Best-of-the-Best Workplaces Emphasize Worker Harmony
For close to two decades, Printing Industries of America, now part of PRINTING United Alliance, has celebrated quality in the printing industry by recognizing the companies that embody excellence in Communication and Culture, Employee Resources and Benefits, and Safety and Work Environment. Each year, printing businesses contend for the “Best Workplace in the Americas” (BWA) designation, with an additional “Safety Shield” award, which was created three years ago to acknowledge superior safety policies and procedures.
A prestigious additional category recognizes the “Best-of-the-Best Workplaces” for those in the printing industry that have gone above and beyond to foster exceptional cultures and benefits for their employees. For 2020, the five businesses deemed “Best-of-the-Best” are Communicorp Inc. in Columbus, Ga.; Hopkins Printing in Columbus, Ohio; Suttle-Straus in Waunakee, Wis.; Vistaprint in Windsor, Ontario; and American Packaging, across multiple locations.
What elevates these businesses to this sought-after status? Typically, an outstanding company culture needs to permeate throughout, with employee well-being at the company’s heart.
For Hopkins Printing, actions spoke louder than words when it came to demonstrating this; 15 years ago the business set up an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). “After you’ve been working here for a year, you start earning shares in the company,” Michelle Waterhouse, Human Resources director at Hopkins Printing, explains. “It was a way to transfer ownership of the company from the Hopkins family to all the employees. That has really changed our culture in that everyone here is an owner and wants the best for our customers, for our business, and for themselves. Above the employee exit, there is a wall graphic that says, ‘You made an investment in yourself today.’”
Eric Seldon, president and CEO of Communicorp, a wholly owned subsidiary of insurance company Aflac, outlines a similar approach that helps employees feel as if everyone is in it together. Seldon describes “the Aflac way,” which is an approach to culture and commitments to which all employees adhere.
“At the beginning of each year, we set our goals and, if we deliver on those goals, then there’s a profit share that employees enjoy,” he says. “In fact, leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday is when employees receive their profit-sharing bonus, so there’s a lot of excitement in the air, which creates a lot of energy around meeting our objectives for the year.”
Communicorp also embarks on Habitat for Humanity projects and the “adoption” of an elementary school where employees volunteer, as a way of giving back to the community and fostering stronger team bonds.
For Suttle-Straus, a focus on fun, festivities, and a family dynamic helps breed a happy and cohesive environment. According to Susan Pschorr, director of HR at Suttle-Straus, “Even though we have 150 employees, it feels like a family atmosphere; we work hard, but we also like to have fun. In pre-COVID times, we had lots of company events, things like cookouts, monthly salad bar potlucks, and our annual awards dinner where previous entertainment has included mentalists, magicians, and comedians. We also run community service events like our annual United Way campaigns and Second Harvest Food Bank campaigns.”
The team at Vistaprint ensures that company culture remains exceptional by boiling it down to a straightforward concept and keeping it on the agenda.
Gianni D’Angela, VP/plant director, Vistaprint Windsor, explains, “Several years ago, we assembled a cross-functional group that meets regularly to discuss our culture and the importance of preserving and cultivating it. The team worked to create the mantra ‘Engage, Empower, Improve,’ which you will see throughout our facility.
“We wanted something catchy that represented our team in a few short words,” she adds. “Our culture is what it is because together we work to create an environment where team members are engaged, they are empowered to be their best, and, when we make a mistake, we learn from it and continue to improve ourselves.”
Provides Great Feedback for Improvement
For the businesses that have come out on top, applying to the BWA award isn’t about glory or grandeur. While it’s certainly an honor to be recognized for their hard work, the feedback from the judges and measurement against their peers is an enormously useful benchmarking exercise.
For Waterhouse at Hopkins Printing, the judges’ feedback letter is the most valuable element of the process. “When we started applying, which was many years ago when it first started, my goal was to get the results,” she explains. “They send you a letter that outlines where the judges think you did well, what they think you should fix, and how your counterparts handle things differently. I love that letter, because it tells us how we can be better.”
Dedication to improvement and excellence is evident before any distinctions have been awarded, as the application itself is a rigorous procedure in order to ensure accuracy while allowing judges to provide feedback in granular detail.
As Diana Culos, HR director at Vistaprint Windsor, points out, the process of applying is no small undertaking. “A significant amount of time, effort, and detail has gone into our submissions each year. We have a local team of two individuals that prepare the application with input from several areas and functions throughout our manufacturing plant, including the leadership team, Human Resources, and Health & Safety.
“Since our 2019 award application, we have included an extra Continuous Improvement section at the end of our hard copy submission to display our commitment as an organization to innovation and to share our accomplishments and improvements over the past year,” she adds. “The final draft is then vetted by leadership prior to hard copy printing and mailing and completion of the electronic version of the application.”
Pschorr, of Suttle-Straus, also acknowledges that the awards scheme allows her business to remain at the top of its game and make improvements where necessary. “One thing that applying for the award does is it gives us a great way to look back at what we’ve accomplished. It also gives us something to strive for, because each year we’re thinking, ‘How can we make this application even stronger?’ which translates to, ‘How do we make our workplace even stronger?’”
Seldon, of Communicorp, believes that if an employer takes care of its employees, the employees will take care of the business. “That’s just ingrained into our company. So, winning this award sends the right message that we will continue to do the right thing, and continue to stay in touch with our employees to make sure that they’re motivated. We really are like a big family here.”
Pandemic: New Challenges
Many of these printing establishments take the time to undergo the rigorous application process each year, but 2020 turned out to be no ordinary year. In the face of a pandemic, safeguarding both the health and job security of employees was a priority. So, how have the “best-of-the-best” stepped up to ensure they are living up to their titles? For starters, businesses don’t receive that distinction without a focus on safety ingrained into the fabric of the business.
According to Pschorr, of Suttle-Straus, “We jumped into action to take precautions, we set up work-from-home arrangements, and applied for the work share program through our state, which allows people to get unemployment benefits even if they’re working reduced hours, to keep as many people employed as possible.
“The information about the virus kept changing, so we had to stay flexible and our team members responded very well,” she adds. “We continue to take the precautions that are necessary to keep everyone safe.”
Vistaprint’s Culos echoes this, highlighting the speed and gravity with which they met the onset of COVID-19. “The Vistaprint Windsor team has always placed great emphasis on safety as a core value, and this was no exception during the pandemic. A COVID-team was assembled, consisting of plant leadership, Health & Safety, and Human Resources, to begin navigating through the various activities and tasks that needed to be considered.
“The team has worked tirelessly, putting many measures in place, such as physical distancing parameters, masks, and pre-work health assessment, to name a few. The team has worked diligently to keep themselves and their coworkers safe, while working to ensure we remain committed to meeting our customer orders every day.”
For Hopkins Printing, it has been a proud achievement to ensure each and every member of staff remains employed. “We didn’t have enough work for all our employees, but we didn’t want to lose anybody, so we started paying them 50% of their scheduled hours, and I then got approval from our insurance company to let people take a voluntary furlough so they could retain their health insurance,” Waterhouse points out.
“And then we got a Paycheck Protection Program loan, which allowed us to bring all those people back," she adds. Our state has a program called Shared Work, so our employees could work at Hopkins as many hours as we needed them. It worked, we made it through, and we kept all our people. We didn’t have to lay off any staff, and I’m so thankful for that.”
Overcoming the disruption and devastation of COVID-19 is an ongoing challenge for these printing businesses, but being “best-of-the-best” in both name and nature also provides an additional weapon in their arsenal when it comes to recruiting talented staff and winning business.
Karis Copp is a U.K.-based journalist and communications specialist. With a background as a writer and editor in the print industry, she writes about print and technology news and trends, reports on industry events, and works with businesses to help them tell their stories and connect with their customers. Follow her on Twitter @KarisCoppMedia.