It’s not every day that an employee gets paid time off for a mid-week fishing trip, but that’s what happened in September when Methanex systems analyst Benya Jackson and others in her office boarded a van for the south Louisiana coastal community of Venice.
There they spent a day and a half reeling in the Gulf’s bounty, sharing meals, and learning about each other’s families. When they returned to the office, says Jackson, co-workers who normally spend time poring over data had bonded as a team.
“It really brings a sense of family to the workplace,” Jackson says. “It was a great way to get to know each other better.”
Similar off-site team trips take place across all administrative departments at Methanex, one example among many that has made the methanol production facility a leader in workplace culture.
Founded in 1992, Methanex is the world’s largest supplier of methanol, with five production facilities across the globe. A sixth will be fully operational by the end of the year in Geismar, which will absorb the functions of an idle plant in Chile. Louisiana-based staff have been methodically transferring operations from Chile to Geismar over the last two years.
Just as day-to-day plant operations have gradually been instituted in Louisiana, so has Methanex’s distinct workplace culture.
“The company places a lot of emphasis on hiring good, quality people,” says Glynn Fontenot, Geismar plant manager. “We are interested in a positive attitude and a good work ethic and people who like to contribute to a team being successful.”
Jackson’s trip followed another team building exercise for her department, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which reveals personality traits and can help co-workers recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Jackson says it taught her a lot about herself and how others on her team can play off of each other—whether it’s in creating a new computer system for the company or in hooking fish.
“I have the best team I’ve ever worked with,” Jackson says. “This company really values what you have to say. I feel very safe in being able to put forth an idea, even when it’s not fully formed, and getting support and encouragement.”
Fontenot adds that Methanex is committed to work/life balance. Administrative staff in Geismar are working a 9/80 schedule, in which everyone is off every other Friday. The company also makes flexible schedules available to employees who need to pick up children early or have other pressing obligations.
Wellness is also a priority. Louisiana employees are entitled to reimbursements for gym memberships and can attend a free, 45-minute boot camp exercise class daily at 5 p.m. They’re also given pedometers to monitor personal movement and can take part in incentive programs to avoid holiday weight gain.
Corporate philanthropy includes several close-to-home charities, says public affairs manager Meg Mahoney, including the Capital Area United Way and Big Buddy, ARC of East Ascension, the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, Junior Achievement, the Literacy Coalition, Salvation Army, Volunteer Ascension, Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired and ChemFriends. The facility also adopted Pecan Grove Primary.
Among other projects, Spanish-speaking employees of Methanex have helped the school’s high population of Spanish-speaking parents with paperwork and other issues.
“I’ve never not been able to get volunteers for any of our service projects,” Mahoney says.
Supporting employee family life is also part of the company culture. Breast-feeding mothers are given access to lactation rooms complete with refrigerator while at work, and fathers of new babies can tap into paternity leave. Parents attempting adoption can take advantage of paid time off as well as financial assistance for certain aspects of the adoption process. A benefit called the Employee Assistance Program, paid for by Methanex, makes a variety of counseling services available for staff members undergoing financial, emotional or other issues.
Fontenot also adds that employees have access to managers across the globe. “It’s not a top-down corporation,” he says. Vancouver-based President and Chief Executive Officer John Floren is known for spending time with staff at all facilities, and he solicits questions worldwide for his “Ask the CEO” blog.
“My goal is that we all retire from here,” Fontenot says. “It gives me a good feeling when I walk by somebody’s office and I hear laughter.”