New Coworker Orientation Signals Bright Outlook for Growth
Home Receives Two New Workplace Culture Awards
When training manager Niaira Marshall reflects on some of the organizations where she worked before Mercy Home, she thinks back to her experience with training. At other organizations, training usually consisted of a meeting with the human resources department and the shadowing of a coworker.
At Mercy Home, it was different. Here, they placed an emphasis on training and getting new coworkers to understand the importance of making a connection with not just the kids, but each other.
After stepping into the role of training manager at Mercy Home, Niaira is continuing that work. She conducted and helped manage a two-day new coworker training that began on April 26.
“This is one of those traditions that we’ve had for years,” Marshall said. “It’s a great time to create a community, (make) connections and start to already build those healthy attachments to the agency.”
April’s training was just the second time it was held in-person since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020. Last January, the training consisted of about 18 or 19 people. This time, we were pleased to onboard 24 new coworkers.
“Similar to the benefits of (working) in-person, having this training to build rapport and that face-to-face time with our VP’s and each other is vital,” Marshall said. “There’s a group dynamic where we didn’t get that online. It’s way more interactive.”
Preparing for these trainings isn’t taken lightly. Marshall and her supervisor, Meg Prahin, begin the preparation process two or three months in advance. They create folders and handouts for each participant to have a reference guide. They help create PowerPoint slides for the speakers. But most importantly, they carefully consider what information they need to focus on to ensure that all new coworkers come away with the best understanding about how all the pieces fit together.
But despite the hard work that goes into planning the trainings ahead of time, the 16-hour sessions for participants don’t begin with the exhaustive detail. Instead, Marshall and her team like to break the ice with an interactive game that gets the conversation started. Then, vice presidents of different departments share a little bit about their journey to Mercy Home and their role in the organization. Fr. Scott also addresses the group and shares a little bit about himself.
Cole Riley, a maintenance engineer at the Home, attended the training after starting earlier this year. While he felt knowledgeable about Mercy Home before, he now feels better connected to the people that he’s working for.
“I liked how they had each VP come in and talk,” Riley said. “That was not just informative, but it helps you understand where everyone stands in a hierarchy or who you may need to go to if you need something. There were so many people that I would say hi to and I don’t know who they are or what they do.”
Ja’Eisha Frierson, a day coordinator at the West Loop Campus, came to Mercy Home without knowing anyone. She had always heard that Mercy Home had been named one of the top places to work in Chicago by the Chicago Tribune for the past 11 years but wanted to know more about the work culture.
“Out of all the jobs that I’ve had, this is the first time that I’ve ever met the higher ups,’ Frierson said. “They were so relatable. It’s nice to put a face to the name.”
One of the more impactful moments for her was getting to know the youth care workers from the Walsh Campus and learning more about their perspectives. The first day concluded with a tour around the campus and the second day focused more on the policies and safety within the organization.
While this training has always been vital for encouraging a strong Mercy Home culture, it’s also a particularly important tool in retaining coworkers—something that’s even more important as the pandemic loses its grip over many areas of life and the Home works to bring back more young people into residential programs. The pandemic affected staffing at many organizations including Mercy Home. We currently have a good number of open positions, but filling our direct care roles impacts our ability to expand our residential youth population the most. If the number of participants in the latest new coworker orientation is any indicator, we look with great hope to carrying out our mission in the post-pandemic environment.
Marshall’s experience in the training department supports that hope. She said that while there was some loss of coworkers throughout the pandemic, she has seen a recent uptick in youth care workers since assuming her new position back in January. She’s onboarded more than 20 new employees and most of them, she said, were youth care workers.
Nonetheless, we are still looking to continue growing the ranks of our coworkers in all areas, and Marshall hopes that word-of-mouth and our reputation as a top workplace built around an inspiring mission will help.
“We’re fortunate and so blessed to have coworkers recommend this place,” Marshall said. “A lot of the onboarding I’ve done has been through recommendations. I think that also speaks to that connection, that community and that attachment piece. We’re able to advocate for our workplace and get some more people in.”
Mercy Home been named among the Chicago Tribune’s Top Workplaces for the past 11 years, an honor that’s rooted directly in an annual survey of our coworkers. Data from that survey also makes us eligible for the Top Workplace Program’s national “Culture Excellence Awards” each quarter within five areas. In 2021, for example, we were recognized for our training programs, something that should come as no surprise to Marshall and to those who participated in new coworker orientation. And just this spring, we were selected for honors in the areas of “Purpose & Values” and “Compensation & Benefits.”
Survey results year after year reveal a strong commitment to the mission that motivates coworkers throughout Mercy Home. The sense of purpose pervades all levels of the organization. No matter what the role, our coworkers say they feel that they play a part in helping young people build brighter futures.
The Compensation and Benefits honor reflects our commitment to remaining competitive with similar organizations in our area. Salaries at all levels are regularly reviewed and our coworkers speak positively about a raft of benefits that include not just health, dental, and vision insurance but also an employer match to the 403b retirement savings plan with a generous annual gift contribution, tuition reimbursement, and student loan repayment assistance. The Home also offers additional vacation days each year for direct care coworkers, as well as an on-site gym, free parking, and meals in our cafeteria.
“The yearly Top Workplaces Award is one of the things I’m most proud of about our organization,” said Mercy Home President & CEO Fr. Scott Donahue. “To be recognized among Chicago-area workplaces is a great honor. But to be cited among companies and nonprofits around the entire country in certain facets of our work is truly something to celebrate, and it’s something that we owe to the hard work and dedication of so many of my coworkers.”
The next new coworker training will be held in July and Marshall hopes that the numbers will be similar if not greater. But either way she’s going to spend the next few months working to foster the environment that makes Mercy Home so unique.
“This (training) is really special because essentially they are getting a really great feel for the workplace that they are working for,” Marshall said. “Oftentimes, you don’t get that when you start somewhere. When people feel safe and they feel confident, some of the best work happens. I think it really fosters the importance of why we do what we do and why they chose Mercy Home to begin with.”