The Bama Companies of Tulsa, Okla. made what I see as an historic announcement last month.
The company, a privately-owned global manufacturer of pies, biscuits (McDonald’s) and dough (Pizza Hut) has more than 1000 employees.
CEO Paula Marshall believes in second chances, making a practice of hiring parolees and those (particularly women) out of treatment for chemical dependency.
Marshall noted that there is a critical threshold, at 3-4 months of employment, where tardiness and absenteeism start to occur in many of these new hires — often resulting in termination or resignation.
Since it’s costly for the company to recruit and train new talent (Marshall puts the number at $5500 per employee), she figured it is wise to invest in helping employees surmount the challenges they face in maintaining employment — factors outside the workplace — like childcare, financial planning, transportation, and counseling.
[For decades the company has offered in-house medical services, which will continue with the new initiative.]
The company frames the decision to open it’s “Caring Center” as a business decision, but it’s clearly one with a heart.
To me, the plan reinforces the idea that it’s not strictly what happens within the walls of a medical setting that impacts people’s health. It’s the social determinants of health that have a bigger impact on health– education, environment, employment, access to adequate nutrition.
Opinions on the project vary. Some say Bama’s ‘Caring Center’ is nothing more than a glorified Employee Assistance Program (EAP). But in my view, EAPs are usually handled by 3rd party contractors, have limited uptake, and are focused more exclusively on mental health (important, to be sure, but not as broad as Bama’s effort).
Others ask, “Why not simply pay the employees more?” That is indeed a laudable goal. But arguably it’s the educational efforts and resource-matching that the Caring Center provides that will make more of a difference in employment sustainability. If an employee can keep his/her job, s/he will have more opportunity to climb the economic ladder. Bama, for example, like many companies, seeks to retain and grow talent from within.
Only time will tell if Bama’s Caring Center is impactful or not. Marshall has set the bar at what seems like an achieveable level: She hopes to lower the rate of employee loss from 8/10 to five or six out of ten to achieve financial success for the company. But if she succeeds, that’s many lives that will be impacted.
Will more companies choose to make these types of investments?