Babies deliver a loyal workforce: a nonprofit organization uses creative programs, not compensation, to retain its valued workers

Babies deliver a loyal workforce: a nonprofit organization uses creative programs, not compensation, to retain its valued workers

Maryann Hammers

Imagine that you run a nonprofit association with a tiny budget and your workers are clamoring for raises, big corporations with deep pockets are luring away employees with salaries 50 percent higher than you can pay, and turnover has reached a staggering 30 percent. What to do?

That was the situation six years ago at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, a Kansas City-based nonprofit group that supports the 50 state insurance commissioners. “I cannot tell you how hard it is to run an association that provides technical assistance to all 50 states in the areas of information systems and insurance when you have a significant turnover problem,” CEO Cathy Weatherford says. “We could not compete on dollars. So we decided to look at ways to provide a high-quality workplace and have happier employees.”

The organization began rolling out a host of inexpensive benefits that offer its 419 workers more flexibility and a better quality of life. The most innovative benefit is the “infants in the workplace” program, which allows employees to bring babies up to the age of six months to their offices.

The association’s insurance carriers and lawyers helped devise a liability release, which parents are asked to sign. Parents must also have an infant-care plan and designate a coworker to serve as an alternate-care provider for the times when a mom or dad is in a meeting. Changing tables were installed in all restrooms, and a quiet room with soft lights, crib, and rocking chair is available for parents who need to retreat with a fussy baby. A grievance procedure provides recourse for other employees in case a particular situation gets out of hand. Weatherford says, however, that no one has ever used the procedure.

“Over the past five years, 33 infants have gone through the program, some for the entire six months, others just until the parents can make other day-care arrangements. All but one of the parents are still with our organization,” Weatherford says. “The program creates immense loyalty because parents feel they can maintain their career and still bond with their infant.”

Although the majority of the program’s participants have been moms, two dads and one married couple– both association employees–also have participated, says association COO Judy Lee.

And far from being a workplace distraction, babies actually have proved to be a stress reliever. “You spend a little baby time and the stress goes right out of you,” Lee says.

The program garnered national attention, and the association has provided copies of it to state insurance departments and companies nationwide.

The association s “no layoff” policy is also important for developing a devoted workforce, as are an array of quality-of-life offerings, including a four-day compressed workweek, flextime, telecommuting, and job sharing. Other innovative benefits include a zero-interest computer-purchase assistance program that provides employees with funds to buy a home PC; a sick-leave “pool” that enables employees to donate unused sick days to a colleague with a serious illness, and one day off a year to participate in community-service projects such as Habitat for Humanity.

In the six years since the association began implementing the quality-of-life programs, turnover has plummeted to 7 percent. “A lot of people who left us to go to a private employer, enticed by a belly increase in salary, have come knocking on our door, wanting their jobs back,” Weatherford says. “Money is not the only motivator.”

COPYRIGHT 2003 ACC Communications Inc.

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