Employee Relations Programs Achieve High Loyalty Marks

Good PR help is hard to find and keep. Competitive compensation packages alone won't cut it any more but innovative employee relations programs are a step in the right direction. For KVO, which boasts an above average employee tenure of five years (the industry's average is two-and-a-half years), the key to attracting loyal employees is promoting independent growth and work/family balance. The Portland, Ore.-based agency, which employs 130, thrives on an "upside-down organizational design" that empowers individual account managers to oversee all aspects of client relationships, pulling in upper management only when necessary, according to the agency. KVO's work/family policies, which include flexible work schedules, telecommuting opportunities and a sabbatical program, recognize the lifestyle needs of the agency's fairly young workforce, says Sharon VanSickle, KVO's PR principal. "For clients, programs like these translate into less [employee] turnover. We don't have to frequently educate account teams on client business." Last month, the agency's employee relations initiatives earned the 1998 Vanguard Award for the category of companies with 150 employees or less that provide equal employee opportunities. The annual award is sponsored by the Portland chapter of the Association of Women in Communications. A few of the unique employee initiatives that earned the agency an industry nod include: KVO University: The PR department shuts down for three days to hold KVO University sessions that range from new software applications to high-level strategic marketing. Everyone from vice presidents to entry-level employees attend. Sabbatical Program: Seven-year veterans of KVO are eligible for a two-month paid sabbatical to use as they desire-with family, pursuing outside interests or simply relaxing. Telecommuting: A Proven Perk Although several of KVO's employees telecommute a couple of days a week and four telecommute full-time, the policy (posted on the intranet) is not for everyone. For instance, team managers are not the best candidates for this work option because they need to meet regularly with team members, says VanSickle. But creatives and account service professionals can easily transition to working offsite. Although a huge telecommuting perk for the employer is increased employee productivity, employees must first prove themselves in the office. This tactic is popular among employers that allow telecommuting, according to Robert Moskowitz, president of the American Telecommunications Association in Washington, D.C. "My guess is that no employer is hiring specifically for telecommuting experience. The reason: It's almost certain that a proven employee can learn to telecommute; it's far less certain that a proven telecommuter can learn to do a particular job or handle a specific responsibility within a company," says Moskowitz, who offers additional insight on this topic on the Smart Business Supersite at http://www.smartbiz.com. Jeanne Silsby, a KVO senior account supervisor, soon will be telecommuting from Fort Collins, Colo., where her husband was relocated. As an employee of seven years, her proposal was quickly approved but it means that she will have to scale back her management responsibilities to overseeing about two people from a team of six. More of her time will be spent on developing new business strategies and consulting. Work Hard/Play Hard Ethic Keeping up with KVO's dramatic growth of 40% in the past three years also has meant making the agency a fun place to work and play. Besting what most companies deem "cool" company perks in the way of casual days and free coffee, KVO has been serving up free beer on tap at its two-year-old sports bar, which also contains a pool table and a big screen TV. Citing industry statistics that 52% of employees take quick 15-minute lunch breaks while 15% never leave the office at all, VanSickle says the sports bar concept was created out of a need for KVO employees to have a place to "blow off steam." Although the bar is open during the day, employees are entrusted to self-regulate and use it appropriately. "[The sports bar] is a nice novelty, but quite frankly we don't have a lot of time to use it. It's great to know it's there," says Silsby. (KVO, Sharon VanSickle, Jeanne Silsby, 503/221-2353; American Telecommunications Association, Robert Moskowitz, 818/224-4224) KVO Headquarters: Portland, Ore.Number of Employees: 130 Billings: $78 millionFounded: 1983

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