Work-Life Notes From Rho

November 5, 2008
Marissa Shapiro

Applied Clinical Trials

A look into what life is like when working for a small contract research organization.

As you may or may not have seen in the current November issue of Applied Clinical Trials, three articles focused on the work-life issues at the FDA, a small CRO, and a large CRO. Here you will find an extension of that topic, which highlights the work-life elements at Rho, a small CRO based in Chapel Hill, NC.

Though the basics-benefit plans, workload, and job requirements-are critical to an employee’s work experience and satisfaction, factors such as a person’s social life, stress level, health, and family all become vital when considering that the average American worker spends about 1,916 hours per year at their job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/opub/cwc/cm20080722ar01p1.htm).

The basics
Though a basic benefits package isn’t sufficient in itself to sustain the highest employee satisfaction, it is certainly a necessity.

Those employees working 30 hours per week or more are allowed to enroll in Rho’s benefit plan, which includes full medical, dental, and vision coverage. These benefits are also accessible to the spouses, domestic partners, and children of these employees.

“Rho’s health and vision plan is 100% paid for by Rho for employees. For families, 35% of the health care premium costs are paid by company for employees with 1-4 years of employment, 50% is paid for by Rho for 5-8 years of employment and 100% paid by company for 9+ years of employment. Our dental plan is paid 100% by Rho for employees,” noted Laura Helms Reece, chief operating officer of Rho and member of the Board of Directors.

Extra incentives
Similar to ProTrials, another small CRO Applied Clinical Trials spoke with about work-life issues, Rho, currently with 329 employees, takes advantage of its size and uses it as an opportunity to offer its employees benefits and incentives that larger companies would be unable to do.  Of these special incentives, tuition reimbursement is offered and all employees have the opportunity to attend at least one professional development conference, seminar, workshop, or training annually.

“At Rho, we strive to hire exceptional people and provide a supportive environment where they can excel. Additional benefits help us attract those exceptional people,” said Reece.

Work-life balance
Helping employees maintain a balance between work and personal life seems to be a priority for Rho. Of the various incentives, paid maternity and parental leave for new parents is available, as well as phase-back work for new mothers and a lactation room for when they return. Following along this work-life balance mentality, employees also have the option of bringing their children to work on teacher workdays or school holidays.

“Over the last 12 months, 15 of our employees have had a child or adopted one.  Fourteen of those women have returned to Rho as full-time or part-time employees at the end of their leave.  Rho has nine employees who are currently pregnant, and we will have to work hard to retain those as well,” noted Reece.

Beyond building a family, some employees may just want to have the option of working a schedule that fits their lifestyle. For this, Rho offers a flexible work schedule, in which “employees can work any hours they choose, including compressed work weeks, part time, working from home, and telecommuting,” explained Reece.

“Those benefits…provide our employees the flexibility to take care of themselves and their families without sacrificing their high quality work,” Reece added.

Work and play?
Though the two seem mutually exclusive for the most part, Rho manages to integrate fun through activities such as an annual company summer picnic and an annual holiday party. The company also has its own basketball team, volleyball team, and it holds a golf tournament once a year.

Giving back
While direct benefits may be one way to please employees, they could also find gratification by giving back to others. So, occasionally companies offer employees the opportunity to give back through volunteer or charity work. Rho takes part in these types of activities by participating every March in the March of Dimes walk, where they do a large fundraiser and provide lunch on site. The company also has participated in a program through an organization, Rebuilding Together, where they have worked weekends to rebuild homes for low-income residents.            

Heightened health
In an attempt to encourage employees to better their health, the company incorporates programs focused on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. “We have offered Weight Watchers at work, which was subsidized by the company. We have also offered weekly yoga classes,” Reece added.

Why bother?
As a contract research organization, the trials Rho provides services for often last for several years. Over the length of time a trial can potentially last, sponsors want not only impeccable service, but also for that service to be consistent. This kind of service demands a solid and consistent team.

“We have 64 employees who have worked at Rho at least 5 years (19.5% of the company) and 18 who have worked at Rho at least 10 years (5.5%),” noted Reece. “Retaining great people is critical to our success.”

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