It has become all too commonplace to hear chief executive officers boast that their company is a “great place to work.” The statement is thrown around so often that you can seldom take it seriously. Suggest that these folks prove their claim that theirs truly is a great place to work and you will often find that the boast is threadbare and hollow and completely unsurprising.
It is with this in mind that Sound Community Services, headquartered on Montauk Avenue in New London and with locations in multiple communities across southeastern Connecticut - a company working for the betterment of the community none-the-less – can honestly and objectively boast they were one of 60 companies in Connecticut to be named one of the Top Workplaces for 2019 by the Hartford Courant. The agency backs this title not with shallow words shouted from on high but corroborated with data collected by those who can legitimately make such claims.
The Top Workplaces honor is based solely on survey responses collected from employees. The Hartford Courant enlists research partner Energage LLC, a leading provider of technology-based employee engagement tools, to collect input on several aspects of a workplace’s culture, providing an objective assessment of the company’s work environment. Employees are not told that the survey has anything to do with an award. Rather, it is presented as a way for them to give honest, anonymous feedback on how they feel about their workplace.
“Top Workplaces is more than just recognition,” said Doug Claffey, CEO of Energage. “Our research shows organizations that earn the award attract better talent, experience lower turnover, and are better equipped to deliver bottom-line results. Their leaders prioritize and carefully craft a healthy workplace culture that supports employee engagement.”
Sound Community Services is a private, not-for-profit organization focused on educating, empowering, and creating opportunities for individuals with behavioral health and substance abuse diseases. Said another way, Sound Community Services works with the down and out, those who find it difficult, if not impossible, to help themselves. Their clients are neighbors and members of the community fighting addiction and people facing what seems at times to be insurmountable challenges.
The data collected by the Hartford Courant and Energage is impressive and objectively demonstrates why Sound Community Services received the honor but Gino DeMaio, CEO of Sound Community Services puts it simply and succinctly, “Sound Community is a great place to work because of each and every person who works here.” When you hear him say it, there is little doubt that he not only believes the employees are why the honor was bestowed but that he knows by seeing first-hand the way the agency goes about its business.
“This award came to us because of the countless small acts of kindness, skill and compassion that our team perform each and every day.”
By the nature of the job, no matter what that job may be in the organization, and by definition of its mission statement, the employees at Sound Community face an uphill battle every day and each of them serve a purpose to make lives better for those they serve, both in big ways but usually small. That is the message one repeatedly hears when speaking with DeMaio and Laura Hurlbirt-Brault, Vice President of Administration & Community Relations.
It wasn’t always this way. DeMaio says the award comes after several years of effort to strengthen the working environment at Sound Community Services. Shortly after beginning his stewardship as CEO he found that many employees were dissatisfied. Enacting efforts to gather honest and open feedback helped spur a variety of initiatives fostered by the organization’s leadership team and carried out by everyone at all levels of the organization. Today it is an exemplar in its field as how a non-profit social driven organization can be an oasis of inspiration for its employees.
One response in the effort to boost the workplace environment was a program in which employees receive regular e-mails that recognize client accomplishments, no matter how small. In these emails a client reaching one month of sobriety is celebrated along with another who reconnected with an estranged family member. These also reflect on the work the Sound employees have dedicated to their clients’ success and are a form of gratitude to the service they provide each day.
“It shows that the little thing you did may have been a singular moment in time, but it changed somebody’s life,” says Hurlbit-Brault. “We recognized that by simply sharing our small victories with each other a snowball effect occurs and that spirit of victory passes to our clients and strengthens their resolve to overcome the struggle they face no matter what it may be.”
Though DeMaio readily deflects credit for the majority of change in culture and places it squarely at the feet of the employees, Hurlbit-Brault says he has been an integral part of creating a positive workplace environment. She says that unlike many other organizations, the Sound Community Services CEO strives to know not only every employee but also each one of the clients they serve. The leadership team at Sound has also been integral in creating a positive work environment at Sound. “Our behaviors, language, actions are consistent with our mission and values, not only with clients but with coworkers and how we represent ourselves in the community,” Hurlbit-Brault says. “We lead from the heart and model the way.”
Sound Community Services regularly and earnestly solicits employee feedback, holds all-staff meetings, and otherwise works to keep employees aware of any news affecting the organization. The survey’s feedback (and the results of the Energage research) reflects that employees see the leadership at Sound Community Services as honest and trustworthy, and the organization as a place where they feel safe and welcome.
“We have all worked really hard on a culture where people thrive on transparency and honest feedback,” says Tamra Rodriguez, Vice President of Human Resources.
The “help up” doesn’t stop with the clients of the organization. DeMaio is particularly proud that Sound Community Services hosts a Leadership Academy for those employees aspiring to advance their careers, and that the organization works to promote employees internally and otherwise offers additional training and opportunities for advancement. The organization has a robust policy for its employees to take time off so that they can recharge and be ready to aid clients facing daunting odds.
“Becoming a Top Workplace isn’t something organizations can buy,” said Claffey of Energage. “It’s an achievement organizations have worked for and a distinction that gives them a competitive advantage. It’s a big deal.”
It is indeed a big deal. But when you ask those who work at this “Top Workplace”, the big deal is not the award. The big deal are all the little things that each one does to make a big impact on those who need it most.
More information about Sound Community Services can found at their website at SoundCommunityServices.org. If you have a friend or loved one who needs help call 860-439-6400.