Why are these Ohio label makers the happiest workers in America?
Why are these Ohio label makers the happiest workers in America?
RICHMOND HEIGHTS, Ohio – Happiness eludes so many of us, especially at work.
Perhaps less so at OMNI Systems.
National reports and workplace studies show that employee satisfaction is a common - but often unmet - goal. But workers and managers at this Richmond Heights manufacturer show it is attainable with sincere effort. OMNI ranked first nationally last year on a new “workplace happiness” index, beating out more than 600 employers evaluated by jobs site Monster.com and kununu.com, a website that provides workplace reviews.
Hearing how OMNI (short for “Open Minds New Ideas”) employees speak about their workplace leaves little doubt about the high level of satisfaction these blue-collar workers have. The company, owned by Adam DeFrancesco, prints labels for commercial customers, from barcodes on Amazon boxes to stickers on packages of meat in refrigerated supermarket display cases.
“I love the company,” said Kim DeBernardi, floor lead for shipping and receiving and a trainer for new hires, during a Plain Dealer interview at the company’s headquarters on Highland Road. “I have never been in a place where they respect what you say. They listen to what you say. If you have a good idea, they implement that idea. I don’t plan on going anywhere, because I really do like my job.”
Micaul C. Henderson, Sr., lead operator, agreed. He said employees are engaged at work because they believe management values their contributions.
“It gives you the feeling that every day you have a real honest opportunity to level up and grasp achievement,” he said. “So, you’re not just coming to work, focusing on going home. You know you could make a difference here.”
Worker dissatisfaction is a problem in the United States. For example, research and management consulting company Gallup has found that nearly 70 percent of employees are disengaged at work - “checked out” or trying to get their jobs done “with little or no management support.”
Diane Bergeron, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management, studies worker satisfaction. She said DeBernardi and Henderson’s responses are common among people who say they have job satisfaction. Regardless of title, employees want to feel they are helping an organization achieve its goals, she said.
“I think that companies get lost in ‘Oh, we have to have free coffee, haircuts, book clubs, yoga class and all these perks,’” she said. “They kind of forget the basics. People are motivated by meaning. They want to know that what they are doing at work makes a difference, that they are making progress toward something that is bigger.”
However, Bergeron prefers not to call that “workplace happiness.”
“I think some of the focus on happiness is a little overrated,” she said. “Job satisfaction, and not workplace happiness, should be something that is important to companies. I feel like happiness is fleeting.”
OMNI President Andrew Macek said that, during the last five years, the company has evolved to “move away from an authoritative management style to a culture that is more collaborative, more teamwork-oriented. ”
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re the president of the company or a material handler, you should feel you have a voice in this company,” he said.
And Macek believes workplace happiness has affected OMNI’s bottom line.
“Our quality issues are almost negligible because of consistency and making sure people are satisfied on the job,” he said.
The company expects to hit $70 million in annual sales this year. Sales already are up 13 percent from a year ago and up 65 percent from five years ago. OMNI aims to reach $100 million in revenues by 2020.
By then, the growing, 120-employee company hopes to nearly double its space by relocating to or building a 100,000 to 150,000-square-foot facility, preferably in Cuyahoga County. Macek said such a move will consolidate OMNI’s headquarters and its distribution center and warehouse, now in Mayfield, on a single campus.
Measuring worker satisfaction
The Monster-kununu Workplace Happiness Index, released last fall, relied on industry data and reviews of employers from kununu.com and job listings from Monster.com. Individual companies weren’t asked to have employees complete worker satisfaction surveys. Monster also polled its users last year about career satisfaction. The top three factors: good work-life balance, work they can be proud of and career development.
OMNI not only ranked first but also was the only small employer in the Top 10.
“It was surprising that a company that size was ranked so high, but considering that the reviews on kununu gave them an overall score of 4.5 of 5, it makes sense that they would rank so high,” a Monster spokeswoman wrote in an email. “OMNI scored extremely high on all factors, including work culture, gender equality and work/life balance.”
Masek was completely surprised when he learned OMNI topped the list.
“I had to check to make sure it wasn’t somebody trying to sell us something,” he said. “We came in first among all these companies with thousands of employees.”
Mayfield-based Progressive Corp., a publicly traded insurance giant with more than 280 times the workforce that OMNI has, ranked fourth. It was the only other Ohio company on the list.
“We know employees who feel valued are more inspired; they’re more engaged in their work, and more interactive with their colleagues and company,” Steve Kaczynski, Progressive’s manager of recruitment marketing, wrote in an email.
“We’re big on learning and growing; helping employees identify the career path that’s right for them and giving them the tools they need to pursue it,” he wrote. “Sometimes that means taking a risk or a path less traveled.”
He noted that Progressive also offers work-life balance perks, such as “flexible work arrangements, including working from home and compressed work weeks.”
Bergeron, the CWRU associate professor, said there isn’t just one way to measure worker satisfaction, since so many factors are at play. Contentment is influenced by what employees value, which varies by person, and by their perceptions of the work itself, relationships with co-workers and supervisors and a company’s overall approach to - and evenhandedness with - promotions, salary decisions and resource allocation.
No matter what employers do, though, Bergeron said some employees will never be happy, because people are prewired “to have a view of the world that the glass is either half full or it is half empty.”
DeBernardi hadn’t been at OMNI Systems long when she realized that installing mirrors could help eliminate blind spots for forklift operators at the warehouse. She made the suggestion, which was accepted.
“It was implemented right away,” Justin DeFrancesco, the warehouse manager, said. “That is why it is important to listen to your people on the floor. Sometimes you get a fresh perspective.”
But a company needs to create an environment where employees feel comfortable enough to share suggestions and complaints. Masek recalled a time when workers didn’t speak up at shift meetings.
“We’d get people in here, and it was kind of like a zombie room,” he said, motioning with his hand around a conference room. “They would listen to what we had to say, and then they’d disperse.”
So Masek replaced shift meetings with “mini meetings” designed to be more interactive.
Plant Manager A.J. Newkirk said it didn’t take long to see the difference.
“Sometimes an operator may feel uncomfortable speaking in a room with 30 other people, but when it is just him and three other people, the communication line is open,” Newkirk said.
Henderson, the lead operator, said OMNI’s changing workplace culture also helped.
“Before, you didn’t necessarily feel that you were being kept from speaking,” he said. “You just might not have felt that you were fully being heard. The company has opened up the lines of communication.”