Publix Reinforces Reputation for Prioritizing Employment Opportunities for Workers with Disabilities
Super Market Sees the Fruits of This Labor in Incomparable Brand Equity and Customer Loyalty
Publix Super Markets is well-known as a dynamic company committed to providing gainful employment to people with disabilities.
Publix strives to be a business that is reflective of the communities in which it operates by fostering diversity and inclusion in the workplace. In doing so, the grocery store chain has solidified a reputation for hiring people with disabilities and making the types of accommodations that allow individuals to flourish professionally and contribute to the company’s bottom line.
Jim Payne, evening anchor for WESH 2 in Orlando, is one such customer who has noticed Publix’s commitment.
Through his involvement with the Special Olympics, in 2006 Jim met Chris Friedmann – a young man from Central Florida with a 13-year history of employment with Publix – when he came into the WESH studio as an athlete training to publicly represent the Special Olympics in the media. During the training, Jim learned that Chris worked at the Publix near his house and that Chris competed in weightlifting, among other sports, at the Special Olympics. A friendship was born.
“When I could, I’d swing by his store to pick up a few things and say hello,” Jim says. “Chris regularly qualified with the rest of the Seminole County team for weightlifting during Fall Games [of the Special Olympics], and I’d stop by and watch him and the rest of the team compete.”
Two years ago during a competition, Chris seemed agitated, so Jim went down on the floor to see what was wrong. Chris told Jim that he was going to have to set a personal best record in the dead lift to medal. He looked up at the scoreboard, did the math in his head, and told Jim to the quarter pound what it would take to win gold.
“I was impressed, him doing math on the fly like that,” Jim says. “And I mentioned something to his coach and didn’t think much more about it for a couple of months.”
The next time Jim saw Chris, he learned that Chris had been promoted from bagger to cashier, which included a raise and more responsibility. Jim found out that Chris’ weightlifting coach mentioned something to Chris’ manager at Publix about his math skills. The manager asked Chris to take the test for prospective cashiers, and he easily passed it.
“It’s not just that Publix hires people with disabilities, people like my friend Chris,” Jim says. “It’s that they listened, and when presented with evidence of unknown ability, took the extra step to see what potential was really there. Chris was already doing a great job as a bagger. Publix took a chance on him, saw past his disability and gave him a chance to prove himself.”
Now, when Jim sees Chris, he’s running the “10 Items or Fewer” aisle, where he’s ringing people up and bagging their groceries with a smile.
“I always make sure I’m in his line,” Jim says. “Publix gets it. That’s why I’m a loyal Publix customer, and just about everyone who knows me at all knows why.”
Publix has taken note of stories like Jim and Chris’ and sees them play out in a way that benefits the company’s associates and customers, as well as its bottom line. The result is remarkable customer loyalty.
“We see relationships such as the one with Chris and Jim on a daily basis throughout many of our stores, where our customers are coming in to shop just because of a certain associate,” says Greta Dupuy, Associate Diversity Development Specialist for Publix.
A Culture of Inclusion
In sharing the Publix philosophy for hiring and promoting people with disabilities, CEO Ed Crenshaw has commented that many businesses talk about diversity, but Publix is a company that has largely built its reputation on customer service.
“Publix realizes the need to be able to serve a diverse customer base and have people working for us that resemble that base,” he says.
While employment with Publix oftentimes starts with a first job experience, Publix works to create career opportunities for all associates, encouraging them to explore different positions in their stores and the company region-wide. Associates with disabilities are able to receive the necessary training to move into different positions within the company.
Publix is able to recruit job seekers with disabilities through the relationships the company has built with various organizations in the communities around Florida, ensuring employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Through these relationships, Publix achieves lower recruitment costs because organizations refer applicants with disabilities and improved retention as these organizations become more familiar with Publix. Service providers know the company’s expectations and are able to better prepare applicants for a career at Publix.
“The retail industry has higher turnover than most other industries,” says Maria Brous, Director of Media and Community Relations for Publix. “We have found that our associates with disabilities tend to be a loyal, committed and dependable part of our workforce.”
The company’s efforts to create and promote a truly inclusive workplace have been recognized numerous times through awards from The Able Trust, including the 2013 Large Employer of the Year Award and the 2011 Corporate Champion Award.
Watch a video about Publix’s corporate culture of inclusion and diversity, which involves a commitment to employing workers with disabilities.