By Meghan Hickey
It is often said that employees are a company’s biggest advocates. In this theory, a sign of a good business is one that treats its employees with respect and gratitude, and therefore are shown the same in return in the form of retention, morale and reputation. While caring for its employees is an action that should be visible year-round — “for better or for worse” — there’s nothing like a natural disaster to truly put a company’s reputation to the test.
Upon the publication of Guam Business Magazine’s sixth Best Companies to Work For in the September/October issue of the magazine — which portrayed a growing number of participants in the survey conducted periodically on Guam — the magazine received a request to expand the survey and allow those who do business in the Northern Mariana Islands to participate. And in the wake of Super Typhoon Yutu, a time when businesses were truly put to the test to care for their employees, eight companies raised their hands confidently to test their employee morale and measure themselves for the first time against the other best companies to work for in the NMI.
Requirements of companies that participated included soliciting the opinions of at least 10% of its employees through anonymous surveys gauging their satisfaction based on a five-point scale. From strongly disagree to strongly agree, participants rated 15 statements in the categories of Attraction and Retention, Communication, Working Environment, Leadership and Decision Making and Performance Management and Recognition as well as two open-ended questions about what they liked most about their company and where their company could better suit their needs.
At least one person from the management team of each company was also asked to contribute in a separate anonymous survey on similar topics from the company’s perspective, as well as open-ended questions about attracting and retaining talent, promoting supervisory skills and providing employees with opportunities to share ideas.
Among the companies combined, the highest rated score of satisfaction by far was “the company provides a safe work environment” — a tribute to these companies that worked hard to provide a safe haven for employees throughout the past few months. Next highest scores included, “I have adequate space and amenities to make for a comfortable work day,” and “I am supplied the tools needed to perform my job.” All three of these highest scored comments fell into the Working Environment category of the survey.
The lowest combined rated score of satisfaction fell to “I feel the company’s benefits package is comparable to that of other companies of the same size,” followed closely by “I think I am paid fairly compared with people in other companies who hold similar jobs,” and “I am given regular performance evaluations.”
The themes that shone through in the open-ended comments correlate to these scores, with four top values standing out amongst hundreds of total comments: family environment — both internally and as part of the community; supportive management; training/recognition; and flexibility. Examples from across the companies include:
- “I’m 100% sure if you ask one of our coworkers, ‘How would you describe your coworkers,’ they will answer you, ‘family.’ Working in an environment that is welcoming, caring, has a lot of [opportunity] to learn from your boss and [has] open communication is the best place to work. Which makes our company great!”
- “It’s small and everyone is like family. Our bosses are very supportive of our work and thank us daily. I am very appreciative of them.”
- “Great benefits and they care for their people so they can be their best.”
- “Free training, great and fun staff, and really reliable and safe. The schedule is flexible and very accommodating.”
- “The company looks after the welfare not only of the employees but also the families and the community as whole.”
Employees also provided their comments on areas of improvement that companies can look to for better employee satisfaction and intention — much of which were similar to those noted on Guam, although to varying extents. Trends in suggested improvement include increase in pay; better training and equipment for staff; more organization; and more open communication between management and staff.
The overall rated scores from the managers skewed slightly higher than those provided by the employees, yet there were two interesting takeaways from these scores that are of note. First, is that the highest and lowest rated categories remained the same for both the managers and the employees — with Working Environment rated as the most confident in the companies’ offerings, and comparable benefits packages under Attraction and Retention as the least confident in companies’ offerings. This shows an understanding by managers of what their employees believe to be important. Second, however, is that none of the overall average ranking of the companies, based on manager perception, matched the ranking of the company based on employee perception. For example, two of the lowest rated companies by employees were both in the top three ranked based on manager perception. A similar trend showed throughout, with some of the highest employee ranking companies showing less confident manager opinion.
Of those companies that were rated highly by employees, some of the strategies stated by management that matched employee comments of appreciation included:
- “We start with positive and enthusiastic people and put them in positions of growth, emphasizing the development opportunities that are available and give the employees a career plan. Not everyone takes on the challenge of developing their own careers, but those that do, stay and grow.”
- “We have weekly meetings to discuss the day’s work, future tasks and share how we can accomplish them efficiently.”
- “There are several different ways in which the company promotes employee engagement. ‘Breakfast with a Friend,’ ‘Corporate Orientation,’ ‘Employee Monthly Celebrations,’ ‘Corporate Sports Leagues’ are different avenues to share ideas and are results of employee suggestions.”
- “Always ask the employee for their ideas or others upper managements ideas and opinion for a better outcome.”
- “Managers and supervisors are challenged regularly. They are asked to assume the position of the owner when making decisions. ‘What if it was your money being lost?’ or ‘If you were the CEO, how would you do things differently?’ Ownership by all staff is crucial to leadership development.”
Benefits provided by at least three out of the top four employee-rated companies included a paid annual vacation, a 401k or retirement plan and medical insurance/benefits. Other benefits that trended across companies included paid sick leave; gas, food or clothing allowances; and dental insurance/benefits.
Based on the survey results, participating employees and management in the NMI are aligned in what companies need to build a successful work environment. However, there may be a misunderstanding of how well those needs are being met. Those who are meeting those needs show signs of regular, face-to-face meetings; transparency in goals, resources and avenues of growth; care for employees outside of the workplace — through employee benefits, flexibly work schedules or other benefits; and both a positive and challenging atmosphere.