Dreaming of Norma Rae; employee relations in ‘the new normal’

Over the weekend, NEMT was named the 2012 Employer of the Year by the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity. While we’re obviously very proud of our accomplishment, it raises a practical question: how does a company become a “good” employer in a slow economy?

Tara Courtland

Communications Director Tara Courtland

In the mid-90s, it was easy to be a good employer. Times were good, money was flowing and the only challenge was to offer higher pay than your competitors.

Twenty years later, in “the new normal,” everything has changed. It’s not exactly a secret that money is tight all across the transcription industry. We’re no longer in a situation where we can simply keep raising the pay scale to be the best.

So how do you attract and retain good people? Believe it or not, many of the best “benefits” are environmental and don’t hurt the bottom line.

If your staffers work together in a central office, building camaraderie is a lot easier. People tend to bond with the coworkers they see and sit with every day.

For those of us who work remotely, this is a challenge. At NEMT, we all work from our own homes all across the United States. In some ways, this is a GREAT work environment – there’s something to be said for not having to change out of your bathrobe to go to work each day.

On the other hand, most of us have never seen each other; I’ve seen my boss in person once in three years, and that’s once more than most of my coworkers.

So we make up for the distance by going out of our way to create a close, if virtual, team. It started a few years ago with an internal newsletter. Each quarter, we ask everyone, from the CEO to the interns, to send in recipes, stories, quizzes, pictures of their pets and children, favorite holiday traditions, etc. The communications staff assembles them all into a newsletter that we email out to everyone so they can get to know their coworkers a little better.

Recently, we noticed that a lot of the pictures people sent in were of themselves and their families participating in charity walks and that gave us another idea – a company match for those who donate and participate in these events. Company matches are not unusual for large companies but they generally only apply to full-time employees. We made our donation match available to everyone – full-timers, part-timers and independent contractors.

To do it, we simply took some of our existing corporate donation fund and reallocated it – allowing our team members to chose for themselves where it would go. Any time a team member is participating in a walk or other active event, they can ask us to match a portion of their personal donation.

The match serves two purposes – first, it gives our team members buy-in on our corporate charity fund.

Second, in an industry where we all sit at desks day after day, it encourages everyone to get up, get outside and do something active.

We also celebrate MT Week in the spring with daily quizzes and other contests where everyone can compete to win prizes. Because that was such a hit, we added in sporting events too, launching Super Bowl football pools and March Madness brackets – all good-naturedly tailored for a company where most of us can’t even name the teams who are playing.

And of course we do the standard things, like hosting an internal instant messenger program so everyone can talk to each other, creating an intranet site with a bulletin board, and holding regular phone check-ins so everyone can stay in touch.

But the most important – if least glamorous – initiative is executive communication. CEO and owner Linda Sullivan has made it a point to reach out to everyone with regular emails and updates to let the team know what’s going on. While working from home has its advantages (no makeup, no shoes, no problem!), it can be isolating, especially for MTs who work independently without group projects or teams.

Linda helps to offset this by writing to everyone from time to time to give them company updates – we just signed a new client, a manager is shifting responsibilities, we just won another award, we’ve hired a new sales director, etc.

If you’re a medical transcriptionist working from home, most of these announcements don’t impact you directly. But you probably hear news about the industry – another company got bought out, another company switched to off-shoring, another hospital is implementing EHRs, etc. Not knowing what’s going on can be unsettling so hearing regularly from the CEO helps everyone stay in the loop and feel secure about their company and future.

It’s a good policy and it pays off – NEMT has been in business for 22 years and some of our very first MTs still work for us; you can’t replace that kind of institutional knowledge.

The bottom line is creating loyalty – loyalty from the workers to the company, and loyalty from the company to the workers. It’s a two-way street and it’s something most executives feel but don’t necessarily express well.

It’s a tough time to run a company. Bottom lines are shrinking and revenue is getting tight at the exact same time when companies are being seen as too big and too rich. Maintaining a good working environment and good team relationships takes time and effort but it pays off in the end – both in terms of reputation and in client satisfaction.

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About Tara Courtland

Tara Courtland is the communications director at NEMT.
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One Response to Dreaming of Norma Rae; employee relations in ‘the new normal’

  1. Abe Borseth says:

    No matter what a company’s standard operating procedure is, it is important to identify the roles and responsibilities of HR within the organization. This way, everyone working in HR will be aware of how to respond to these possible legal situations. When deciding which member of the HR team will handle legal issues when they arise, the company must take into account a number of factors. Project team development may determine whether to centralize the HR department or have it decentralized with specialty groups. In a centralized HR department, everyone is able to handle all the different types of concerns that the division is given. In other companies with specialty departments, each subgroup holds expertise in handling specific issues such as EEO, labor relations or ethics.*’

    Up to date post on our web blog

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