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As the coronavirus pandemic entered its second year, many South Florida employers doubled down on ways to improve employee relations, sustain and expand productivity and try to remain flexible amid rapidly changing COVID responses either imposed or recommended by government agencies and medical experts.
Raw politics and the personal beliefs and medical conditions of employees complicated the picture.
But by now, many if not all South Florida employers have come to understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has emerged as the societal disruption of a lifetime. They know how critical it is to closely monitor external and internal events, and to respond in kind if they are to keep their workplaces productive and their employees engaged.
So for the eighth consecutive year, the South Florida Sun Sentinel is partnering with Energage, an employment consultant based in the Philadelphia area, to determine which employers fared best in keeping their workforces focused, productive and fulfilled.
How did employers do this time around? Through the annual Top Workplaces program, the Sun Sentinel and Energage intend to find out through a survey based on employee feedback.
Starting today through Oct. 29, employees can nominate their own employer or another private- or public-sector organization as a Top Workplace — and tell us why.
Any organization in the public, private, nonprofit or government sectors with 35 or more employees in South Florida is eligible to participate in the forthcoming program.
Employers from large, midsize and small organizations will be surveyed during September through January, 2022.
Workplaces themselves are evaluated by their employees using a short 24-question survey.
The nomination deadline is Oct. 29, 2021. The publication of the results will be next year at a date to be determined.
Service firms showed the way
In the past year’s South Florida program, professional service firms in the fields of law and finance topped the program’s large, midsize and small business categories.
In all, 2,365 employers in South Florida were invited to have their employees take the survey. Combined, the 114 organizations surveyed for the 2021 program employed 35,993 people in South Florida. and 18,467 people submitted responses.
In the end, 85 employers earned recognition as Top Workplaces and were honored in May at a virtual special event hosted by TV personality Kavita Channe.
Closely-knit professional service firms topped each of the three categories in the latest Sun Sentinel competition.
Paramount Residential Mortgage Group Inc. (PRMG) took the large employer category. As one of the largest privately held national mortgage bankers and residential home lenders, the Corona, Calif,-based firm with 441 South Florida employees helps homeowners purchase and refinance their homes
Founded a week before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, PRMG in its earliest days had to navigate those difficult days and instill a culture that would “come together as a family” to see each other through.
The company similarly weathered rocky waters during the 2008 housing crash and later years of uncertain lending markets.
“When a company was started around a time where there’s a lot of adversity, it really becomes part of who you are,” said Steve Levine, the company’s South Florida-based vice of president/divisional retail production.
With the law firm’s 221 employees all working remotely, it took effort to organize the same kind of activities that drew wide acceptance, according to Lauren Pollack, director of human resources. They still did pizza parties, this time at home, with everyone getting gift cards to Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza. The firm also held raffles, trivia contests and bingo, working the games into regular meetings.
“We really tried to keep engagement going, because our employees really, really seem to enjoy it,” Pollack said.
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Few companies celebrate National Tooth Fairy Day (which occurs every Aug. 22). But for the financial and lending services firm, it’s a real affair. Employees find tooth-shaped gummy bears and chocolate coins on their desks, along with dental floss for later.
The same goes for St. Patrick’s Day, National Women’s Day, Halloween and especially major holidays, when One Park goes all out with a big party, said Ashley Fandino, a senior pipeline analyst.
“These are the kind of things they do to help us bond,” Fandino said. “To me personally, that’s a way to say we appreciate you guys and we’re going to do these little things for you. It’s not the same routine every day. They do it to change things up and keep things interesting.”
Nationally, Energage conducted surveys for media in 59 markets in the past year, collecting the observations of more than 2 million employees at 8,000 organizations.
The foundation of the program is a scientific survey of employees who rate their workplace culture. The feedback also gives managements insights about what makes their organizations unique. And it gives them a fresh take on how they can improve day-to-day and long-term relationships with employees.
Survey feedback from employees is the sole basis for determining Top Workplaces. And this time around, that feedback is likely to serve as the ultimate test of how effectively employers responded some 18 months after the outbreak of COVID-19.