05/08/2019 | by

This fall, retail REIT Kimco Realty Corp. (NYSE: KIM) is relocating its headquarters to Jericho, New York. The new office, which is only eight miles away from the current space, will come equipped with state-of-the-art technology, standing desks, a free on-site gym, access to numerous food and daily living amenities, and other perks that are all expected to make a significant positive impact.

While the company is excited about the upcoming move, it’s the thriving social programs that make Kimco a great place to work, new office or not. Kimco’s human resources and executive teams have long been focused on growing the REIT’s social programs for employees, which today include everything from financial rewards for healthy living to college scholarships.

The HR department’s hard work was recently rewarded when Kimco received its Great Place to Work certification—a true affirmation that the bones of the REIT’s social programs are in place, and not an annual list it can be added to or an award that can be won. Certification is a several-step process, and the Great Place to Work organization provides participants with professional guidance along the way.

Will Teichman, Kimco’s vice president of business operations, says the REIT reviewed the certification process a year before they were ready to apply for the Great Place designation.

While Kimco has worked hard to build its social programs, “We wouldn’t have achieved the designation if we didn’t have a positive and collaborative culture,” says Kimco’s Vice President of Human Resources Leah Landro. In fact, one of the certification steps includes an employee survey through which companies must demonstrate a certain level of employee engagement and satisfaction. Kimco received high scores in all categories.

Human Resources Director Heather Medica emphasizes that, unrelated to Great Place to Work, employee sentiment has long been the driving factor behind much of what the HR team does when implementing social programs.

“We do really listen to our employees and are willing to pivot,” she says.

Ties to ESG

Kimco’s social programs tie into a much broader ESG strategy. Teichman was hired as the REIT’s first sustainability director in 2011, and part of his initial role was to quarterback the creation of Kimco’s formalized environmental, social, and governance (ESG) programs. A first step was identifying key stakeholders and their concerns, which formed the basis of the program and later the foundation of Kimco’s first corporate responsibility report.

“Despite the fact that a lot of the ESG conversation early on within the industry was focused on [environmental issues], there were several social issues that actually popped up high on the materiality scale overall,” says Teichman.

Some social issues were more significant than environmental issues, and Teichman says it helped Kimco set its overall ESG priorities. The continued enhancement of the REIT’s employee programs under the “social” umbrella of ESG has been a deliberate evolution, he says.

In the Beginning

Kimco’s programs have evolved over time, as the company sought and incorporated feedback from its employees, and new tools and offerings became available. Roughly 10 years ago, Kimco introduced Cause for Applause, a low-tech peer-to-peer employee recognition program. Fast forward to 2018 after results from the REIT’s biannual employee engagement survey showed that staffers wanted even more ways to recognize their colleagues’ exceptional work, and Kimco’s Bravo! program was born. Employees can now recognize each other socially via a digital platform, and points earned ultimately turn into dollars.

On the wellness side, the company’s HR department introduced a team-based step challenge in the summer of 2015 that encouraged employees to walk 10,000 steps per day for the whole summer. While the inaugural year’s rewards were nothing more than bragging rights and one day of paid time off, Landro says the program met with big success, with nearly 80 percent of its population participating. “Our employees really stepped up, no pun intended, so we certainly weren’t going to take our foot off the gas,” Landro said. The company now offers two step challenges each year, tracking devices for all employees, and a robust digital platform on which employees track not only steps but other healthy habits, including sleep and nutrition. In 2017, financial rewards were added to the program. Family members and friends are also able to join.

Kimco’s comprehensive wellness program, born out of the step challenge, also includes health screenings, flu shots, nutrition workshops, and financial and mental wellness aspects. Achievement in the step program earns employees “wellness days,” or extra paid days off.

Landro says while there is certainly a financial investment in launching and operating programs like these, the positive impact they have on morale and the health of employees is priceless.

“For us, it wasn’t about bringing down health care costs, although they have been positively impacted. It was really about the health and well-being of our associates,” Landro said.

Other benefits and programs Kimco offers include tuition reimbursement for employees, scholarships for their college-bound dependents totaling $100,000 annually, and numerous on-site and off-site training program and workshops. Kimco also takes volunteerism quite seriously and has invested in YourCause, an online volunteerism and charitable giving portal that helps employees identify causes. The REIT matches employee charitable gifts dollar-for-dollar up to $500 per year, and also offers employees two volunteer days off each year to volunteer with their favorite causes.

Lasting Effect

Landro admits that there is a lot of work involved in running so many social programs but says ideas are a collaborative effort at Kimco. The REIT is committed to supporting new programs to ensure morale and employee retention remain high. After all, she says, “a positive work culture leads to a sense of belonging among employees, and happy employees grow into future leaders. We will continue to always keep that front of mind.”