Research by Lee Health and Miami University of Ohio shows employees who volunteer for nonprofit organizations, join a sports league or church or find some other community or social interaction beyond the office are more likely to stay in Southwest Florida. They’re also happier with their jobs. Being engaged in the community is especially important for those who moved here for a job as well as for their spouses and children.
During the 18-month study led by Lee Health’s Yemisi Oloruntola-Coates, students enrolled in the university’s human capital analytics class surveyed and scrutinized the community involvement and happiness levels of Lee Health employees who relocated to Southwest Florida in the past five years. It found both work engagement and retention increased 32 percent for every 1 percent increase in social integration.
“The more integrated employees are in their communities, the happier they are,” said Mrs. Oloruntola-Coates, system director of diversity and patient care civil rights. “We also had a case study of an employee whose quality of life improved by engaging in the community. He found purpose outside of work.”
As Southwest Florida’s largest employer, Lee Health often fills openings by recruiting outside the area. During the last five years, it’s hired 6,000 employees who relocated, many from larger cities. Like the hospital system, many of the region’s largest employers have trouble filling certain positions. Arthrex, a Naples-based company which designs and manufactures medical devices for orthopedic surgeons, struggles with finding skilled machinists and often taps engineering and management talent from outside the area, said Alyssa Norus, associate recruitment specialist.
“People who have relocated here see the area much like a tourist does,” she said. “They need to find a purpose, a niche and it can be really hard. I was born and raised in Florida and I can only imagine what’s it’s like for someone coming here from out of state. It seems touristy, which makes it really hard to meet people.”
Lee Health’s findings created a great big ripple effect among the area’s eight largest employers and the Bonita Springs Estero Economic Development Council. Together they’re sponsoring the Great Big Community Involvement Fair, an event designed to introduce newcomers to volunteer and involvement opportunities in Southwest Florida. So far, nearly 40 groups — as varied as colleges and technical schools health and wellness organizations, nonprofit agencies, churches, community theaters, arts and culture groups, attractions and youth sports — have purchased booths for the April 26 fair at the Southwest Florida Performing Arts Center in Bonita Springs.
It’s not a job fair although Arthrex and other businesses plan to provide information about available positions. Sponsoring companies include Arthrex, Chico’s FAS, Collier County Public Schools, Gartner, Hertz, Lee County School District, Lee Health, NCH Healthcare System and Physicians Regional Healthcare System. They’re all encouraging employees and their families to attend, sending out emails, newsletters and brochures.
“We’ve talked about employee retention for years,” said Tiffany Esposito, executive director of the economic development council. “The target audience for the fair is people who have recently relocated to the area. We have a vested interest in getting people to stay.”
The BSEEDC took on coordinating the event following a presentation by Mrs. Oloruntola-Coates and Michelle Zech, Lee Health’s human resources business partner who’s actively involved in workforce development initiatives in Southwest Florida. Major employers jumped on board as did young professional groups actively trying to increase enrollment.
“People thought the fair was a good idea because their employees didn’t know how to get involved in the community,” Mrs. Oloruntola-Coates said. “For us, it brings the community to our employees who can pick and choose where they can become involved.”
“We had been thinking of adding an event because of our business partnerships role with workforce development,” said Ms. Zech. “We’ve been talking about engaging employees but it was difficult for Lee Health to do because of the manpower needed. The idea was born from us getting together with Yemisi and all getting on the same page. This is the first time we know about that the major employers in Lee and Collier County have gotten together for one project.”
Mrs. Oloruntola-Coates’ curiosity was piqued after hearing repeated concerns and complaints from transplanted employees and hiring managers. “They talked about the challenges with finding unique ways to engage employees in their new environment,” she said. “I wondered if this was pervasive among new hires who moved here from out of town.”
But even the happiest employees may end up leaving the area if their spouse and children feel isolated.
Mrs. Oloruntola-Coates knows from personal experience how a newcomer can experience community disconnect. She was what her own research calls a “trailing spouse,” moving here from New York City in 2004 for her spouse’s job. She wasn’t happy in her new community until she landed a job with the health system. Her position also engaged her in the community.
“It has enhanced my time here because I learned so much and met so many different people in the community,” Mrs. Oloruntola-Coates said. “That was an added value and it made a difference for me. It made me want to stay.”
By focusing on the entire family, the fair will show stay-at-home mothers available volunteering opportunities as well as programs for their children. It will also serve as a mixer, providing interaction between employees of the region’s largest businesses, noted Ms. Zech.
“Getting employees involved in the community is really important for us because Arthrex is very involved and committed to the community,” Ms. Norus said. “We encourage employees to get involved. The fair lets them see what else is here, meet people and feel fully integrated with Collier County.”
Arthrex, which employs 2,862 in its Southwest Florida and two California locations, often tries to place trailing spouses in the company. “If a spouse doesn’t feel like he or she has a purpose, the family may move back,” Ms. Norus said. “We want to keep our employees and their families happy.”
Nurturing happy employees and families will become even more important during the next decade with the anticipated workplace shift demanding more college graduates and certificate holders. So too will creating a homegrown workforce with the skills needed by local businesses. Southwest Florida Works, regional workforce development initiatives and other organizations are working collaboratively on programs to help traditional and nontraditional students succeed in post-secondary education and return to or remain in the area.
In her role, Mrs. Oloruntola-Coates responds to a variety of managers’ requests to improve engagement for newly arrived employees, sometimes even matchmaking.
“I’ve had managers ask me to find companions for employees because they were struggling a little and might leave,” she said.
Ms. Esposito expects the Great Big Community Involvement Fair to attract 50 agencies. The fair is from 4 to 7 p.m. to accommodate nine-to-fivers and employees who work the nightshift.
“We’re expecting success and hope for this to become an annual event geared to helping engage others in the community,” she said. “Being involved gives people a sense of home and place so they can build their lives here.”
“We are excited about this event,” said Mrs. Oloruntola-Coates. “We want employees to really embrace Southwest Florida and make this their home.” ¦
Great Big Community Involvement Fair
>> When: 4-7 p.m. April 26
>> Where: SWFL Performing Arts Center/ Teatro Ristorante, 11515 Bonita Beach Road South East, Bonita Springs
>> Info: 992-2943