vicki powers
freelance writer

A Laboratory for Work/Life

HR Innovator, July/August 2004

by Vicki Powers

What started out as a business on the family farm in 1961—with its founder's children at play in the workplace—has grown into a company with more than 700 employees. Today, Lancaster Laboratories still follows that family approach—with its benefits, workplace culture, and on-site intergenerational center for children and adults. And Margaret Stoltzfus, manager of human resources and safety, has been a part of this effort for nearly 20 years.

Stoltzfus credits Earl Hess, company founder and president until 1995, who imparted the vision and values when he built the company, a Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based provider of chemical and biological laboratory services. He instilled those values in his management team and served as a strong role model to management, employees, and Stoltzfus personally.

"Earl had a high respect for employees-not just while they were at work," Stoltzfus remarks. "He knew they had lives outside of work and cared about that, too, by wanting to help them balance it all.
"His philosophy was if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your clients, and your company is going to succeed," Stoltzfus continues. "I was given the opportunity and the support to implement these innovative programs."

A Pioneering Move

Back in the mid-1980s, Lancaster Labs' workforce comprised more than 60 percent women. Twenty-five percent of its 100 employees said they expected to start a family within five years, according to survey results. Lancaster quickly realized it needed to do something drastic to retain these them, and on-site child care sounded attractive to those employees-a pioneering move back in 1985.

"Other HR professionals throughout Lancaster County raised their eyebrows about what we were doing," Stoltzfus says. "They didn't understand it and didn't think it would work based on concerns about liability and keeping employees focused with their kids here. They came back a few years later and recognized the success we had and realized they needed to do something as well."

In 1986, the organization partnered with an external child-care center provider, and Lancaster renovated its office space for the on-site center. Lancaster Laboratories Child Care Center opened in August 1986 with a license for 29 children. Numbers gradually increased as employees' families grew.

Stoltzfus says Lancaster Laboratories was the third company in the United States providing on-site child care. Now, it offers a licensed program for 161 infants to school-age children, in addition to full-day Kindergarten and summer daycare. The organization subsidizes the center each year, and employees receive a discount averaging 25 percent.

Before Lancaster added its on-site child care program, many first-time moms quit working to stay home or moved to another organization, according to Lancaster's president, Wilson Hershey. This caused quite a bit of turnover. Today, turnover is 8 percent companywide, absenteeism is lower, and 96 percent of its new moms return to work in three months.

"Some people say Earl Hess made a decision with his heart, which is true, but there certainly was a business reason right beside that," Hershey says. "I believe it makes sense to be family friendly and employee friendly. If employees can concentrate and work without distractions, they will be better employees."

Stoltzfus says Lancaster has never required the bureaucracy and spread sheets that some companies require to prove ROI on its HR efforts. It knows it has the retention, and the numbers don't have to be proven.

"We've had employees seek us out because of the programs in place-just because of what it says about the company-whether they need those benefits or not," Stoltzfus adds.

Lancaster also is the only company to boast a day care for elderly adults right alongside its child care center. Lancaster Generations Adult Day Care Center opened in late 1991 with space for up to 40 individuals. More community members are currently enrolled rather than employees' family members, but it's providing a necessary niche that employees may need at any time in the future. This intergenerational facility offers a truly remarkable benefit for both the children and adults as they join together for events and activities. The adults' eyes light up when the kids come in for "Show and Tell" or sing-a-longs.

Great Place to Work

Lancaster Laboratories has earned a spot on Working Mother's "Top 100 Companies for Working Mothers" list for 11 years. It earned "Top 50 Best Places to Work in Pennsylvania" for two years as well as numerous other awards. How does Lancaster Laboratories create such a great place to work? Much of it involves communicating with employees through surveys and focus groups to determine their wants and needs.

"Communication is certainly one of the top drivers for us earning commitment and loyalty from employees," Stoltzfus relates. "Surveys have been very valuable to get that input and learn what employees need and create programs in response to those needs."

Lancaster administers a benefits survey every couple of years and has conducted focus groups off and on for many years. It held a round of focus groups in 2003 asking employees what would make the workplace more enjoyable. One survey outcome resulted in an onsite ATM machine.

The organization also sponsors a "Great Place to Work" committee that is represented by employees throughout the company. This group meets regularly to focus on making Lancaster a great place to work by planning activities that reach a wide variety of employees. One of the most memorable events to date is Lancaster Labs' 40th anniversary celebration in 2001. This "Back to the '60s" celebration provided a carnival-like atmosphere for employees to enjoy during work hours. Tie-dyed t-shirts with the Lancaster logo, a dunking tank, a disc jockey spinning tunes, costume contest, water balloon contest, and food are just a sampling of the elements that contributed to the day's success. Departments also competed against each other in trivia contests focused on the 1960s. Employees raised money for their favorite charity as they voted with dollars on who to dunk in the dunking booth.

"Employees talked about this day forever," Stoltzfus says. "The event went such a long way toward employees feeling cared about. This was a huge accomplishment because we operate on three shifts, and we want employees to feel they have the same opportunities."

Stephanie Schreyer, a 13-year veteran at Lancaster Laboratories, has transitioned from an entry-level employee to part of the senior leadership team as manager of pharmaceutical project management. Schreyer also participates on the Great Place to Work committee and enjoys brainstorming how to have fun at work.

"People have different ideas of work and how to have fun at work," Schreyer states. "It's very enjoyable to work as co-workers but it feels like family here. That underlies what the values are at Lancaster. It's easier to do work within a family atmosphere."

Schreyer credits the opportunities and benefits through Lancaster Labs that helped her move up in the organization. The organization paid for her MBA program, and she used on-site child care for her daughters when they were six-weeks old.

"I couldn't imagine going back to work in six weeks without having an on-site child care center," Schreyer says. "I get to have lunch with my daughter at work. I couldn't imagine how to better incorporate work life and family life."

Employees also get involved with their on-site children for the fall festival, Christmas caroling in the halls, Easter egg hunts, and various parades.

Reaping Rewards

Lancaster Laboratories expects much from its employees, who often have to give extra hours during peak times. Yet when employees need time off, the company supports them in return. In fact, it modified its full-time status with benefits in 1996 from 35 hours to 30 hours per week. Its cafeteria benefits plan enables employees to choose what's important in their life and adapt the benefits to fit-such as the option to purchase an additional two weeks of time off. Stoltzfus says Lancaster has transitioned from being "family-friendly" to "employee-friendly," since working moms aren't the only ones who need flexibility.

"I believe there is a willingness to give extra because we're helping employees balance their needs," Stoltzfus says. "It's a give and take. We certainly reap the rewards, and it's hard to put a price tag on that."

What accomplishment is Stoltzfus most proud of in her 19 years at Lancaster Labs? Her first thought is her tremendous staff with a "make-it-happen" attitude. Personally, she recalls the start-up of the cafeteria benefits program that proved time consuming yet extremely satisfying and rewarding based on how well employees received it.

"Earl built the company on the vision and values," Stoltzfus says. "I've had the opportunity to help those visions become a reality."

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