Top Workplaces 2016: More stable economy has even happy workers weighing new job options

April 11, 2016

By Jane Hoback The Denver Post

Supreme Lending employees are getting barraged with calls from other mortgage bankers offering jobs. “Our phones ring off the hook,” said Dale Petrillo, Supreme Lending’s branch manager. “I’d say my average loan officer or salesperson gets five to eight recruiting calls per week. In our business, there are a lot of options now, and companies are very aggressive.”

At Edward Jones, calls are coming in from financial advisers at other firms looking to make a change.

“We are seeing an increase in interest from other people in the industry, other advisers right now,” said Neil Draxler, leader of the firm’s north Denver region. “We’re looking for successful people. Typically, they are currently employed and doing quite well.”

With a competitive job market and state unemployment at a low 3.2 percent, Colorado employers are more focused than ever on ways to keep workers who increasingly are looking for new opportunities — even if they’re happy at their current jobs.

“When unemployment gets low, companies are having a very difficult time filling their jobs; their people are more likely to be poached,” said John Challenger, CEO of Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas. “There’s more turbulence in the workforce. That can really slow down a company. Putting together programs and strategies to hold onto people is really crucial.”

Not only does losing key people put a hole in a company’s operations, it’s costly as well.

“The cost per hire is excessive,” said Barbara Kreisman, associate dean at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business. “In a tight labor market anytime you incur a loss of somebody, it’s extremely expensive to replace them. And then you have training costs” for the new hire.

The best strategies, the experts say, combine challenging and meaningful work and opportunities for advancement with a culture that encourages respect and support along with job flexibility, fun and a sense of family and friendship.

“It’s interesting that one thing that holds people to a company is having a friend at work,” Challenger said.

On the other hand, he said, “Sometimes, it’s just money: bonuses, reward programs, better benefits, tuition reimbursement, more time off.”

Health care benefits, for example, are “really hot,” Kreisman said. Top Workplaces such as Weifield Group Contracting and Porch Light Real Estate Group pay 100 percent of their employee’s health care premiums.

Employees in this year’s Top Workplaces rank feeling genuinely appreciated and doing meaningful work among the most important factors in their jobs.

Honor Hospice has focused on making sure its employees know their concerns are addressed and that they feel supported. That support took a financial turn this year when employees asked for more paid time off. Honor CEO John Freeman and chief operating officer DJ Leaverton agreed to add six paid days off, at a cost of more than $100,000, to the 2-year-old company.

“It’s worth it,” Freeman said. “Just to be able to step away, take a breath, do some self-care is so important.”

The company also offers a competitive pay package that “is not the highest-paying, but we know how competitive the environment is.”

Honor emphasizes that employees feel “valued and heard,” Leaverton said. “They can express their concerns or ideas and never get shut down. That’s the single biggest driver. It’s a real family feel.”

In a business with a national turnover rate of 30 percent, Honor has cut its turnover rate to about 16 percent.

“It’s a hard business to be in,” Freeman said. “But we hold each other up.”

Edward Jones also seems to have found the formula for keeping employees. Draxler said the firm has a 97 percent retention rate.

Jones employees praise the company’s training program, which provides tools for learning about the financial products as well as mentorship and support.

“I attribute it to the culture of the firm in terms of working in partnership with each other,” Draxler said. “We get together every month from the newest person to the veterans. There’s a lot of camaraderie. When you have that friendship, it’s more likely that people won’t want to leave.”

Alliance Data combines competitive pay and benefits with opportunities for advancement.

“We offer front line development where they can advance as care center representatives. And we have a pretty robust program to prepare for the next step in leadership and for current leaders to go to the next level,” said Cindy Zhivotovsky, senior director of operations at Alliance. “We prefer when possible to promote from within.”

Alliance also offers flexible hours and a work-at-home program. Some 164 employees work from home.

“It really helps with our associates’ work-life balance,” Zhivotovsky said.

That balance extends to “soft benefits” such as Weight Watchers and smoking cessation programs “to invest in their own well-being.”

At ICAT, some employees have been with the company “eight, 10, 15 years, which is great,” said president Greg Butler. “Nobody here has the same job title as when they started. We have a lot of senior leaders that started at very entry-level positions.”

Part of the reason? “The family feel of the company. And it’s a fun place to work.” The catastrophe insurer has a Fun Room with ping pong, foosball and shuffleboard.

“We have a mission to help people and businesses recover from disasters, and we want to make sure we approach that seriously,” Butler said. “But we want to make sure we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

Wellness is also important at ICAT. The company offers reimbursement for gym memberships, for example to “make ICAT a better place to work and gives our employees a better work-life balance. It’s a message to them that we want them to enjoy their life outside of work.”

Kreisman, who runs the executive MBA program at DU, said employers who invest in their workers “indicate they are building capacity for the future, that the person is indeed important to the organization.”

But that’s particularly challenging these days when even employees who are happy at their current jobs are also looking for a new opportunity elsewhere.

“People don’t have a job for life at any one company,” Challenger said. “They know they are vulnerable to job loss when downsizing hits.”

Employees, even those at top workplaces, “think of themselves to a much greater degree than before as free agents.”

And in highly competitive job markets, more employees are getting headhunted and poached. “Recruiters are geared up to reach out to people to see if they might be interested in something new,” Challenger said.

“And it’s so easy. People are so accessible today,” he said. “Companies can find them on LinkedIn. Everybody has their resume online.”

It’s a challenge.

Honor Hospice’s Leaverton said, “you have to stay nimble.”

For Supreme Lending’s Petrillo, “the No. 1 most important thing is you have to make sure they love their job and make sure it’s a great place to work.”