By: Houston Chronicle
, L.M. Sixel
Welcome to the Houston Chronicle's Top Workplaces edition for 2016.
It's been a difficult year for a metropolitan area in the throes of an oil recession. Defaults, bankruptcies and layoffs have made regular headlines, and it hasn't been easy for even healthy companies to continue offering lavish workplace benefits, such as new cars, vacations and big bonuses.
"There is an air of uncertainty," said Charis Pollard, chief human resources officer of Associated Credit Union of Texas, one of the winners in the annual Top Workplaces survey conducted for the Chronicle by WorkplaceDynamics of Philadelphia. "Everyone can sense it."
Everyone also knows that some places to work are better than others, and the top places to work in the Houston area are determined by the people who most often know the companies best: employees.
This year, the survey's seventh, WorkplaceDynamics invited nearly 1,500 companies to participate; 281 chose to participate, surveying a combined 77,000 workers on the potential for advancement, working environment and attractiveness of pay and benefits.
The survey found that while there isn't as much frivolity in offering perks as in years past, companies have tried to keep old standbys such as backup child care, shorter and more flexible workweeks, and free flu shots. When there is a hint of fun - like company-sponsored parties - it's meant to have a purpose, such as employee recognition or team building. What's particularly important to employees - and what make a top workplace - are opportunities to improve skills, advance knowledge and get ahead.
At Associated Credit Union, for example, employees said they appreciated tuition reimbursement benefits that provide up to $1,200 a semester for undergraduate courses and $1,700 for graduate classes. Between 10 and 15 employees take advantage of the program each semester, and many end up using new knowledge or degrees to move up in the ranks.
Encompass Home Health, a provider of in-home care including hospice care, has one of the lowest annual turnover rates in the industry, about 16 percent compared with 23 percent in the health care industry as a whole.
Why do employees stay at Encompass? They have a great chance to get promoted.
Nearly three out of four employees have gained promotions, in large part because Encompass gives them first crack at supervisory openings, said Wade Berry, employee relations specialist. The low turnover and experience among the staff give the health care provider an advantage over competitors at a time when the federal government is squeezing reimbursements for Medicare, the health care program for the elderly, Berry said.
Promotions are not the only way companies recognize employees. Last year, ApacheCorp. livened up its annual shareholders meeting by honoring three employees - much to the surprise of the unsuspecting recipients of the honors.