Printing’s Best Workplaces : The Cream of the CropNovember 2011 By Erik Cagle
Why should anyone want to work for your firm? Sure, it's a buyer's market, with nationwide unemployment still hovering around 9 percent. Even now, however, printers can still be heard lamenting the lack of quality, skilled employees, and perhaps we can attribute that to the top performers happy with where they work, what they're doing and how much they're getting paid.
Instead of following a “take it or leave it” stance to employment, there is a select group of companies in the printing industry that take an aggressive approach to offering working terms and conditions that attract and keep valued employees. Many of these firms refer to themselves as families, and as well they should, given that many of these teams have been together for decades. One printer proudly pointed out that her company allows parents to bring their sick children into work rather than making the worker burn a personal day, then admitted that virtually all of the employees’ children are now grown, and some of the offspring have joined the firm. Now, that’s a low turnover rate.
A common denominator was found among these companies, which were culled, in part, from the Printing Industries of America's 2010 Best Workplace in the Americas award selections (incidentally, the 2011 selections should be announced this month). Many of them reported that of the handful of people who had left their companies over the years, a fair percentage ended up coming back after realizing that "the grass wasn't greener on the other side."
The Best Workplace selections were based on a number of criteria, including training and development opportunities, recognition and rewards, workplace health and safety, health and wellness, and work/life balance. We have randomly selected a sampling of these award-winning printers to profile.
How does your shop stack up against them? Perhaps they will provide inspiration, and a few good ideas, to help make your printing company an occupational destination as opposed to a port en route to somewhere else.
Certainly, John Berthelsen needs no introduction; the 1998 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame inductee is one of the industry's most recognizable faces, and his company—a web, sheetfed and digital printer that specializes in direct mail and commercial work—is the pride of Wisconsin, printing's royal state.
And, there are ample reasons why Suttle-Straus has been recognized as a Best Workplace recipient for 11 consecutive years (including six "Best of the Best" honors).
“It’s been a long process of picking up ideas over the years,” Berthelsen observes. “I’ve traveled the country, visited a lot of places, and one of the things I always try to do while visiting a company is pick up a good idea or two. Then I’ll read a (management) book, get more ideas, and blend it in to our own style.
“It’s not one or two things that distinguish or build a company’s culture,” he adds. “I’ve always been a firm believer that it’s not about doing a couple of things 100 percent better, it’s doing 100 things five percent better.”
Berthelsen was speaking literally about "100 things"—the company's human resources document is a laundry list of best practices employed and offerings that have enabled the printer to register an average employee tenure of 11 years. Among the benefits:
• From the management practices end, Suttle-Straus provides a bi-weekly company newsletter (Shorts), conducts all plant meetings in a town hall style, boasts a workplace improvement committee, offers an electronic suggestions box, and conducts annual employee surveys and performance reviews.
• In terms of training and development, the printer provides education reimbursement assistance; updated skills and cross-training; and encourages participation in on- and off-site seminars, Webinars, conferences, user groups and other work-related organizations.
• The company provides safety and health training for areas ranging from back injury prevention, hearing tests, OSHA compliance, chemical waste handling, CPR and first aid training. Suttle-Straus also provides an extensive array of health and wellness benefits, headed by a choice of six comprehensive health insurance plans.
• A financial security package boasts a profit sharing and 401(k) plan. Esoteric, but unique, offerings include military leave differential pay, legal planning services (wills, etc.) and interest-free loans toward the purchase of a home computer.
Often times, it is the “small things” that can make a huge difference in the lives of employees, and with Berthelsen, this is no exception. Every payday, he personally hand-delivers the checks to all 200 or so employees. He also brings workers birthday and Christmas gifts. The annual party usually takes place around March, because the end of the year is such a busy time for the company. This bash also serves as the annual awards dinner, where a number of honors—including Employee of the Year—are bestowed.
Toss in other benefits that enhance the work/life balance, such as flexible scheduling, donations for fellow employees in need, on-site car washes and company-sponsored events (golf outing, picnic, pizza party, sports teams), and you have a walking billboard for Suttle-Straus.
"Maintaining a stable workforce is extremely important. The cost of employee turnover is very high," Berthelsen concludes. "We have a pretty high seniority rate, with some people who have worked here 35 to 40 years. Our 25-year club has 23 people in it. If you can keep your turnover low, that's a huge advantage."
This coldset web printer with digital capabilities is a 52-employee shop that produces general commercial items such as coupons, flyers and local store marketing items. But its bread-and-butter lies with Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets—Vox has been providing McDonald's with tray liners and place mats for roughly 40 years.
Of the many perks offered by Vox Printing, one of the more unique is its company chaplain. President David Reid got the idea from an associate pastor at his church, who at the time was involved in a national group called Marketplace Ministries. The pastor and a representative from Marketplace Ministries visited Vox, and the idea quickly took hold. Though the printer no longer relies on Marketplace Ministries, a pastor visits Vox on a weekly basis for confidential mental, emotional and spiritual guidance.
“We don’t want to push religion on anybody,” Reid says. “But, if employees need to talk through personal or family issues, they sure can.”
On the physical fitness end, Vox provides 50 percent reimbursement for gym memberships and marathon entry fees (though Vox does have a workout room on its campus). Earlier this year, the printer began offering a lunchtime "boot camp," where an employee, who is a trained instructor, leads about 12 to 15 co-workers in cardio exercises and muscle-building workouts.
Two years ago, the company tapped its many different departments to create a safety team, which meets once a month and canvasses the plant for unsafe conditions. As of press time, Vox was approaching 650 days without an accident. Employees were rewarded with a steak dinner after going 365 days without an accident; year two calls for steak and seafood.
Vox Printing also defrays tuition, $200 per semester, for those employees taking night classes. And, arguably one of the biggest perks: Vox picks up 100 percent of its employees' health care, dental insurance and life insurance premiums.
The company also fetes its people with annual holiday and summer parties, according to Reid. Bonus checks are handed out in October to reward profitable years, which Vox has enjoyed for the past 10 years.
“We’ve rented out a rotating restaurant in Oklahoma City to watch the sun rise,” he says. “One time we rented boats on the Bricktown Canal and had a breakfast down there for everybody. We’ve even roasted a big pig in our picnic area. And, we have a water slide in the back that families can use.”
The 70-acre campus in Oklahoma City offers a baseball field, Frisbee golf course, and a creek for fishing and canoeing. When Mother Nature provides snow, there's downhill sledding behind the building.
“One of our employees told her husband she works at Camelot,” Reid notes. “We’re always looking for ways to make Vox Printing a better place to work.”
Situated in America's Heartland, this printer probably deserves extra credit for its inclusion among PIA's Best Workplace in the Americas crew, given the fact that it is really six integrated companies wrapped into one. It consists of SPG Graphics (commercial and e-commerce), Ropkey Graphics (wide-format digital), Full Court Press (digital, variable data printing and mailing services), Miles Printing on Plastics (point-of- purchase items), Discom Technologies (bind-in CD/DVD sleeves) and Education Connection Publishing (school newsletters).
With a total of 152 employees, HardingPoorman services clients in the medical, pharmaceutical and educational sectors, among others.
“Each company maintains its own identity, specialized workflow and entrepreneurial management team,” explains David Harding, president and CEO. “The synergies of these companies are transparent to our customers (who) benefit from our range of services, expertise and the streamlined convenience of working with one partner.”
Having six firms rolled into one can be challenging from an HR standpoint, but HardingPoorman appears to have weaved a corporate ideology throughout the organization, buoyed by its employee incentives. Not only did HardingPoorman garner printing industry accolades, it was recognized as a 2011 Best Places to Work in Indiana by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
The company encourages educational enrichment in several ways. Employees who graduate from HPG University (the printer's own program) are eligible for $2,000 a year in tuition reimbursement. Any staff member is eligible for $1,000 per year reiumbursement for job-relevant college courses. Those enrolled in HardingPoorman's Professional Development Program can be covered for up to 65 percent of the cost of classes.
HardingPoorman Group takes an active approach toward health and safety. Employees are encouraged to set health goals (a nurse visits the plant quarterly) and, if they meet their targets, they receive a $400 bonus. A health kiosk is located on campus, allowing workers to measure their weight, BMI, blood pressure and other vital signs. Personal training sessions are offered three times a week; participating employees remain on the clock while working out.
In terms of enjoyment-centric activities, HardingPoorman hosts an annual holiday party, an Indy 500 race party (during the work day) and an Easter egg hunt for the children of workers. The holiday bash includes a visit from Santa himself, who delivers presents to the children of employees based on wish list letters they've written to St. Nick. Summer picnics and tickets to sporting/amusement events add to the company's camaraderie.
HardingPoorman also takes care of its people via twice-a-year bonuses. Harding points out that his firm shares 12 percent of its profits, given out in August and December, with 2011 payouts exceeding $634,000. A spoilage bonus—savings below 2 percent of sales is divided equally—totaled $106,000 during the last 12 months.
Ann Arbor, MI
This one- and two-color book manufacturer was founded in 1960 by Jim Malloy and purchased by Herb Upton in 1966. A web offset and digital printer with 230 employees, Malloy serves publishers in the trade, elementary-high school and professional markets. Joe Upton, vice president of sales and marketing, estimates that his firm churns out 7,500 jobs per year for roughly 500 different clients.
Despite being a fair-sized printer, Malloy Inc. fosters a small, family-like atmosphere perpetuated by many of its employee-friendly initiatives. It has led a multi-company educational effort among several book printers in the Ann Arbor area with an impressive ESL (English as a Second Language) program. English-speaking employees are trained and paid to tutor non-nationals on-site to promote improved communications and to advance plant safety, according to Human Resources Director Suzanne Clausnitzer.
For more than 20 years, Malloy has also offered 100 percent tuition reimbursement—which is not limited to printing applications or undergraduate studies—to enable employees to maximize their potential.
In addition to a wellness program as part of a partnership with St. Joe's Hospital, Malloy has become a smoke-free campus. On-site health screenings allow workers to gain discounts in their insurance premiums. For non-physical and mental health issues, an employee assistance program (EAP) is offered. The EAP, done in conjunction with Ann Arbor Consultation Services, offers psychiatrists and counselors free of charge for up to four confidential visits per personal issue.
“It’s in-tune with our wellness program,” Clausnitzer explains. “Employees can focus on medical issues they’ve developed, get counseling on nutrition or readiness for change, work on parenting issues or get help for substance abuse.”
In terms of plant safety, Malloy offers a first response medical team on all three shifts, including employees well versed in blood-born pathogens. They are trained courtesy of the EAP, Red Cross and the local fire department to be the first ones at the scene of an incident to provide medical assistance and contact 911, if needed.
Bill Upton, Malloy's president, cultivates an open-door policy and is transparent when it comes to the company's finances, goals and direction, Clausnitzer remarks. He makes it a point to know every employee by name, on all three shifts. Plant-wide meetings are also held every quarter, which are open to all employees.
In terms of extracurricular activities, the Uptons like to treat their workers to holiday parties, picnics, summer events and particularly sporting events (Red Wings, Tigers, Lions, University of Michigan football).
The printer is also a good citizen in Ann Arbor, participating in the United Way's Community Day of Action. During these Days, eight or more Malloy employees—who are still on the clock—go out into the community (including homeless shelters and housing projects) and provide various services. Quite often, staff will also volunteer on their own with the United Way at other times during the year.
“Usually, they’ll go in and fix or clean up,” Clausnitzer says. “We have some employees with significant construction skills. Other groups of workers will put together campaigns around Christmas time to provide gifts and to work with a number of (charitable) groups that we’ve gotten to know.”
Malloy also does its part to promote printing education, working with local high schools in stoking their graphic arts programs. Students will come to Malloy for training in various disciplines. The firm also plays a large role in the Ann Arbor Graphic Arts Memorial Foundation, assisting local universities such as Western Michigan and Ferris State with their print management programs.
Ann Arbor, MI
OK, SO we included two Michigan book printers in our Best Workplaces feature. This should tell you something about book manufacturers in general, for one, and Ann Arbor-based firms...not to mention the greatness of Michigan. To take it a step farther, Edwards Brothers (EB) has long been known for being a high-quality producer of books—since 1893, in fact—and boasts $80 million in annual sales and more than 700 employees.
EB produces web, sheetfed and digital printing for hard- and soft-cover titles. Its sweet spot is medium, short and ultra-short runs for educational publishers, trade associations, authors, scholarly societies, industrial firms and universities, among others.
It has garnered 10 consecutive “Best Workplace” awards from the PIA, which is extremely difficult for a large company spread across several states, as well as Canada and the United Kingdom. With an average length of service checking in at 11 years, 30 percent of workers have been with EB for more than 15 years, and 10 percent have 25-plus years of service.
From a training/development/educational standpoint, the company offers a number of training tracks, including management development, job specific, new hire orientation, safety, lean manufacturing and benefits. Management development, for example, includes seminars/resources based around interview skills, employment laws and performance management.
On the health/safety front, EB provides basic safety courses on an annual basis, augmented by a safety committee that meets monthly to perform audits and address any issues that arise. Its worker's compensation carrier also performs mock audits to ensure that the company is in compliance with safety guidelines.
In terms of promoting healthy lifestyle choices, EB sponsors an annual health fair, where employees can get basic screenings. An online health self-assessment test is part of its annual benefits open enrollment program, providing employees with recommendations for making lifestyle changes. Also of note are fitness challenges for weight loss and walking.
As for extracurricular activities that help promote team building, EB sponsors United Way fund-raising initiatives, Red Cross blood drives, sports teams (bowling, softball), an annual golf outing and trips to professional/collegiate sporting events. Throughout the year, annual recognition/appreciation events (employee recognition, holiday and seasonal parties) are held.
Aside from its employee recognition events, EB regularly shares financial information with all employees and offers them a profit sharing program that, to date, has paid out more than $15 million. A sliding scale provides greater payouts to workers with the highest level of service to the company.
“By connecting company performance and continuous improvement with profit sharing, we’re making a strong statement about the positive changes and contributions employees make that directly impact profitability,” notes John Edwards, president and CEO.
In order to aid employees from a work/life balance point of view, the company offers family-friendly incentives such as flex hours, job sharing and work from home. Families are encouraged to attend company functions, and EB tries to be flexible so employees can attend school plays or conferences.
EB also offers its own book scholarship program to the sons and daughters of employees who are pursuing post-secondary education. The scholarships range from $250 to $1,000.
A sheetfed and digital producer of commercial printing products such as magazines, posters and annual reports, Hopkins Printing fits the smaller shop Best Workplaces category, with just under 100 employees on staff. Founded in 1975, Hopkins converted to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) in 2007, thus its worker base has literal and figurative "stock" in the fortunes of the firm.
Hopkins Printing would presumably produce a solid football team; it kicks off every day with a huddle meeting—10 minute conferences to discuss safety, production, suggestions and various housekeeping matters. Jim Hopkins, CEO, believes the short get-togethers promote teamwork, recognize efforts and improve communication.
“The employees learn leadership skills by leading their huddle meetings a week at a time,” notes Hopkins, a 2006 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame inductee. “Just like any team, a quick group meeting gets us all on the same page and moving forward.”
Hopkins Printing can boast of an extensive cross-training regimen that provides the firm with three-employee depth at every position—like a sports team. Called 3 Deep, the program is a way for employees to let their supervisors know that they would like to learn a new skill, move into a leadership position or eventually become a manager. It also provides job security and multiple, marketable skills.
The printer is proud of the fact that it registered no accidents during the past year, and the meetings help provide preventive measure opportunities to cite situations that could result in an incident. Hopkins hosts a health fair, takes care to stock its vending machines with healthy alternatives and provides discounts for gym membership enrollment.
Employee recognition is also greatly emphasized, where workers are honored every six weeks via a Special People designation. The Caught in the Act award is bestowed upon the individual who goes above and beyond for customers or fellow employees. The Waste Builder award is given to those who implement money-saving improvements.
“Every employee at Hopkins has a personal development plan incorporating four goals for each year,” Hopkins adds. “We ask that three goals be work-based and a fourth be personal, family or home-related. Goal setting and accomplishment helps with work/life fulfillment and satisfaction.”
In addition to its PIA kudos, both Inc. and Winning Workplace magazines named Hopkins Printing a best "small workplace" in America company this year.
The Castle Press
This 80-year-old printer services the manufacturing, entertainment, educational and non-profit sectors with litho and digital printing. Initially a book printer, the firm has evolved into a full-service commercial shop that provides marketing services in addition to design, printing, binding, mailing and order fulfillment.
The Castle Press was acquired by George and Susan Kinney in 1979, and they immediately began to embrace employees as their own. The Kinneys host a number of company events at their home, making the 47-member employee base feel like an an extended family. For example, the Kinneys host an annual swim party for all workers and their families, complete with a life guard on patrol. Around the Christmas holidays, the Kinneys host a casino party for employees and their families.
“It’s very important to include your employees’ families in your business, because there’s nothing worse than having a spouse or significant other unhappy with where you’re employed,” she says.
The Kinneys formerly hosted a Santa party for the offspring of Castle workers (ended because most of their workers' children are now teenagers or adults). George Kinney suited up and rode in on a forklift, to the delight of the kids, and handed out gifts.
“Last year, more grandkids than kids came,” Susan Kinney notes.
Castle Press also offers the children's room, which cuts down on missed time when a worker's child is ill or when care is unavailable. The room is fortified with bunk beds, televisions and video games.
On the working end, the printer offers tuition reimbursement and an on-site learning center that is ideal for seminars/Webinars, benefitting both customers and employees. The company also has a gym stocked with elliptical machines, stationary bikes and Nautilus equipment, as well as a locker room.
Of course, the gym only counters the effects of the free popcorn given out to employees every Friday and the cookies that are baked up every Tuesday afternoon. (In fact, Castle Press delivers a box of cookies to clients with each completed job.) And, once a month, the Kinneys treat their entire crew to lunch.
Castle Press views every aspect of its operation as a profit center, and as such, the owners hold contests based upon productivity goals and cost savings (a press feeder employee recently won an iPod for devising a way to reduce a process time by 15 minutes).
When the fiscal year comes to an end and Castle shows a profitable campaign, it’s barbecued steaks for everyone. “If we make an obscene amount of money, they get lobster. But, we haven’t had lobster in a few years,” Susan Kinney deadpans.
At these fiscal year-end events, the company provides employee bonuses for top performers (most sales, highest productivity, most new accounts, etc.). The Kinneys speak positively about each honoree, who then selects from envelopes containing random amounts of cash.
Castle Press is also very active with its PIA-Southern California (PIASC) affiliate, supporting the Graphic Arts Education Foundation with a paper drive in their parking lot that draws upon all printers in the Los Angeles area. It also contributes to the PIASC version of Jeopardy, pitting high school students against industry people and each other.
“Every time we do the Jeopardy, I bet my employees $100 that they can’t get all the questions right,” Susan Kinney says. “So far, I haven’t lost that $100.” PI