International Day: Give Thanks and Decrease Turnover

November 16, 2008 - by: Diversity Insight 0 COMMENTS

November is anchored by the Thanksgiving holiday, but it also contains the United Nations’ International Day for Tolerance  making it the perfect time to thank your diverse group of employees, and celebrate their differences.

That’s what Henry Schein’s Indianapolis Distribution Center does every year around this time. “In 2004, in part arising out of a comment from one of our Team Schein members, we held our first ‘International Thanksgiving Day’ with the intent of paying tribute to the exceptionally strong workforce our diversity has provided us,” says Jay Price, director of operations at the distribution center.

And the warehouse staff is indeed diverse: Over a decade ago, the healthcare products distributor began tapping into the workforce of educated, first generation immigrants in Indianapolis. Today, they operate a United Nations workforce from 34 countries, including Russia and its satellite countries, Philippines, Spain, Japan, Vietnam, India, Israel, and Central America.

Every year, the company encourages those 275 employees to dress in clothing from their native countries and to bring food native to their country for a potluck. This year’s celebration will do the same, again celebrating the company’s gratitude for the people who’ve stayed in exceptional numbers.

“Physical distribution employment is often marked by heavy turnover, with many applicants seeking work until they determine what they really want to do,’” Price says. “We feel the vast majority of our team have found a home in our team and see their coworkers as family. In a business endeavor where an exceptionally high level of service and value marks the centerpiece of our success as a service provider, the sense of team and purpose shown by our team members every day is a competitive advantage that would be hard to replicate.”

What International Day Involves

Employees in the warehouse work a succession of shifts beginning at 5:30 a.m. and running through midnight. International Day features lunch sittings at three different times, during which folks put on the clothing they bring, pose for photos, and interact with their fellow team members. The company also holds a “tasting” in which participants sample dishes from the various countries and offer prizes.

All of this takes place in the warehouse, where the flags of 34 countries are displayed high up in the rafters of the building. “When we first began displaying a flag for the country of each first-generation team member, we thought the practice would be appreciated but probably not seen as terribly important,” Price says. “Most Americans have grown up able to see their flag every day, and while proud, probably tend to get accustomed to it. For folks who’ve left their home country to travel to the United States , the chance to see their countries’ flags displayed respectfully in their workplace has been exceptionally well and warmly received.”

Almost everyone participates in International Day, Price says, adding that “most importantly, their interaction and pride show in our successful integration of many cultures from many countries, in a team who genuinely appreciate and respect each other.”

The sense of team arising out of these and other events is good for business, Price says. “Said in short form, any business such as ours can buy the best equipment. Assembling a quality team that sees a real opportunity to affect the success of our business is a tougher task in most distribution businesses,” he says. “Henry Schein’s ability to attract and retain excellent, well-educated team members is a major asset which we’re grateful for every day.”

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