13 finalists made the cut this year.
Congratulations to all of our 2021 Best Places To Work in Direct Selling Honorees!
- Nu Skin
- Noonday Collection
First Time Winners
- The Happy Co.
The best places to work put a lot of stock in employee engagement, and for good reasons. High levels of employee engagement can have a profound and measurable difference on the bottom line, positively affecting morale, retention and loyalty, their quality of life outside the office and employees’ health and safety, as well as company productivity, sales, profitability, product quality and customer service.
Best of all, high engagement has a spillover effect. Engagement is difficult to fake. Consumers can sense when employees aren’t being genuine and, according to Quantum Workplace, 7 out of 10 of them will spend 13 percent more with a company that provides excellent customer service.
As direct sellers, we’re always looking at ways we can raise the bar on the personalized service we extend to independent distributors and their customers. Our ability to do that effectively depends in large part upon our employee engagement efforts—a job that has become considerably more difficult with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
For more than a decade, Quantum Workplace, an employee engagement software company, has been conducting in-depth surveys with organizations throughout the world, representing nearly every industry sector, in an effort to measure employee engagement. Organizations who know where they stand can make an effort to focus more intensively on the drivers and address the detractors of employee engagement.
The last 12-plus months have disrupted the global economy, the workplace and the home. Our industry is no different from any other from the standpoint that we’ve had to pivot to a predominantly virtual model. Inevitably, this change in work environment has made employee engagement a much more challenging proposition, especially for those companies unaccustomed to remote working arrangements.
Direct Selling News has once again partnered with Quantum Workplace to measure, analyze and, ultimately, honor the industry’s best places to work. The contest is open to any direct selling company in North America with more than 40 employees.
For the purposes of our 2021 Best Places to Work in Direct Selling survey, Quantum compared our survey results with all other Best Places to Work survey results, then held them up against the top three overall Best Places to Work results. Finally, Quantum compared the results of this year’s direct selling surveys against last year’s. We opened nominations August 17, began surveying the submissions October 26 and closed the survey December 18.
This time around, the survey generated 20 percent more participating employees from the direct selling sector, and the results indicated a 3 percent increase in overall engagement score for the direct selling industry. Thirteen outstanding companies made the cut for our 2021 finalists. While each brought unique characteristics to the table, what they shared was a strong commitment to employee engagement. Their success suggests that investing the time and resources necessary to foster engagement and trust long before a crisis will enable your employees and your organization to adapt more quickly when circumstances demand it.
Here are some top-line takeaways from the direct selling survey analysis:
- While the percent of highly engaged employees increased by roughly 8 percent since 2020 for direct selling companies, that figure still lags 6.2 percent behind the national average.
- Since 2020, the direct selling industry saw an increase in favorability in several areas—most notably, perceptions related to recognition, career development and confidence in the future, all of which increased significantly.
- “If I contribute to the organization’s success, I know I will be recognized” increased 9 percent.
- “I see professional growth and career development opportunities for myself in this organization” increased 8 percent.
- “I believe this organization will be successful in the future” increased 8 percent.
- Regardless of company size, direct selling employees have confidence in the people with whom they work most closely and trust that their managers care about them.
- Regardless of company size, direct selling employees are less favorable toward questions related to change management, fair pay, growth and development, and performance expectations. As is common, larger organizations tend to be less engaged with lower favorability when compared with smaller organizations. Large direct selling companies fall behind medium companies on most of the survey questions—28 out of 30 standard items, to be exact.
- However, large direct selling organizations are slightly more favorable when it comes to confidence in the future. More than 90 percent of employees at large organizations say they believe their companies will be successful in the future compared with 88 percent at medium-sized organizations. This perception may be driven by cultural and economic impacts related to COVID-19—that is, these employees trust that their companies can weather the storm and survive the pandemic. Employees at smaller organizations may tend to be less confident overall.
- At medium-sized direct selling organizations, employees are significantly more likely to say they trust their companies to treat everyone fairly. More than 90 percent of employees at medium-sized companies believe their organizations will treat everyone fairly, compared with 83 percent of employees at large direct selling companies. Questions related to diversity, equity, and inclusion have been among the hottest topics for executive teams in 2020 and 2021; organizations are keenly aware of the importance of these items, and many are focusing efforts at improving and enhancing perceptions here.
- Employee engagement has increased significantly for the direct selling industry overall since 2020. Roughly two-thirds of all participating employees are measuring as Highly Engaged (67 percent). In 2020, 59 percent measured as Highly Engaged.
- Perceptions related to recognition and career development increased the most. These two areas have increased by nearly 10 percent since 2020. Sixty-nine percent of direct selling employees see opportunities for growth and development (up 8 percent since 2020), and 70 percent believe they will be recognized for their efforts (up 9 percent since 2020).
- Perceptions of diversity, equity, and inclusion vary by organization size. Medium-sized direct selling organizations were considerably more likely to score highly when employees were asked to consider perceptions of fair treatment. Specifically, 92 percent of medium-sized companies said everyone is treated fairly at their companies, compared to 83 percent at large-sized direct selling organizations.
Quantum Workplace’s report, The Impact of COVID-19 on Employee Engagement, collected data from more than 470,000 employees from over 6,000 organizations, including direct sales companies, between Jan. 1 and May 12, 2020.
The report found that when COVID-19 began to spread throughout the United States in early January, employee engagement dipped from 78 percent Highly Engaged to 70 percent Highly Engaged in mid-February, then rebounded to 83 percent Highly Engaged after U.S. restrictions were instituted in late March. This spike represented an 11 percent increase in engagement levels during the same period in 2019. To what can we attribute this bounce upward? Quantum theorizes that during times of economic downturn when friends and family members are losing their jobs, those who are still lucky enough to be employed are finding a renewed appreciation for their jobs and their employers. Communication also is key here: Those companies who communicated early and often—and who, through words and actions, prioritized their employees’ health, well-being, safety and work/life balance—saw a year-over-year improvement in employee engagement.
As we consider the 13 Best Places to Work in Direct Selling, several highlights emerge that clearly have contributed both to their high levels of employee engagement and their resiliency during a challenging year.
Strong Culture that Preceded the Pandemic
It turns out that companies who communicate and live by a steadfast set of principles from the beginning may not only be able to weather the storm like the one we’ve been enduring, they may even emerge stronger when the winds settle.
“In a challenging year, this became our unifying message: Be grateful for our jobs and families, and be there for our distributors,” says James Roh, Chief Human Resources Officer at SeneGence. “Leveraging technology allowed us to maintain high engagement in a safe and responsible manner—albeit in a virtual setting—including onboarding new hires, weekly townhalls with the president, regular wellness check-ins, and increased learning and development online.”
One of the most rewarding payoffs for any company investing in a strong culture is the growth of cultural ambassadors among its employee base. “Employees who have loved our culture in the past and recognized it’s not something to take for granted have worked hard to do things that maintain and even build the USANA culture,” notes Paul Jones, Chief Leadership Development Officer.
Communication, Communication, Communication
A study conducted by MIT Sloan Management Review, the results of which were published in October 2020, analyzed what 500 companies did during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, including how well and how often their respective leadership teams communicated with employees. The top-scoring 50 companies “excelled at transparent leadership, effective top team (senior leadership) communication, and clearly communicating strategy throughout the organization, and they fared well in employees’ general assessment of transparency throughout the company.
Transparency is everything. While the mantra “business as usual” may provide a brief moment of reassurance, companies who acknowledge in frank terms the reality of a crisis like this one—both through their words and through their actions—reap the rewards with respect to employee engagement. “Being clear, transparent, and authentic as we navigated through the changes has created increased trust throughout our organization,” USANA’s Jones says. “People could feel that we had their backs with all of the uncertainty around them.”
“One of our mantras is we shoot each other straight,” says Michele Oborn Virchow, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at LifeVantage. “Being transparent with our employees, especially during the pandemic, has been key to keeping our employees feel connected. We’ve found it important to reinforce the relationships between employees and their supervisors. It’s been a stressful time for employees, [so] we’ve expected managers to be very understanding and check in with employees frequently, so they feel supported as much as possible.”
“At the early stages of the pandemic, Noonday leadership was vulnerable and forthcoming about the uncertain financial and operational outlook,” says Travis Wilson, President and CEO at Noonday Collection. “While refraining from making ungrounded promises, Noonday leadership did commit to putting people first in all decision-making. The executive leadership team was in regular contact with managers and the team at large. Regular, relevant, and personalized communication proved essential.”
Openness to Change/Agility
The MIT Sloan Management Review also found that top-performing companies responded to environmental changes with more agility than their 450 counterparts; “employees in the leading companies were more positive about their employer’s focus on the external strategy despite market changes.” Prior to the COVID pandemic, says Modere HR Director Shanna Whiting, “we felt very strongly about having team members together in a central location. As time has passed and we’re now at a year in this remote work shift, we now realize that we are just as productive working remotely, and this arrangement works for a lot of our team members. This has allowed us to expand our candidate pool for recruiting into other states and areas in the U.S.”
At SeneGence, HR provided managers the opportunity to learn and develop new skills and best practices online, including several that addressed modern challenges like practicing effective communication in virtual settings and how to coach and provide constructive feedback. Noonday moved from an annual goal setting and appraisal cycle to a quarterly one and instituted a new weekly rhythm of reflection and assessment to encourage employees to assess their likelihood of delivering on their goals on a weekly basis.
Plexus hired more than 100 new team members in 2020, most of whom haven’t yet set foot in the company’s headquarters. “This required us to redesign the new hire orientation program for the virtual environment. We mailed Plexus swag to people’s homes and created many opportunities where they could hear from the executive team. The feedback we continue to receive from our newest team members is fantastic,” says Mary Beth Reisinger, Chief Human Resources Officer.
“We definitely proved that we could accomplish a lot while working in a virtual environment,” says Amber Olson Rourke, Co-Founder and Chief Sales & Marketing Officer at Neora. “Regardless of the physical work location, as long as we are focused on our key objectives, we can get the job done. In the future, I see us creating a good blend of a flexible virtual working environment that also includes enough in-person time to build the relationships and synergy that are hard to re-create virtually.”
Commitment to Learning
According to Harvard Business Review (January-February 2018), “In a dynamic, uncertain environment, in which organizations must be more agile, learning gains importance.”
USANA recognized this early in the pandemic. Its HR department moved the company’s library of interactive leadership and development courses online, and “we’ve also encouraged everyone to find and join any webinars or online conferences they feel would be helpful to them professionally. When people are learning and growing, they tend to be more fulfilled and positive,” Jones says.
The last 12 months have been the ultimate learning experience, revealing inherent strengths as well as opportunities for companies in our industry. “We underestimated our organization’s capability to complete our work and excel in a time of crisis. Our people have proven that Nu Skin is ready for and will reshape the future of the employee experience with much more flexibility. We moved five to eight years in our adaptability in only one year of lockdown,” says Jeff Bettinger, Nu Skin’s Chief Human Resources Officer.
Commitment to Recognition
In 2020 it was probably more important than ever to lift and encourage employees. “2020 was not a year for red-carpet pageantry,” Noonday’s Wilson says. “It was tangible demonstrations of care and concern that allowed team members to feel seen and valued.”
Noonday began sending team members restaurant gift cards to employees on their respective birthdays. In place of its in-office product line launch lunch celebrations, it gave team members the opportunity to purchase lunch on the company and then join Zoom to celebrate employees’ collective hard work.
Plexus started its very first book club, offered employees online workout classes and mental health resources, and several opportunities to volunteer virtually. As part of its effort to recognize exceptional performance, the company also promoted nearly 25 team members into new roles.
Modere held a drive-by soup lunch for its employees. “It gave us a chance to say hello and interact, even if for only a minute with our employees,” says Whiting. “We have an amazing team, and facing this challenge together has brought us even closer together. We’ve been able to get to know each other on a different level.”
SeneGence held a Halloween costume contest, its first Thanksgiving “drive-through” lunch and food drive, and a week of holiday contests, raffle prizes, and a toy drive for local charities.
The direct selling industry must be prepared for post-pandemic life, when unemployment decreases and employees may be more willing to consider new opportunities. In its 2020 Employee Engagement Trends Report, Quantum states that “it is difficult to predict the extent to which our experiences will return to normal (or what our new normal might be). But we do expect that the fundamentals of employee engagement and employee success will remain constant. Organizations will still need to attract and select the best talent—and ensure that those high performers are engaged and contributing to business success. Employee engagement is more important now than it ever was in pre-pandemic times.”