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November 19, 2018
People, Workplace

It's the time of year where people pause to reflect on the past year and feel grateful for all they have, whether it's family, friends, a warm home, their health or a job. 

At Pepper, we encourage a culture of appreciation every day. We've learned the words "thank you" can go a long way – publicly or even in private. In fact, this month we celebrated each other with thank you notes, where each employee was given a stack of cards and encouraged to recognize the contributions of their colleagues. The cards even crossed offices and jobsites.

As companies seek creative ways to attract and retain their employees, we've found the most meaningful investments we can make are 1) authentic to who we are and 2) personal to each team member. Our employees are most motivated by the fundamental opportunities and supportive environment they experience each day, even over the unique perks like chair massages, take your dog to work and team lunches. So, what are those everyday commitments? We focus on career development, work-life balance, individual recognition and building relationships. Here's what that looks like at Pepper: 

Investing in career development

According to LinkedIn's 2018 Workplace Learning Report, 94 percent of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career, and the No. 1 reason employees feel held back from learning is because they don't have the time. 

Pepper Indiana invests in the construction industry and its people with the Leadership Development Program.
Pepper employees learn valuable tools while building connections with their coworkers in the Leadership Development Program.

You can't get more personal than supporting someone's long-term career growth through education and programs designed to help them advance. Further, employee development is increasingly valuable in today's job market. According to the Indiana Chamber Foundation's Annual Employer Survey, about 47 percent of Indiana employers said they've left jobs unfilled because of the lack of qualified applicants. Some companies are hesitant to give too much to their employees out of fear they will move on somewhere else. However, we've found investing in employee development and rewarding them with the next step in their careers turns them into loyal team members – and helps us attract others with the right skill sets to fill the open positions their promotions create. 

Good employees have a desire to learn and grow. I've experienced first-hand how Pepper encourages that curiosity with plenty of continuing education opportunities, from our onboarding training plan and position-specific training curriculum to e-learning, tuition reimbursement and more. This has been the path of my own career. I started as a project assistant and through education and development, moved into a role within human resources, where today I serve as Director of Human Resources and on the senior management team. I never expected to take this journey, but the encouragement from Pepper to leverage my skill sets, autonomy to grow, constructive feedback and praise propelled me through my career. I'll be forever grateful to Pepper for the opportunities they have given me.

Encouraging work-life balance

During the recession, employers were in a position of needing to do more with less. Employees were asked to step up, and many got burned out in the process. All work and no play can wear a person down, and at Pepper, we saw it with even our most resilient team members. Yet, they stuck it out, just happy to have a job.

Now that the economy has changed, companies still expect high productivity. And those of us who really care about the health and well-being of our team also want our people to be happy. After all, in this highly competitive job market, good employees now have plenty of options if they're feeling unsatisfied. We believe the two can work together.

Pepper 25 celebration

Our people expect to work hard. That's why in addition to giving them freedom to be engaged in the community, attend their kids' games or attend to other needs at home, we also find ways to help our team blow off a little steam while at work. It comes in many forms – gift cards, giveaways, ice cream socials, holiday parties, group outings – in both the office and the field. It's not about molding ourselves to be a "fun" company to work for, but it's about flexibility and creating a culture that values our people. And work-life balance is one of the top reasons people choose to come to Pepper.

Recognizing our team in little ways

The Indiana University Health Employee Assistance Program encourages supervisors to think of the workplace as having a "climate." What contributes to a positive climate? Our positive contributions start with the recognition of our people before new hires even show up for their first day of work. We're excited about them joining our team and send an internal email so our people can welcome them on their first day. 

From there, we never stop recognizing our team's accomplishments, whether it's a promotion, milestone anniversary, a certification, good deed or anything that warrants acknowledgment. Our size also allows the acknowledgement to come from the top. Even small accomplishments are visible to an engaged president and leadership team, and that encouragement often trickles down to others.

Building connections

Finally, employee development isn't just about the training. Our Pepper Connection program introduces newcomers to their peers and encourages people to get involved with organizations like Indiana Subcontractors Association, Associated General Contractors and other industry groups, as well as community organizations. When people feel connected, sharing experiences and expertise naturally happens. 

Intern project tour

For some, that means paying it forward and becoming involved with the ACE Mentor Program, where industry professionals serve as mentors to high school students and encourage them to pursue careers in construction. We also offer high school and college internships – with the hope that it results in future employees – and the consolation that at the very least it helps develop our industry. 

Being flexible and consistent

This industry is constantly evolving, and we have to be willing to make adjustments to support how teams work today. Pepper's founding leaders figured out early on that people are the key to our success and achieving our goals. How we complete tasks, teach or communicate may change, but our commitment to our people never will. 

When people reflect on the things for which they are most thankful, often it's the factors that are constant in their lives – that are easy to take for granted and also unwaveringly faithful. When you think about it, a genuine culture of thanksgiving is expressed every day, not by special campaigns or programs but by the way we work with each other.  

About the Author


Deana Applegate, PHR, SHRM-CPVice President, Human Resources, Indiana

Deana Applegate joined Pepper Construction in 1998 in project administration and began her career in human resources in 2005. As vice president of human resources for Pepper Indiana, she oversees all hiring and training efforts, as well employee relations and developing and implementing human resource strategic initiatives. She is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management, both the Indianapolis and national chapters, and holds a Bachelors of Science in Human Resources and Management from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.