Best place to work: Organization cares for employees who care for patients

Beth Brown, a nurse and education manager, visits with a patient at HopeWest. Based on the results of anonymous employee surveys, the Grand Junction-based organization has ranked among the best to work for in Colorado for the past three years and placed second among large employers in 2013. (Photo courtesy HopeWest)

Phil Castle,The Business Times

Christy Whitney vividly recalls a staff meeting in which she asked each participant to

Christy Whitney, founder, president and chief executive officer HopeWest

come up with an idea to improve communications at HopeWest. Whitney wrote down the responses on sheets of paper and soon had wallpapered the room with suggestions.

The process didn’t end there, but rather served as the genesis of efforts that continue to this day. “We’re still doing all of them,” says Whitney, founder, president and chief executive officer of HopeWest, a Grand Junction-based organization that provides a rage of services to people facing serious illnesses, end of life and grief.

While employees enjoy such perquisites as health and dental insurance, flexible scheduling and assistance programs at HopeWest, they also enjoy such less tangible benefits as autonomy and fairness. And as the meeting served to illustrate, employers are encouraged to speak out and play a role in making decisions.

“They get to have input,” says Terri Walter, senior vice president and chief administrative officer. “They feel connected to the organization and the mission of the organization.”

Whitney says it’s important to care for the employees who care for the patients HopeWest serves. “I think it’s crucial. I don’t think the mission can happen without it.”

Based on the results of anonymous surveys, employees appreciate that care. HopeWest has ranked among the best companies to work for in Colorado for three years and placed second this year among large companies with 250 or more employees.

HopeWest has climbed from sixth to fourth to second among large employers in the Best Companies to Work For in Colorado program.

The program is a joint effort of the Society for Human Resource Management Colorado State Council; Colorado Biz magazine; and, an online employment advertising service. To participate in the program, companies and organizations pay to undergo anonymous employee surveys conducted by Modern Think, a research and consulting firm. Employees are questioned about such issues as benefits, leadership, management and strategy.

HopeWest also was recognized in August for its efforts at promoting a culture that values diversity in winning a Diversity Champion Award from the Society for Human Resource Management Colorado State Council.

HopeWest serves about 600 patients a day in a 7,000 square-mile swath of Western Colorado. An in-patient care center HopeWest operates in Grand Junction is the only one of its kind outside Denver. A staff of 300 employees and a corps of 1,400 volunteers provides a range of services.

Walter says HopeWest employees receive a competitive benefits package that includes health and dental insurance and an employee assistance program.

Mary Wigington, senior director of human resources at HopeWest, says employees also enjoy flexibility in scheduling and a vehicle leasing program.

In addition, employees value autonomy in making decisions based on their training as well as a role in making decisions about overall operations, Walter and Wigington say. Employees earn extra pay to serve on committees that address everything from health and safety to quality and wellness.

Whitney says organizations and businesses alike must pay attention to revenues and expenses to remain in operation. But they also must focus on the employees who carry out the mission. That means treating them fairly, remaining mindful of the challenges they face in their lives and valuing their contributions.

The end result, Whitney says, is a more productive effort in carrying out the mission — along with less turnover not only of all employees, but especially high-performing employees.

Managers in organizations and businesses alike must be courageous to do the right things, read and study how to develop good leadership and understand the role of intention, she says. Then it’s a matter of remaining confident. “If you treat people fairly, you’ll be OK.”

Operating an organization or business where people want to work requires an ongoing effort, she adds — like actually implementing the suggestions Whitney wrote down at her staff meeting rather than just going through the process.

“It does take constant attention. Just hoping you’re good at it doesn’t do it.”