What Makes a Workplace One of the Best?

Six ways local companies create productive, loyal and happy employees

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Above-Average Benefits

Today, when you talk about benefits, many employees – especially the best and brightest – expect more than just good medical coverage, vacation days and paid parking. So some of Hawaii’s Best Places to Work are adding special benefits to help turn new hires into lifers and keep them excited about their jobs.

For example, Aloha Pacific Federal Credit Union’s 401K plan offers a 200-percent employer match on the first 5 percent of annual pay.

“This is great, because, by contri-buting 5 percent, the employee is actually getting 15 percent of their pay with the company match,” says Malcolm Inamine, director of HR administration. Almost 100 percent of the credit union’s 150 employees participate in the 401K plan.

Booz Allen Hamilton, a worldwide management and technology consulting firm with an office in Honolulu, doesn’t just take care of its employees; it also provides for their families. The company offers benefits for domestic partners and a Vision Scholarship Program open to college-bound dependents of employees. Every year, the company awards five $3,000 scholarships nationwide that are renewable for up to four years. BAH also has a merit-based awards program for employees, which ranges from electronic thank-you cards to bonuses of up to $2,000 or two round-trip tickets to anywhere in the U.S.

Financial advisors at Edward Jones can also win two all-expenses paid trips per year for meeting targets and successfully diversifying their clients’ portfolios. Jennifer Rappenecker, Hawaii regional leader for Edward Jones, who has an office in Kihei, has won about a dozen trips since 2000, traveling to such places as Barcelona, Rome, Vancouver, Alaska and New Zealand.

Edward Jones’ philosophy is that business owners think and act differently than employees, so every associate with a minimum three years of service can be considered for limited partnership. “We try to create a culture of excellence at the firm where everyone wants to make the business successful,” Rappenecker says.

     Zumba class at Island Insurance
     Photo: Rae Huo

Matthew Delaney of Hawaii Human Resources is deploying a different method to engage and energize employees: food. Last year, HiHR spent $68,000 on daily, catered lunches for its staff of 25. And we’re not talking about tuna sandwiches.

“We mostly buy our meals from our clients or prospects,” Delaney says. “Sometimes it’s from Carval Catering, Wahoo Fish Tacos, Café Laufer or Beaches and Backyards.”

Employees loved the program, but complained they were gaining weight, so HiHR revised it. It still offers free lunches two to three times a week, but added a refrigerator stocked with healthy foods and reimbursements for gym memberships or other fitness expenses.

The lunches are expensive, Delaney admits, but, “If you look at how much it costs and the inefficiency of most of the staff leaving for lunch, that’s costly, too. If we provide lunch, employees stay in the office and many of them eat at their desks, where they will respond to e-mails, read reports or take client calls. The commitment, loyalty and extra service our staff provides our clients, that’s all part of the deal, too.”

Flexibility Earns Loyalty

Showing up to work every day shouldn’t feel like checking into a high-security prison. Companies that offer flexible work schedules are more likely to attract and retain top talent.

“Nobody likes to feel like they’re chained to their desk,” says Terrance Arashiro, senior VP and chief engineer at Austin, Tsutsumi and Associates. Arashiro, who’s been with the company for 15 years, says the firm’s corporate culture became more flexible as it hired younger staff.

“With the younger generation, there’s a stronger desire to have work-life balance,” he says. “We understand how important it is to have a solid family life, so if our employees need to leave early to go to their kids’ games or have a doctor’s appointment, we are more than happy to work with them to accommodate their needs as long as the work gets done.”

ATA also offers flexible start and end times, the option to work from home to care for a sick child, and a perk employees seem to enjoy most: half days every Friday.

“We thought of ways we could reward our employees and wanted to do something that would really make a difference, and that’s how we came up with our 4.5/40 work week, meaning, we work 40 hours in 4.5 days.”

Arashiro says employees enjoy the instant gratification and the new schedule was easy to implement. “Our people are great because they do what they need to do to get the job done, so oftentimes they’ll work ‘love time’ if they need to, but, so far, it’s been working out well.”

For some businesses, telecommuting is also a popular option. With access to laptops, WiFi and smartphones, many employees can do just as much work remotely as in the office. Last year, HiHR purchased six Apple iPads for its sales/marketing team so they can be out on the road meeting with clients and receive wireless Internet coverage just about anywhere.

“We’re definitely not clock-watchers,” says Delaney. “Ultimately, flexibility comes down to trust.”

     The kids’s room at PKF
     Photo: Rae Huo

PKF’s Patrick Oki says that with all of the technology available today, business often infringes on personal lives.

“People are working at home in the evenings and checking e-mails on their phone on the weekends, so it’s only fair that they should be able to do some of their personal matters during business hours,” Oki says. “All we care is that the work gets done and the clients are serviced.”

Traditionally, public accounting has had a reputation for high turnover because of long hours and work that can be tedious. “We want to put an end to that,” says partner Trisha Nomura, who adds that PKF employees probably work fewer hours than their competitors due to ample staffing, good planning and sufficient resources. “To us, success is not just measured by profits; it’s also about taking care of our people, and that means being flexible as an employer.”

At Limtiaco Consulting Group, one of the staff’s favorite nods to flexibility takes a different twist. Each year, everyone gets a free “Ugly Day” – an extra day off available at a moment’s notice. In a company that prides itself on transparency and sharing with staff – including financial information – the holiday promotes honesty, too.

“It’s up to the employees how they want to use it, and they love it,” says president/partner John Katahira.

The free ugly day arose in response to a common emotional dilemma, he says. “Everybody has a day when they just don’t feel like working. The tendency is to call in sick when they’re not sick. So rather than having people struggle through that emotional turmoil, we have one ugly day a year that’s yours to do whatever you want. No hard feelings. No feeling guilty about not coming in.

“People will actually e-mail the office, ‘I’m ugly today,’ and there are no questions asked.”

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