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Heritage Christian brings ERN to Rochester

President and CEO Marisa Geitner explains how the collective sharing of resources helps to attract and keep workforce talent. More than 30 people from local companies return for corporate membership access to the newly launched Employer Resource Network in Rochester. (Provided)

President and CEO Marisa Geitner explains how the collective sharing of resources helps to attract and keep workforce talent. More than 30 people from local companies return for corporate membership access to the newly launched Employer Resource Network in Rochester. (Provided)

Any business that employs people (which is to say, nearly every business) is looking for a way to increase morale and boost productivity that doesn’t add extra weight to the personnel budget.

Take a moment and ask: Who in my company is looking out for my employees? Who is making sure they get support they need, when they need it, even when they’re off the clock?

Maybe it’s your front-facing office staff who can tell when someone had a rough weekend by the way they walk in Monday mornings, or maybe an employee in the warehouse is always willing to lend his or her ear to a troubled coworker. Maybe it’s you, the very person reading this!

When employees and leadership lift each other up on a regular basis, work can be a harmonious place. It doesn’t take long to realize, however, that even the kindest-hearted person in your organization has their own, you know, work to do while they’re accepting everyone else’s problems on their shoulders and serving as your local Mother or Brother Theresa.

When it comes to building and keeping successful, productive, satisfied employees, you don’t need a hero. You need a professional.

“The most important asset in any business is the people and the retention of that human capital,” said Nathan Mandsager, who oversees the New York State Employer Resource Network, an innovative, proven and fast-growing consortium of employers and experts.

Founded as a private-public partnership in Michigan in 2008, the Employer Resource Network (ERN) concept has expanded out of the Midwest, making its splash in New York in 2014. Since then, more than 40 businesses and 12,000 employees in the greater capital region have embraced ERNs and their exhaustive offerings of resources, training, education, referrals and direct engagement.

“We’re developing, mobilizing and deploying resources so we can help support employees as whole people, not just the hours they’re clocked in,” Mandsager said.

With explosive growth in Albany, Rensselaer and Schenectady counties came the attention of other regions of the state, which looked at the ERN as a way to tackle some of their toughest problems.

After hearing about the ERN concept while planning to create an internal success coach, Heritage Christian reached out earlier this year to work on setting up an ERN for the Rochester area.

“We’re always looking to do more for our employees and we’re very concerned about that,” said Dan Ross, Corporate Controller and Compliance Officer for Rochester’s Heritage Christian Services. “We all bring different backgrounds because of the different environments we grew up in and what works for me might not work for you. But if we’re able to provide a unique common resource and help navigate unique ways of getting through life — that’s what an employer should be doing.”

A premiere human services agency whose community impact programs reach more than 23,000 people each year, Heritage Christian Services for 35 years has offered residential services and much more to the greater Rochester area. The nonprofit organization counts roughly 2,600 employees among specialized fields including direct care, life skills assistance, education, advocacy and enrichment.

Heritage Christian’s impact on its clients and staff, however, goes far beyond what can be surmised from a list of program offerings.

“We’re a family to our people in a lot of ways,” said Ross, a three-decade Webster resident and St. John Fisher alum who has served as controller since 2008. “Everyone is very sincere in seeing the value of what they’re doing and there’s a very philanthropic feeling.”

For many organizations like Heritage who operate in the nonprofit sphere or with similar severe margins, the motivation behind the mission can only take so you so far. It’s a reality Ross says Heritage Christian faces every day.

Resources are limited and Heritage Christian often competes with fast food restaurants and Wal-Mart, whose respective $12.75 and $15 starting salaries price them out of the market. The labor shortage, Ross says, is a “really active topic.”

“Most of the people who work for us tend to be low-income earners and sometimes people don’t have the economic resources to get out of a situation, or they spend all their time working and are looking for someone to help them achieve certain goals,” Ross said. “We’re vying for the same employees, so how can we differentiate if we can’t compete on a dollars and cents level?”

When it comes to meeting employee social and emotional needs while also offering a valuable ancillary benefit, ERNs can kill two birds with one stone. In the case of Heritage Christian Services, when your business is people, it’s a positive feedback loop of results.

“When it comes to a service like direct care, you need employees to be focused on their job to provide the highest level of care to the client so they’re supported for the challenges they’re facing every day,” Mandsager said. “If I’m focused on how I’m going to pay my utility bill, I’m certainly not going to offer the best, highest level of care.”

That’s where your Success Coach comes in.

By deploying their highly trained roster of operatives with backgrounds in management, human resources and business, the ERN’s goal is to “change the culture, improve the culture and navigate struggles both external and internal.”

“We bring in Success Coaches who have a high level of approachability who can communicate at all different levels of the organization,” said Mandsager. “On any given day, they might be with an employee who is part of a front-line staff in tears because they’re losing their apartment and leave that meeting and go into a meeting with the HR Director or CEO on the line.”

By bringing in a Success Coach to engage with employees, businesses and organizations become part of a community dedicated to building up employees and providing guidance in major life events, as Mandsager noted, but also the more mundane but nevertheless pressing day-to-day issues like how to request time off or how to contact the right people at the Department of Social Services.

In addition to a hand up, Success Coaches also provide employees with the attention and dedication to teach skills rather than just provide a service.

“A key aspect is doing with employees, not doing for employees,” Mandsager said.

For more information on the New York Employer Resource Network, visit https://ern-ny.com.

Seth Wallace is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

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