Target hires counselors to help employees

Target logo on a storefront

TEXT OF STORY

JEREMY HOBSON: While we're talking about big box retailers, here's a problem many of them face especially those in the inner-city -- high turnover and absenteeism. But instead of getting tough, some stores have gotten a social worker.

Marketplace's Jeff Tyler explains.


Jeff Tyler: For the past two years, this Target store in East Los Angeles has its own workplace counselor -- Rosana Trivino-Perez. Her job is sort of a social worker crossed with a reference librarian.

Rosana Trivino-Perez: It's like a concierge service of needs that can be addressed. And they can come to me. It's a one-stop shop.

These aren't your normal workplace issues. More private, personal stuff, like domestic violence, or teen pregnancy or health issues.

Trivino-Perez: Those things tend to keep them away. They don't know how to resolve it. They don't know what other resources they have -- home, health, any other subsidy.

And with the recession, more employees are facing financial problems like bankruptcy or foreclosure.

Richard Chaifetz: They're spending time at work trying to contact banks or credit card companies. Or lawyers. Or they're just missing work because these things are so overwhelming to them that they can't even focus on their job.

That's Richard Chaifetz, founder and CEO of ComPsych, the firm that supplies counselors to Target and other companies.

Chaifetz: They want to target the issue of turnover in the stores and the best way, we felt, to address that was by resources on-site for these people. For financial counseling, emotional counseling, legal counseling.

Now, you might ask, aren't these the kind of issues that the HR department could handle? Chaifetz says no.

Chaifetz: Because of issues of confidentiality, a lot of employees are not comfortable going to an HR person with these personal issues.

Adding a counselor does mean an extra expense. But in the long run, that position could save the company money.

Steve Laffery is director of health benefits for Target. He credits counselors for lowering workplace accidents by 24 percent and boosting attendance 17 percent. Investing in a counselor essentially paid off, in terms of better employees.

Laffery: They're more productive. We have lower turnover. We have better guest service scores. Those are all business metrics that turn into better results.

Employee loyalty may become even more valuable in the months ahead -- as the economy improves, and workers start getting other offers.

I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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