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Posted March 3, 2020

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Wherever you live, when you’re out in the world at a sporting event, running into people at the supermarket or at the local coffee shop, there is a certain buzz around where people work and what workplaces are thought of as desirable. 

And companies covet that position: to be one of the most desirable places to work in a given community. If you’re aspiring to be on that shortlist, here are some quick tips. And because March is Women’s History Month, we’re putting a female lens on this question.

1: Implement ERGs

What are ERGs?

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) first emerged in the 1960s during the Civil Rights movement in America. Originally, ERGs filled a need for minority employees to support one another. Xerox employees are credited with initiating the first formal ERG, the National Black Employee Caucus, in 1970, still active at Xerox today. 

ERGs were originally employee-led collectives designed to foster an inclusive workplace. Today, they are thought to be a best practice for any company pursuing diversity and inclusion in their organization. ERGs encourage employees to explore who they are within the larger structure of a corporation, engage with like-minded colleagues and reflect their authentic selves while in the workplace. In companies that embrace ERGs, employees feel more connected to one another and to the company as a whole.

ERGs at WEX

ERGs emerged at WEX in July of 2019 and we currently have seven: Women@WEX, NexGen, WEXPride, WEXPats, WEXVets, Parents@WEX and WEXccessibility for All. WEX’s Gimbala Sankare, who directs global diversity and inclusion efforts as well as our early career pipeline, led the ERGs’ formation. Says Sankare, “By forming these groups, we are communicating to our employees that there is a community at WEX for different types of people and different types of shared ideas and interests. It doesn’t matter the color of your skin or your gender or sexual orientation or age, you can find your place here.” 

Women@WEX: an ERG for Women to Network and Learn

Before ERGs became official at WEX, a group called Women@WEX was founded in the fall of 2017 by Chief Legal Officer Hilary Rapkin and Chief Corporate Development Officer Nicola Morris. When Melanie Tinto joined WEX in February of 2018 as chief human resources officer, she became an executive participant in the group as well. Women@WEX became a test case for what ERGs at WEX could look like. 

The idea to form Women@WEX began with a series of conversations between Rapkin and Morris, who were both looking for ways to support female employees and give them a chance to network and learn. “We could see that the company was going to continue to grow and this was a population within WEX we wanted to nurture and support,” says Rapkin.

Instead of having a small committee dictate programming, WEX’s leadership polled employees and responded to what they heard. As Women@WEX co-chairs, Melissa Dudley and Claire Clonan explain it, “We listen to our membership and provide a focused approach to our programming that reflects what women at our company are hoping to gain from their time with the group. It’s important to us that these are fulfilling experiences and that everyone feels welcome.” 

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A recent Women@WEX event focused on leadership development and growing your career at WEX

Women@WEX’s 2019 calendar shows how they engage employees and build community on a quarterly basis:

  • A panel on strong leadership, building effective teams and growing your career at WEX featuring Tinto as moderator and several vice presidents from across the organization.
  • A fireside chat with CEO Melissa Smith and board members Reggie Sommer and Susan Sobbott about career advancement and bringing your whole self to work and home.
  • An evening with Christina McAnuff, executive director of the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute, about identifying personal values and putting them into practice.
  • A philanthropic event where the United Way’s Women United ERG led WEXers in packaging food and literacy materials for families residing in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood.

ERGs like Women@WEX provide an easy way to foster trust and engagement with employees and can be used as tools to build experiences with staying power for employees.

2: Show You’re a Company That Cares

A recent study by Fortune Magazine of several hundred companies and more than 380,000 employees found that “giving back is associated with greater employee retention, higher levels of brand ambassadorship on the part of workers and more enthusiastic employees. Staffers who believe their organizations give back to the community are a striking 13 times more likely to look forward to coming to work, compared to employees who do not perceive their employers to be generous toward the community.” 

Find a way to bake philanthropy into your benefits. For example, at WEX, each employee is allotted 16 paid hours a year that they can spend volunteering in whatever way they choose. Additionally, WEX supports many local organizations through annual giving, board memberships and volunteer events. 

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WEX employees volunteering for the United Way’s “United We Can” Event

Women@WEX has also been instrumental in providing formal volunteer opportunities to employees. “I attended a Women@WEX event in December of last year where we assembled care packages for some families who live in the neighborhood of our new corporate headquarters. I am proud that WEX is a positive force in the communities in which we live and work. It makes me feel good to say I’m a part of a company that gives back,” says WEXer Jodi-ann Johnson. 

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Rapkin (R) and fellow WEXer Julia DeWitt (L) volunteering at a Women@WEX event

A focus on and support of volunteerism and philanthropy not only translates to employee pride, but also creates opportunities for employees to build relationships across the company, strengthening engagement and retention. 

3: Make Management Accessible

It makes sense that people at all levels of your organization will feel more fulfilled and have a greater sense of belonging if they are personally connected with leadership. According to Forbes, studies show that “happy, productive employees require an emotional commitment from their leaders.” Forbes goes on to say, “Engagement isn’t magic, it’s craft. Engagement is built by creating trust, which engenders loyalty. It requires open communication, clearly-articulated goals and unambiguous expectations. It demands shared values and well-understood reward systems. Engagement is a journey, not a destination. It’s work.”

CEO Smith has built a reputation as an engaged leader by regularly participating in activities where she is side-by-side with employees engaging in community-building events. One example of this is her annual participation in Portland’s Tri for a Cure, a local cancer-research fundraising event. Each year, WEX assembles a team of female triathletes to participate and Smith is always one of them. 

ERGs are a great resource for connecting employees with leadership in meaningful ways. They provide an easy way for members to spend time with leadership and show employees that management is approachable and receptive. Begin or conclude events with a period of networking to promote leadership visibility and interaction. 

Smith, Rapkin, Sommer and Sobbott at a 2019 Women@WEX event

“Connecting with like-minded women was one of our goals when Nicola and I first started talking about forming Women@WEX and has now become one of my favorite things about attending events. When I can engage with new employees or connect with WEX women in a different capacity, I am fortunate to be reminded what a smart, capable, positive and creative employee base we have built here,” says Rapkin. Rapkin goes on to say that she gets to hear fresh ideas from employees from all over WEX both in the networking portion of the event and also during the actual workshops. “Attending Women@WEX events gives us all an opportunity to meet up off-site to network, catch up and share ideas,” says Johnson. 

4: Commit To Training and Development 

Learning and growth are critical to career advancement and fulfillment in all industries. Harvard Business Review says that, “Like a biological ecosystem, organizations are either growing or they’re dying. And organizations grow when their employees are learning. So if you want a high-growth organization, you need to create a learning ecosystem to support high-growth individuals.”

employee training development

Employee training and development event at WEX

WEX encourages employee growth and learning and has formal systems in place to compensate employees for undergraduate and graduate level coursework, online training programs and short-form classes and seminars. ERGs contribute to that learning environment, too. 

Harvard Business Review reports that, “Companies need to see that a high-growth employee who loves to learn is a very valuable asset. Redeploying them on a new learning curve within the organization keeps their expertise in-house and allows them to share and build on it — a potentially exponential gain.” 

5: Consult the Experts—And Your Employees

Great Place to Work®: a Supporting Organization for Achieving Greatness

Great Place to Work® (GPTW) is a perfect example of a company whose mission is to help other companies. When compiling your list of tasks to become a best place to work in your community, connecting with GPTW and like organizations should be on your list.

Great Place to Work® started with the following book assignment given to two writers— Robert Levering and Milton Moskowitz — in the early 1980s: explain what it means to be a great place to work. In their research, what they found was that “the key to creating a great workplace was not a prescriptive set of employee benefits, programs and practices, but the building of high-quality relationships in the workplace — relationships characterized by trust, pride, and camaraderie.” Levering and Moskowitz, in their enthusiasm for what they’d discovered, went on to create the Great Place to Work® organization which, along with several sister organizations, has set the standard for excellence in contemporary employee engagement. 

Build Employee Trust with the Great Place to Work® Survey

Great Place to Work® believes that generating trust with employees is the key to developing a great workplace. That trust is experienced by employees in five ways: credibility, respect, fairness, pride and camaraderie. Together these compose the Great Place to Work® Trust Model, upon which their employee survey—the Trust Index Survey®—is based. 

The 62 questions that are asked can be a treasure trove for how to build stronger engagement with your employees. Consider doing an internal survey to understand your employees’ valuable feedback of their current workplace experience. From there, use their feedback to strengthen the most significant areas of opportunity. 

WEX has made the Great Place to Work® list every year since 2017. Partnering with GPTW to determine our company’s strengths and areas of improvement has been an invaluable exercise and made us a stronger, more transparent organization.

great place to work trust model

Great Place to Work® Trust Model

Great Place to Work® is just one of many organizations providing resources for companies to improve and become best-in-class. Partnering with these organizations and making use of their resources will serve as a meaningful tool as you build engagement and your reputation.

Take These Tips to Become a Best Place to Work

These five tips provide a framework for company growth and success. Click here to learn more about WEX and the work we are doing to stay a great place to work.

Resources: CNN Business, Chron, Strategy + Business, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, Great Place to Work®

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