The way 2020 has gone, I think everyone can stand to hear some good news. And as an added bonus we'll fold in some lessons that may come in handy.
The good news is that Americas International has taken home the top spot in the second annual Rubber & Plastics News Best Places to Work program. The Akron-based distributor of a variety of materials used in the rubber industry was the top scorer as determined by the criteria set by Best Places Group, with much of the data collected via a survey of employees.
AI was one of nine companies that Best Places Group judged had earned the right to be deemed an RPN Best Place to Work for 2020. The finalists included three firms that also received the honor in 2019: Reed Rubber (last year's top honoree), HB Chemical and Sur Seal.
And the education comes from the leaders at those nine firms, who shared with Rubber & Plastics News some of the philosophies they believe made them valued employers with their staff.
At Americas International, President Wayne Stair said he always wanted his firm to be a "challenging but enjoyable work experience" for his staff, where good compensation still remains a top priority. The company may be small, but the fact that it experienced no turnover last year still is a feat to be applauded.
Stair also takes pride in hiring the best in the rubber industry, experts in their fields who help the distributor grow its product offerings and range of suppliers to keep revenue growth climbing year after year. His philosophy is simple but effective: "Americas International understands that people are the heart of the business and treats them accordingly."
CTI President Troy Anenson realizes that flexibility is one thing that employees today value greatly. So the provider of innovative controls and software along with electrical engineering services allows its employees to earn unlimited comp time, flexible starting times and the choice to work from home or the office, a perk that started even before the pandemic.
At Sur Seal, the company wants its workers to live the values of "caring, curious and courageous." Meredith Rudemiller, the HR manager for the rubber product maker, said workers will be happier when they care about their work, customers and co-workers.
During the pandemic, the firm added new safety guidelines, made sure communication was free-flowing and new practices were put in place that were designed to make employees feel safer.
Reed Rubber President Clark Reed said that going into the pandemic, the firm wanted to keep its workers employed, something they were able to do thanks to support from the Payroll Protection Program, along with a 15-percent pay cut taken by both salaried and hourly workers.
Reed also had to find a new way to communicate.
He couldn't walk the floor like he was used to doing, given the social distancing and work from home that became norms in 2020. While the company made good use of technology such as Microsoft Teams, Reed himself went a bit "old school" in his personal communications, writing notes and sending them to people's homes. Some would go to the staff, but he'd also write to spouses to tell them what a good job their loved one was doing.
When it became clear that much of HB Chemical's staff would have to work from home early in the pandemic, Vice President Joe Moran said he wanted to make the adjustment seamless for the company and painless for the employees. So he did his best to make sure that whatever setup the employee had at work was duplicated at their home office.
Within a week, HB Chemicals had purchased enough monitors, furniture, office supplies and whatever else was needed so employees could hit the ground running once the transition was made.
Zochem, a producer of zinc oxide with operations in the U.S. and Canada, had to make sure the facilities met all of the safety requirements from each respective nation. Ed Smith, vice president of sales and marketing, knows that with a manufacturing operation not all roles can be done from home. So when Zochem was looking to hire new staff during the pandemic, it touted its safety record to give candidates a sense of confidence that their health and safety was indeed a priority.
Engineered Products and Services Inc. also turned things around in its business approach. Company President Armen Sarajian said staff members are viewed as the firm's "first customers." In turn, such a pay-it-forward philosophy encourages team members to go the extra mile to take care of customers.
John Paro, founder of Hallstar, said the chemicals firm also leans on core values, including compassion for people, ethical operation, a commitment to continuous learning and a results-driven attitude. And while results are important, it's also vital that employees enjoy the work-life journey.
Of course, sports metaphors are always useful. Specification Rubber in Alabama sits in the heart of college football territory. For President Steven Smith, that means "every teammate has a special role to play, and no single position is any greater than the other."
The company also happens to be a union shop, proving that organized labor-management cooperation can work in the South. Smith said the workers have a "voice in the process," and that being open to suggestions has led to a number of breakthroughs. He said the work at Specification Rubber is hot and challenging, but "there's nothing our team can't accomplish."