Martha Stewart says workplace culture is a recipe for retention

LAS VEGAS — Strong workplace culture and a positive employee experience are two ingredients for creating a great place to work.

That’s according to TV personality and businesswoman Martha Stewart, who said it’s important to value and invest in employees if employers want to retain them. That's especially important since companies are challenged to find workers with unemployment remaining low and the war for talent raging on.

It’s imperative to value employees at all levels of an organization, she said.

“There are jobs for every kind of person,” she said Sunday, speaking at the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference in Las Vegas. “In our company, I valued the ladies who made the coffee and cleaned the kitchens as much as I value the executives sitting in the board and conference rooms.”

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Stewart founded media and merchandising company Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, which recently sold to brand licensing, acquisition and development company Marquee Brands. Stewart said the acquisition has taught her how HR plays a big role in helping workers adapt to change.

“You have to take it upon yourself to make sure everybody is in a good place,” she said. Good leaders in your HR departments prioritize listening, she continued. They will learn, accept change and focus on developing employees and your workplace culture.

It's crucial to reinvest in your workers and encourage them to stay up to date with current events — both in the news and on social media, she added.

“You have to keep abreast of what is going on and pay attention to it,” she said. “Not everything is good. Not everything is useful, but everything should be acknowledged.”

Having a well-written employee handbook also helps, she added. There is great value in defining company culture through this tool.

“It really helped people understand what the culture was,” she said. “You have to have that total understanding between you and the employees so they know what they’re in for.”

She also feels strongly about encouraging diversity in the workplace. Stewart, who spent five months in jail in 2004 on charges of obstruction of justice, stressed that it is important to reach out to prospective employees who may have a criminal record. The message dovetails with SHRM’s recent initiative, Getting Talent Back to Work, which focuses on getting those who were previously incarcerated back into the workplace.

“I learned a lot in those five months,” she said of her time in a federal prison in Alderson, West Virginia. "Making the best of such a horrible event in one's life — it's hard. You must have the inner strength to look forward and not back."

In addition to second chances, she said ageism is playing a role in the loss of talent. The average age of employees at her company is 30, and Stewart said she particularly values the opinions of younger workers who bring a fresh perspective.

“I had always liked working with younger people,” she said. “Embrace the young, embrace what they bring to the party and learn from them while teaching them the old tricks.”

But it’s not just about the younger employees, she also advocates to keep workers from retiring before they’re ready.

“I think that’s such a waste of talent,” she said. She encouraged companies to rethink their bylaws and encourage workers to continue their careers.

“[The employee’s] knowledge and what they can contribute is invaluable,” she added. “[Employers lose] that institutional knowledge they take away with them when forced into retirement.”

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