treat others as they want to be treated? It’s those simple, basic fundamentals you heard of as a kid, that maybe people over time lose that in the corporate world,” Johnston says.

Medical Solutions invests in confidential personal life coaches for their employees at no cost to them. “We focus on the whole person. It could be anything from ‘help me to save my marriage,’ to ‘I want to lose 10 pounds or stop smoking.’”

“We really made great strides with a lot of our people. They are much happier all around and they’re better employees in the end,” Johnston says.

Alicia Elson_sqQLI Tri-Dimensional Rehab is a non-profit organization that is also one of the nation’s premier post-hospital centers for brain trauma injuries. QLI won the 2016 Best Places to Work for the Advancement of Women Award by Baird Holm LLP and Institute for Career Advancement Needs.

Alicia Elson, QLI’s chief people officer, says the organization simply treats people fairly. “We don’t discriminate against women. We give everybody the same opportunities whether they are male or female.” Elson notes that three out of the four company leaders are females—a unique trait in an Omaha company.

QLI has won the Best Places to Work in Omaha survey for the company with more than 200 employees six times. The company regularly recognizes excellence in their employees. The James P. O’Donnell Demonstrated Excellence Award is given annually as the highest honor to eight to 10 of their best employees. They roll out the red carpet, professional pictures are taken and the evening is held at a posh venue. “It’s like the Grammy awards for our staff,” Elson says.

Alicia Elson, 
Chief People Officer at QLI Tri-Dimensional Rehab

The icing on the cake is the employee’s choice of a vacation or a room makeover from Nebraska Furniture Mart. “They’ll take trips to Paris or Turks and Caicos or Ireland. We also have a Borsheim’s package,” Elson says.

QLI wants them to have a memorable experience, not just pay off bills. “They can look back and say ‘I made a difference in somebody’s life and I was recognized for it.’”

Elson says overall what sets QLI apart is the company’s commitment to excellence. “We are rebuilding shattered lives and we treat our residents the way that we would want every one of our family members treated.”

She says the employees know that being committed to excellence allows them to be part of something bigger than themselves; an opportunity that builds pride. “When you have pride, you want to work as hard as you can, and as successfully as you can, because you’re part of something that’s really cool and unique.”

QLI uses a merit-based system to reward employees. “If you’re busting your hiney and you are living the mission and you are here every single day with that positive, steely-eyed commitment to excellence, we’re going to pay you more than the person who’s maybe a really good employee, but they don’t necessarily go above and beyond.”

“We’re going to pay those two people differently and we don’t apologize for it,” Elson says.

QLI also fosters continual growth and learning for their employees by hosting book clubs and journal reviews, as well as a financial wellness program. “We create a culture of curiosity at QLI, so we encourage people to learn and grow,” Elson says. “At QLI, our employees know that if they are invested, engaged and positive, the sky’s the limit.”

When an employer cares about an employee, it shows. Just like at QLI, the founders of Vetter Health Services value excellence.

Vetter Health Services owns and operates 30 long-term care facilities and has won the Best Places to Work in Omaha survey for companies with 25 to 200 employees for five years. Their most common strength is to treat people with dignity and respect, says Rhonda Flanigan, chief people officer at Vetter Health Services.

Vetter Health Services recognizes an employee’s natural talents. Each employee completes the Clifton StrengthsFinder test to determine where those talents lie. “While you might be hired to do one thing, as we learn what your strengths are and we learn where your abilities are, you may start doing other things,” Flanigan says. “We allow people to do what they do best every day and I think that makes anybody happy.”

Employees at Vetter Health Services are given autonomy and aren’t micromanaged, she says. “It’s a matter of we’ve hired you because this is your area of expertise. It is your job. It is your baby.”

She values the trusting environment. “I think working in an environment like that where you know people trust you and you can trust people is huge. It makes for a great day at work.”
She says the leadership team and owners really care about each of the employees. “They’re very dedicated to making sure that we have a great place to work.” The company celebrates recognition weeks for employees and also offers monetary awards for advanced degrees.

IMG_4831Flanigan says that if an employee goes above and beyond, there will be special recognition. “We know that that was an intense time for you. We know that you put your heart and soul into that and we appreciate that,” she says.

Flanigan says the mission of the company—“Dignity in Life” and its values of serving, integrity, teamwork and excellence—are not just words on a poster. “We live those every day. People are treated with the utmost dignity and respect all the time. People are valued here.”

Vetter Health Services recognizes that any success the company has is due to its people. “We understand how important it is that people enjoy what they do and we want them to. They’re going to be able to do so much more when they’re happy in their job and we give them that permission to be successful,” she says. “The more engaged they are, the happier they are in their job, the better their quality and the quantity of their work.” W

Rhonda Flanigan, Chief People Officer at Vetter Health Services     

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