What Makes a Workplace One of the Best?

Six ways local companies create productive, loyal and happy employees

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     Accounting firm PKF Pacific Hawaii allows employees to
     bring their children to the office and work alongside
     them in the designated playroom.
     Photo: Rae Huo

Awards Reward Good Work

Every year, an outstanding member of the Maui Family Support Services staff gets a Cookie – the company’s most prestigious award.

The honor, more properly known as the Irene “Cookie” Chong-Kee Award, is named after an employee who became legendary at the agency, which serves 4,000 people a year on the Valley Isle.

“She had such a passion for the work she did,” says Cindy Coleman-Jakubczak, a longtime coworker. “If a family is going through a crisis, you can’t just say ‘My day ends at 4. See you.’ No, not Cookie. She would make sure they were set before she left, and that was sometimes late into the evening. And if her clients needed rides to places like doctor’s appointments, she made sure they got there. … She put in hours here, and hours at home.”

Chong-Kee died of cancer in 2002, but her legacy continues to inspire others. The award named in her honor also offers important recognition when employees are doing a superlative job.

“It’s easy enough to say, ‘You’re not doing something right,’ ” says Jani Sheppard, CEO of Maui Family Support Services, “so what I say to our team members, especially supervisors, is to make sure people know when they’re doing things well. People need to know they’re appreciated for what they do.

“So recognition happens constantly – in the hallway, in the parking lot, in a meeting. It happens often and it’s ongoing.”

     Intech’s Rockband Friday
     Photo: Rae Huo

Awards can also be an important team-building tool. At Intech last year, president Samuel Gridley introduced “The Gold” and “The Goat” – humorous trophies meant to memorialize both the fabulous and the flub at the company.

“It brings the team together,” says Gridley. “We’re like an IT department for hundreds of small businesses and we have to function as a team because we share the workload. We’re cooperating to reach a common goal.”

The Gold and The Goat work on the basis of peer recognition, staying with individual employees about a week at a time until someone else performs a task worthy of one – or the other. At such points, they’ll be passed on. Often, employees will award The Goat to themselves when they mess up.

“Of course, they’ll apologize, and everyone will say, ‘No problem, but you know what you have to do!’ ” says Gridley. “And they’ll grab The Goat and put it on their desk.”

Investing in the Workplace

There are good reasons companies such as Google, Nike and Facebook invest millions in lavish campuses: Employees who feel valued, comfortable and proud of their workplace are typically happier and more productive. Some local companies share that philosophy and make similar investments on a smaller scale.

PKF Pacific Hawaii, a locally owned accounting firm in Honolulu, believes that happy employees translate into happy clients. That’s why it provides spacious work areas, two mini-kitchens with refrigerators stocked with free beverages, a fancy single-shot coffee maker, a high-tech conference room, a sleek, new training center, and a wellness room with a massage chair, a mini fridge and relaxing music to recharge employees.

The company prides itself on being a family-friendly workplace and has an office playroom filled with toys and games. Employees are allowed to bring their sick children to work or hang out after school in the playroom if they don’t have alternate childcare options. Desks in the playroom let parents work there with their child nearby.

PKF managing partner Patrick Oki says the benefits of these amenities outweigh the costs. Partner Trisha Nomura puts it another way: She says it would actually cost the company more not to provide those extras.

“If half our staff has to walk several blocks to Starbucks for a cup of coffee every day or if people can’t come to work because their kids are sick, that costs us more,” she says.

     Yoga class at Servco
     Photo: Rae Huo

Servco Pacific also invests heavily in the well-being of its nearly 900 employees. In 2009, the company opened a 3,090-square-foot wellness center next to its Mapunapuna headquarters to increase employees’ physical activity, improve morale, strengthen relationships, raise productivity and lower absenteeism. The center houses a basketball/volleyball court, table tennis, a Wii-Fit/DVD center, stability balls and weights, and hosts free group exercise classes four nights a week. The company says about 20 percent of employees who work at the Mapunapuna location regularly use the center, which costs Servco about $30,000 annually to maintain and operate.

Pacific Administrators, which manages benefit services for many of Hawaii’s unions, spent $3,200 to transform an empty office into a quiet room equipped with five reclining leather massage chairs that are used by about a dozen of its 46 employees every day.

“Because our work is very paper intensive, it’s just a means of stress relief,” says Alton Komori, VP, COO and CFO at Pacific Administrators. “It’s also just one way we can show employees how much we appreciate their hard work.”

Hawaii Human Resources CEO Matthew Delaney has similar reasons for outfitting the firm’s office with table tennis, foosball and a Wii game system.

“We have a great team and we want people to enjoy coming to work,” says Delaney. He then gestures at the empty room and says with a laugh: “I am the reigning ping-pong champ of everyone here in this office right now.”

Ramping up the fun

As Atlas Insurance Agency president Myles Murakami donned giant white bunny ears and a fuzzy costume in his Bishop Street office last Easter, he felt pretty foolish.

It was the first time his assistant, Sandy Tsukada, had suggested he wear an outrageous costume to amuse the staff – but it hasn’t been the last. Murakami was game for the bunny role as part of an office party and then agreed to ride the elevator in his bunny suit to three other office locations to hand out pink fruit smoothies.

“Sandy thought it would bring a lot of laughs to the office, which it did,” he says. “If you’ve got happy employees, they’ll be able to serve our clients much more effectively. They’re willing to go the extra mile when they’re happy.”

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