‘Happy employees make you money’

EDWARDS — Chupa Nelson created a “flexible” place for his employees to work, something he says is worth the time, effort and, yes, money to create.

Nelson is one of the founding members of Business Champions, a local group that includes human resources managers from several local companies, as well as representatives of The Youth Foundation. The group’s mission is ambitious — to make Eagle County a “great place to work, live and grow.”

To do that, the group is trying to convince local companies of the benefits of “‘workflex’” programs for their employees.

Lisa Ponder, the human resources manager for Eagle County government said part of the problem is that employers don’t understand what ‘workflex’ workplaces look like. ‘workflex’ isn’t just about working from home — although that’s part of it. Nor is it about working 32 hours a week and getting paid for 40.

The idea behind a ‘workflex’ workplace is allowing an employee to work something beyond a 9-to-5 schedule in order to help take care of kids, aging parents, or even pets.

In some cases, that means one parent can work an early shift and another later one in order to take and pick up kids from school, cutting childcare costs. In other examples, people might be able to work four 10-hour days instead of a five-day week, or make up work time on a Saturday.

And, Ponder said, employers who don’t start to provide ‘workflex’ options for their people will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

That’s the reason Nelson, founder of R.A. Nelson and Associates, one of the valley’s most prominent construction companies, first decided to change the way his business does business.

“The only way we could get employees to stay was by providing them opportunities,” Nelson said. “We give people the opportunity to be at their kids’ events, their games and parent-teacher conferences.

“It wasn’t easy,” Nelson added. And there were some costs. “But it changed the attitude of our company. People walked into work with pride.”

The result is that the average length of employment at R.A. Nelson is more than nine years.

When Nelson started his company’s version of ‘workflex’, new employees would be pleasantly surprised. These days, people expect flexibility in their jobs.

A survey conducted by Business Champions received more than 600 responses. Breaking down the information for a recent presentation at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards, Ponder showed several slides detailing what people would like to see their employers provide. Some of the detailed differed among different age groups. For instance, Baby Boomers — those aged 49 to 66 — focused on ways employers could help free up time.

For “Generation X” — people in their 30s and 40s — it’s all about families, Ponder said. Many of those adults are in what’s called a “sandwich” generation, with young kids at home and aging parents who also require attention. Those families need to be able to adapt their schedules to the demands of their family lives.

Ponder said millenials — people who are still shy of their 30th birthdays — are going to expect flexible workplaces. She also told the group that fears about everything from initial costs to productivity and the potential for abuse are largely unfounded.

Most people won’t use the flexible schedule policies, Ponder said. But they appreciate having the options there if needed.And, she said, studies show that flexible workplaces are just as productive as those that aren’t.

The good news for local employers is that they can receive some in-person help. The High Country Human Resources Association, another co-sponsor of the Business Champions program, is providing some free consulting time to businesses that are interested in the program.

The offer of free help appealed to Megan Gilman. She is one of the owners of Active Energies, a local solar-energy installation and consulting company.

“We do quite a bit (of ‘workflex’ policies) already,” Gilman said. “It’s important to retain people. But we’ll take advantage of the (consulting) — in a small business you take advantage of everything you can.”

Jen Law is the human resources director for The Gallegos Corporation, another local company with a long history of providing ‘workflex’ options to its employees. She’ll be one of the people employers can talk to if they’re interested.

Law agreed that employees, especially younger workers, are aware of ‘workflex’ and want to work for companies that have it.

“They’re not going to give up (flexibility) just to live here,” she said.

‘Workflex’ won’t work for everyone, Ponder said. And not everyone will use or like the idea. But, she added, most people will be happier.

“And happy employees make you money,” she said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 or at smiller@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated May 5, 2013 09:15PM Published May 6, 2013 03:27PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.