When it comes to the associate experience at West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee Inc. Chairman of the Board, CEO and President Randy Edeker doesn’t mince words.
“I want Hy-Vee to be the best place to work in America,” he says, “and then I realized that that’s not going to just happen by saying it. We’ve got to analyze every practice that we have and become better at it. … We started tearing apart our benefits; we started looking at everything people were doing. We have a massive list of things that we have changed, benefits that we’ve added. Tuition assistance: You know, you can get $10,500 to go to school each year. We have 100 of those that we give away. Every employee can get $3,500 to go back to school every single year. We went in, we expanded part-time benefits, added part-time insurance in many areas. We expanded our 401(k) to make it richer and better. We removed insurance waiting periods.”
Another key associate benefit is in the area of discounts.
“One of the things that we added was a 10% discount for groceries for all of our employees across the board,” notes Edeker. “And I throw in a 20% discount for holidays, so like Thanksgiving, Christmas. The Super Bowl, I threw a 20% discount out for our employees.”
On Feb. 22, on the occasion of Supermarket Employee Day, the grocer offered associates 40% off on all foodservice so they could treat themselves and their families to a ready-made meal.
The company has also spent “millions and millions” of dollars on bonus pay for employees, according to Edeker, and not just during the darkest days of the pandemic.
“We’ve put in a department-head bonus structure,” he explains. “We already had a part-time bonus structure in place. My goal for our full-time people in the company is our bonus structure’s based off their results of their stores that they will all get a 10% bonus every quarter on top of their wage, on top of incentive pay.”
Further, Hy-Vee has instituted premium pay for holidays.
All of these offerings, although they predate COVID-19, have become even more important in light of it as the company continues to evolve its culture.
“That’s the thing I’ve been trying to get us to focus on, is how do we culturally shift?” muses Edeker. “I want us to be the best place to work. And so I think benefits are part of it, I think giving our employees a voice and letting them hear from us. So it goes back to communication. I think all those things will stay in place because they were happening not because of the pandemic; they were happening because we’ve chosen to change those things anyway.”
On the contentious subject of raising the federal minimum wage, he observes: “My hope personally is that everybody can make $15 an hour. I mean, who doesn’t want that, right? But we have to be able to afford it, and it has to be able to work into the system. There’s just [the] sheer economics of it that when you increase costs in the grocery business with very slim margins, then cost gets passed off. That’s just the reality and economics of retail. And so, yeah, I want everybody to have everything they want and to be taken care of. … I hope that we can pay everybody $15 an hour. We just have to figure out economically how we’re going to do that. And then I think for cities to step in and just mandate it to one retail sector and not to another — I just don’t think that’s the role of government to pick winners and losers.