At the best companies, employees feel valued - East Valley Tribune: News

At the best companies, employees feel valued

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Posted: Thursday, April 14, 2005 1:02 pm | Updated: 8:15 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Chris Corn is a shipping team member for Fairytale Brownies in Chandler. Bob Demson is a senior scientist with Dial Corp. in Scottsdale.

Professionally they have little in common — other than they love their jobs, which makes them something of an anomaly among American workers.

According to a recent survey by The Conference Board, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization in New York studying business issues and society, job satisfaction is on the decline in the United States. Ten years ago, 60 percent of American workers were happy. Now only 50 percent like what they do and where they do it.

According to Lynn Franco, director of the board’s consumer research center, rapid technological changes, rising productivity demands and changing employee expectations are reasons for declining happiness. The study found onefourth of American workers simply "show up to collect a paycheck."

Corn and Demson are not part of that statistic. They like the work culture created by their employers. They feel important to their company’s product. They appreciate that compensation compares favorably to others in their same industries. And they like their co-workers.

"I know people who get up and are miserable going to work," says Demson. His only job "regret" comes from the fact that "you can never know everything."

"The most important thing is how do I feel when I’m at work," says Corn. An ear-to-ear smile follows. "And I feel good."

CHRIS CORN — PART OF THE SOLUTION

Corn, 53, of Mesa doesn’t live for the weekend. She lives for the week, too. A shipping team member at Fairytale Brownies in Chandler, Corn pulls a 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. shift five days a week. And she loves it. What makes the difference for her — over other jobs she’s had — is the sense of appreciation that permeates the work environment.

Owners David Kravetz and Eileen Joy Spitalny have made sure Fairytale Brownies is a place they themselves would like to work. That attitude is reflected in the open-door policy and plethora of benefits that await employees.

"I love being here," says Corn, leaning against a counter. She swings an arm around co -worker Annie Bouillet of Chandler, and they laugh. The happy smell of brownies is embedded in the building. Corn carries the aroma home with her at night.

"I feel needed here," says Corn. "It’s a good place to be."

Corn, a grandmother, hasn’t always been happy with her work. She has sorted mail in a building with no air conditioning and hoisted heavy boxes in a corporate shipping department. In the latter position, she worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. Working on Christmas Eve was mandatory. Christmas Day was voluntary.

"The only way I could get a day off was to call in sick," she says. "I knew I needed something else. My life was going on around me."

Taking a $5-an-hour cut in pay, Corn came to Fairytale Brownies five years ago. Today she is one of 34 fulltime employees. She has no regrets.

Making $12.70 an hour, Corn waxes about the company’s many benefits. After six months, full-time employees (32 hours) get their health coverage paid by the company. Fairytale Brownies has two profit-sharing plans with payouts based on longevity, position and, of course, profits. (Combined, the plans can add thousands of dollars to employee salaries annually.) Voluntary 401(k) and 529 college saving plans are available. Corn, with two grown daughters, is now saving for her granddaughter’s education.

Employees are rewarded with anniversary presents and cash bonuses. At one year, employees receive a $50 bonus and a denim shirt. At 20 years, there would be a $4,700 check waiting for them.

While Fairytale Brownies does not have paid sick leave, it offers a generous vacation plan. Employees with one to three years get 10 days of paid vacation. People with three to six years get 15 days off. After six years, 20 vacation days await. And after 10 years, employees get 25 days paid leave. "Team members," as employees are called, get two bereavement days a year and six paid holidays.

"We also have an empowerment policy," says Corn. Anybody working for Fairytale Brownies is empowered to solve a customer’s problem up to $100 in product or cash without asking a supervisor.

"They trust us," says Corn. "And they want us to make our own decisions."

Each month, food is brought in and birthdays are recognized. At year’s end, there’s a catered holiday party. Rewards given through the year include movie tickets and mall gift certificates.

"A lot of people have been here a long time," says Corn. Turnover is 2 percent, according to company owners, well below the national average of 20 percent. Employees who leave have been known to boomerang back within two weeks.

Corn doesn’t need to boomerang. She’s been out there, and she knows what she’s got now. And she plans to retire from Fairytale Brownies someday.

BOB DEMSON — A LIFE OF LEARNING

What Demson loves about his job is the same thing many people look to avoid in theirs — challenge.

"One of the big draws of my jobs is learning," says the 47-year-old scientist. "Learning, for me, is a joy. If I didn’t have to work, I’d be a professional student."

Demson has been employed by Dial Corp. in Scottsdale for 24 years. In that aspect, he differs from the norm. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, men Demson’s age have had more than 10 jobs. He can count previous employers on one hand. He plans to retire from Dial.

Pay, benefits and five weeks’ vacation are important to Demson, but those don’t fuel the love he has for his work. His rewards are more intrinsic. He loves that he gets to learn all the time.

In his years at Dial, Demson has worked in several divisions, including food and home care. Now he is reinventing soap. More precisely, Demson is senior research scientist for Dial’s personal care production division. He holds the patent for translucent bar soap. For the most part, Demson is self-taught. He holds two associate’s degrees, one in general studies and one in chemistry. A career goal of his youth was to be a TV repairman.

"Problems are opportunities," says Demson, who’s wearing a white jacket embossed with his name. "One of the things that has made me successful is I seek out the people who can help me with a solution. There is a lot of cerebral power here."

Demson’s enthusiasm for his work and admiration for co-workers is apparent on a tour of the plant. He talks with gusto about the importance of the "benzene ring" to his work, a molecular unit of aromatic organic compounds. "The elements are the letters, and the molecules are the words," he quips. He talks about the great minds in the company’s analytical division and his appreciation for their counsel.

"My wife says I am the ultimate nerd," Demson says with a chuckle. "I’m fascinated by chemistry. I just eat it up." It’s not unusual to see him walking the halls bouncing a ball as he works through a problem. He recognizes, however, that the "science" is just one link in the chain. At Dial, it’s about teamwork — which means working with marketing and finance departments for a product to be successful. "You have to be good at understanding that sometimes decisions are made higher up on the food chain." Demson does. It’s part of the corporate culture. "I may not understand those decisions at the time," he says, "but they generally tend to be good business decisions."

Most weeks, he clocks 40 to 50 hours. He likes the certain amount of freedom he has with his time, but noted "that’s been earned. Rookies need to learn that. You don’t abuse it. It’s about mutual respect between the company and you."

While work does, to some extent, define him, Demson maintains that he is not a workaholic. His family is important to him, and he spends an "inordinate amount of time" with his grandchildren. (He coaches a Little League team.) He also enjoys fly-fishing.

"We all like to make more money," he says. "That’s why we work."

But he recognizes that "Dial has given me great opportunities to learn. I am fortunate."

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