KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- Financial compensation alone does not create a positive work environment, according to panelists at the Western Michigan University Food Marketing Conference here this month.
Employees also need positive feedback from their managers and must work in an environment that respects them as individuals, said the panelists, who represented companies from the food retail and consumer packaged goods industries that had been named one of the 100 best places to work in America by Fortune magazine.
It is also important for companies to have an easily stated vision that employees can understand and buy into, said Karen Shadder, vice president of people at Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., which topped the most recent list of best companies to work for.
"We have a simple vision, and everyone understands it," she said. In addition, she said, the company has "values that we adhere to every day," revolving around respect and compassion for individuals.
She said the personal involvement of Danny Wegman, chief executive officer, and his daughter, Colleen, who was recently named president, in the company's operations also contributes to the positive working environment. She said both executives know many of the company's employees by name.
"Danny really does care about each individual," she said. "He does all the little things that demonstrate that he cares.
"The workers really feel a sense of involvement."
As an example of the company's commitment to employees, she said the chain is offering English second-language classes to Spanish-speaking employees at a recently opened store in Fairfax, Va., where nearly half the workers are minorities. In addition, the company is teaching the store's managers to speak Spanish.
"Great places to work see their people as an investment, not as a cost," she said.
Other panelists included Marcia Hyde, vice president of human resources and communication, Valassis Communications; Helayne Angelus, vice president of customer business development, Procter & Gamble; and Mary Batchik, director of the Kmart team at S.C. Johnson & Son. In addition, Charles Coonradt, chairman and CEO, The Game of Work, sat in on the panel, which was moderated by Michael Sansolo, senior vice president, Food Marketing Institute.
Asked what employees of Valassis Communications seek most from their employer, Hyde said one of workers' biggest concerns is flexibility in scheduling. She also said employees appreciate small perks that let them know they are appreciated.
"It's also all the little things we do," she said, citing a party the company hosted to celebrate reaching $1 billion in revenues. "They absolutely loved it," she said. "People will go the extra mile at organizations where caring is pervasive at the top level and, it works its way down through the organization."
She also suggested that employers need to make sure that the perks they provide are the ones their workers are looking for.
"You need to customize your approach in ways that are meaningful to them," she said.
Angelus, who noted that P&G has the nation's longest-running profit-sharing program, agreed that employee morale is built from the top down.
"Our CEO and the rest of the leadership team walk and talk the company's principles and values," she said.
Batchik of S.C. Johnson said her company places a high level of importance on two-way communication.
"We spend a lot of time doing 360-degree feedback, so we all know how we should be relating to each other," she said.
She also suggested that job-hunters should ask a lot of questions about diversity when they are applying for a position.
"You want to find out how they treat people as individuals," she said.
In a breakfast session before the panel, Coonradt of The Game of Work, a Park City, Utah-based consulting firm, also discussed the importance of providing positive feedback.
"Reinforce behaviors you want repeated," he said. "We should make a big deal of the stuff that we want more of."
By "overcelebrating" when employees do good work, employers don't have to spend as much time providing negative feedback, he noted.
Asked about the impact of being named the best company in America to work for, Shadder of Wegmans said the company expects to receive more than 1 million job applications as a result. She said the company was told to anticipate a tenfold increase in the number of people seeking employment at the company.
"They say it's worth about $40 million in advertising," she said, noting that media outlets around the world have covered the announcement, which was made in January.
Other supermarket operators included on the 2005 Fortune list were Stew Leonard's, Norwalk, Conn.; Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas; and Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla.