Not a day goes by where we aren’t hearing more about difficult and toxic workplaces. But what about the companies that are trying to get it right? During the Obama administration, the notion of improving America’s work culture as a means to higher profits generated a great deal of excitement at the Department of Labor and beyond. The DOL laid out the concept of “High Road Employers,” a 2013 white paper which outlined how companies can focus on people, the planet and profits as part of a successful business strategy. Under the current administration, the concept of High Road Employer hasn’t been front and center, and the American Sustainable Business Council has been one of the organizations left to carry the mantle of this work.
In October 2017, the ASBC came out with their own research showing that companies who invested in promoting family-friendly benefits, flexibility, fair living wages, cultivated inclusion, engaged with communities, for example, could improve retention of quality employees, earn better results from contractors and vendors, and attract fast-growing numbers of consumers who want to buy from values-based organizations.
Former Secretary of Labor Christopher Lu says, “The executives of these companies understand that their most asset is their workforce, so they’re rejecting the false choice between treating their employees with dignity and improving their company’s bottom line.”
Here are three examples of very diverse companies who are embodying some of these principles and reaping the benefits:
Badger Balm: “More than a dozen babies have come to work here.”
Founded in 1995, Badger Balm is a family business that employs 100 individuals (125 during peak sunscreen season) in their headquarters nestled in the woods of rural New Hampshire. Their earth-friendly products were born with a focus on environmental sustainability. The company is known for high standards through their entire process of product development, production, and distribution. They apply the same quality-focus on those who work with them.
Their daily organic lunch, for example, came about when the company was just a few years old. Back then, co-founder Bill Schwerin made soup for lunch for everyone on Fridays. The soup-making still happens, but now two professional cooks feed about 100 team members five days a week.
The whole of Badger Balm operation strives to create a supportive and family-friendly workplace where all employees are treated as valuable members of the community. Employees are encouraged to voice their opinions and make suggestions. Their production and shipping areas, are in light-filled, wood-beamed rooms: not the usual dark and dirty warehouse one might imagine. There, employees benefit from supports and policies including 40 hours of paid health time for themselves or to care for a family member, flexibility programs (think sick child or school conferences), paid leave for primary and secondary caregivers (applies to adoption or foster parenting as well), extended parental leave (where someone’s job is held for up to six months), $800 in annual wellness funds, and child care reimbursements.
Their “Babies-at-Work” program allows employees to bring their babies to work after their family leave for the first six months of life and care for them while doing their jobs that gets the most attention. Deirdre Fitzgerald, marketing and PR manager shares, “more than a dozen babies have come to work here.”
Badger is located in rural New Hampshire, so the area doesn’t have a huge pool of potential employees to pull from, making retention a crucial part of the company’s success. When asked how these commitments have played and paid off, Deirdre said, “Badger has always been a family-friendly workplace, and our policies around flexibility play a big role in how people feel about working for the company and how long they stay. This has led to virtually zero recruitment costs, and in a recent employee survey, 100 percent surveyed felt their manager respected their work-life balance, 82 percent reported feeling highly engaged, and more than half plan to stay at Badger for more than five years. People seek us out, and once they join the team, they remain because of our unique culture and approach to business.”
TCG, Inc.: “The cost of not doing something is bigger than the cost of doing something.”
Daniel Turner, father of four, runs the Washington, D.C.–based TCG, a 23-year-old Federal IT services company with nearly 150 employees. He participates in ASBC events and is active in the local and national fight for Paid Family Medical Leave. Why? His “do the right thing” attempt to cover leave for his employees out-of-pocket several years ago nearly destroyed his small business. Out of his 28 employees at the time, 12 took the 6-week parental leave TCG offered, at a cost to the business of hundreds of thousands of dollars - well more than TCG’s profit for the year. Turner took took a step back and recalibrated. Instead of six weeks of leave, TCG now offers three. He is hoping the government will provide the support needed so he can offer a good amount of paid parental leave. “This is what my organization stands for, caring for the team we have built. Not being able to offer what I know is right is extraordinarily frustrating,” says Turner.
Over the years, while TCG has not been able to increase the parental leave amount for fear of a similarly fertile year, Turner has been able to add other benefits. Ultimately, Turner shares, “It’s an economic challenge. Happy employees are more engaged, more committed, and that results in a higher level of work output and loyalty.” TCG now offers a wide range of “soft” benefits like tickets to the Kennedy Center or to Washington Nationals games, fitness contests and gym reimbursement, and even financial education. The workplace is highly flexible, which can increase worker happiness and productivity and costs the company nothing—and more than half of employees work from home. Those who do come to the office, are reimbursed for paid metro passes, bikes or even walking shoes. ($75 two times a year!) New employee integration is another commitment Turner takes quite seriously. “I will lose them quickly,” he notes, “if I don’t take the care necessary to integrate them well.” That translates into a three-month program to on-board including items to be completed three weeks prior to the employee’s start date. And for Turner, the payoff is in finding and retaining outstanding, committed talent.
TCG has won numerous awards for being a great place to work. What else is TCG good at? Per Turner, he’s also proud of winning and retaining contracts.
“Our reputation is what propels us forward and that is all about our people, I believe that the people part of equation, the whole person, is not only what differentiates us. It is what keeps us successful—being recommended over and again,” he says.
Levi Strauss & Co: “Profit through principals is in the company’s DNA.”
Levi Strauss launched his business in 1853, that year he donated a percentage of his first-year profits to a local orphanage. The company’s commitment to community and the greater society has continued since.“A profits through principals approach to doing business is in the company’s DNA” boasted Amber McCasland, Senior Director, Corporate Affairs. They are proud of the ways they regularly step-up long before they are mandated. For example, Levi Strauss & Co. desegregated all factories in the 1940’s long before any laws were passed, developed an HIV/AIDS education program to help avoid stigma and prejudice as early as 1983, and even offered domestic partner benefits starting in 1991.
In 2011, The company saw an opportunity to go beyond compliance and invest in programs that focused on improving the lives of supply chain workers through their ground-breaking Worker Well-Being Initiative. The program which applies to factory workers all over the world, like India and Egypt, focuses on financial literacy, health education and services, and has even piloted childcare programs. Its goal is for the education they are providing to also be spread through the larger community where their garments are made. “Worker Well-being was created as a proprietary program but we quickly realized that we could have greater social impact through transparency,” McCasland says. An ongoing research program in conjunction with Harvard School of Public Health has been measuring the impact of the program. It’s been successful at decreasing turnover and absenteeism while increasing engagement and productivity among workers. Factories are seeing up to a 4:1 ROI on worker well-being programs, meaning, for every dollar a factory owner puts into these programs they see up to a $4 return on the above metrics.
As for their supply chain, Target was influenced by LS&Co.’s Workers Well-being approach and has since set its own goals related to improving worker well-being for the people who manufacture products sold in Target stores.
LS&Co. is engaging with other brands as well—there is a collaborative effort to create a common roadmap for efforts to improve the well-being and engagement of factory workers.
Learning about the success of these employers makes taking the high road seem like an obvious, practical and simply smart business decision. These principles can clearly come through to employees, clients and consumers, and can define a company’s brand and future. And though the Obama-era culture of promoting high road businesses has past, luckily for us, these companies are still in business.