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Employees as “Family”


Turck Inc., an international manufacturer of industrial automation technology located in Plymouth, MN, employs about 500 workers in the U.S. and about 2,500 worldwide. Grounded in the company is the principle that an employer has a responsibility to look after workers’ health and well-being and serve as a good corporate citizen in the community where the company is based. Workers are not simply employees of the firm; they are part of a large family and therefore need to be treated with respect and dignity.

Turck’s CEO Dave Lagerstrom believes workers should wake up each morning willing and eager to get to their jobs because they work in an excellent environment. Work, according to Lagerstrom, is where employees learn and grow – and the work setting should promote well-being.

Once recruited into the organization, workers stay with the company for a long time – turnover is about 1 to 4% a year (since 2010)—significantly below industry averages of 11 to 13%—and about half of new job openings are filled by internal staff. One employee we met, originally from Ethiopia, started with the company 20 years ago cleaning bathrooms. Today, he is in charge of worker safety.

In 2007, Turck established an on-site medical clinic called Well@Work, staffed by a physician’s assistant and a well-being coach. The clinic is available to workers five days a week at no charge. A few years later, Turck opened an on-site pharmacy that provided most prescription drugs to workers and their families for free, without co-payment or co-insurance. The removal of the cost barrier increased medication adherence. Additionally, Turck paid for employees’ and family members’ memberships at a nearby full-service fitness center and swimming pool.

Most important to Turck management is that health promotion programs are plentiful, attractive, and simple enough that workers can effortlessly become engaged in them. To promote physical activity, Turck offers weekly “wallyball” tournaments during normal work hours. There are regularly scheduled walking groups inside and outside the plants, walking work stations, and daily exercise breaks. Healthy eating is encouraged and publicized through “Taste of Turck” food tastings, where as many as 33 cultures are represented. Community volunteering and giving programs are supported, as are financial planning and tuition reimbursement. Health and well-being events are scheduled in advance for the entire year and posted so that employees can plan for them.

A key success factor at Turck is having fellow employees be the champions of the program, encouraging co-workers to join activities and even create their own. Individual “stories” of health improvement connect workers and inspire colleagues to follow suit. As one employee put it: “Turck will go out of its way to make you comfortable … We feel encouraged but never forced to do anything. Turck takes care of us and lets us do what we care about.”

Senior managers lead by example by creating a climate of trust and autonomy for workers. Decisions are made at the “lowest rung” of the business, and most creative ideas gain management approval with little bureaucratic red tape. For example, even though Turck is a manufacturing company, it allows for flexible scheduling, especially for employees with children. Employees make internal arrangements with fellow workers to cover their time and tasks with the expectation that their assignments will be completed in a responsible manner.

Does a healthy work culture achieve a bottom-line advantage for the company? When asked about the return on investment (ROI) from the program, Lagerstrom casually responds, “Not necessary.” From chief financial officer Bob Diem’s vantage point, these programs are “common sense” —the workforce is present and engaged, turnover is low, and employees are happy. Neither Lagerstrom nor Diem needs “proof” of an ROI to know “it’s the right thing to do.” Yet Turck’s programs and policies have clearly had a positive impact; medical costs have remained flat over the past five years without any significant change to the benefit plan design or increase in medical premiums. At the same time, the company’s revenues have doubled.

Turck’s well-being “benefit” is not just a program;“it is the way of life,” as one employee described it. Turck cares about people as people—and not just because they’re employees.

Written with support by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation