Company realizes happy employees are better employees


March 04, 1991|By Ellen James Martin

Last month, as war raged in the Persian Gulf, a Baltimore man learned that his son, a sailor in the conflict, would be rotated home for a couple of days' leave before going on to another mission.

The father, a quality-control manager, asked his company for time off to see his son. And his employer, Baltimore Specialty Steels Corp., immediately granted his request.

"The more stability our employees have, the better off is our business," explains Darrell Butler, director of industrial relations.

Employees who have faced special needs as a consequence of the war or recession will not soon forget that the company helped them, Mr. Butler insists. "It definitely has an impact on their performance in the workplace," he says.

Like many employers, Baltimore Specialty Steels, a stainless steel producer, has had no particular program to address employee needs during a war or recession. But it has tried to be sensitive to their anxieties and encourages them to use its employee assistance program.

"We don't possess the expertise to deal with a lot of those matters, and we'd much rather have them seek help from a third party," says Mr. Butler, noting that the company has an EAP contract with Ellicott City-based Changing Point. An EAP provides employees with confidential counseling and referrals to address personal problems.

Even though Baltimore Specialty Steels has an EAP to deal with its employees' acute problems, supervisors have been instructed to sensitively handle concerns brought to them by employees.

"The first thing we try to do is listen patiently and serve as a sounding board. Very often what people want you to do is just to listen," Mr. Butler says.

Mr. Butler estimates that dozens of its 800 employees have close relatives serving in the Persian Gulf. In addition, the company's employees have faced financial problems during recent furloughs; there are fears of future furloughs as well.

Although employees have been going through a difficult phase with the recession and the war, not all corporate news is bad.

Given that some steel the company produces is used to make weapons, employees felt their work took on special significance during the war, according to Mr. Butler. And that sense of having a mission has boosted morale.

Mr. Butler says, "I'm seeing a camaraderie I've never seen in our people before."

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