Chapter 1- Human Resource Management: Gaining a Competitive Advantage (HRM: Gaining a Competitive Advantage)
Chapter 4 -The Analysis and Design of Work (HRM: Gaining a Competitive Advantage)
Chapter 2 -Trends in Human Resource Management (Fundamentals of HRM)
Chapter 4 – Analyzing Work and Designing Jobs (Fundamentals of HRM)
Peanut Butter and Jelly at the Core of JM Smucker Business and Return-to-Work Policy
JM Smucker who is known for their jams, jellies, peanut butter and other consumer products, corporate headquarters is located in a small town, Orrville, in northeastern Ohio. You may be familiar with one of their popular products, Uncrustables, frozen crustless sandwiches with various fillings (like peanut butter and jelly). Smucker has approximately 6,000 employees located worldwide, with 1300 at the corporate headquarters in Orrville.
Many companies have implemented return-to-work policies. Some, such as those announced at Meta Amazon, and Farmers Insurance, have been met with employee outrage, protests, and turnover. Similar to the human resource professionals at these and other companies, the Chief People Officer at Smucker had to successfully navigate a paradox: How could she tell corporate employees who were working completely remotely during the pandemic and were performing well that working offsite no longer worked? How could the company develop a return-to-work policy that made sense for both employees and the business? Smucker executives wanted employees on-site because they felt that employee relationships and connections were critical for the success of the business. In fact, Mark Smucker, the CEO commutes from his home in Akron, Ohio to Orrville each day – a forty minute drive.
Company executives, including the Chief People Officer, first came up with a plan requiring employees’ on-site fifty percent of their time. They considered making it mandatory that employees work onsite three specific days each week. But they decided not to adopt that plan because they felt it was too rigid. The return-to-work plan they adopted is unusual but employees and managers like it and it benefits the business. Smucker’s expects corporate employees to work on-site as little as twenty-five percent of the time or six days per month. To hit that limit employees have to come into the office during twenty two weeks each year (what are called “core weeks”). This allows employees to live anywhere in the US, paying their own travel expenses to get to Orrville for the “core weeks”. Smucker publishes the core week schedule a year in advance to allow corporate staff, teams, and managers to plan.
Initially, some employees ignored the core week mandate but after reminders from company leaders convinced them to return to the office during that time period. Now, offices at Smucker’s headquarters are almost full. Also, while they are in Orrville for the core weeks employees are working longer hours to meet with peers and clients. Company executives are also at headquarters during the core weeks. They try to keep times blocked off on their calendar to allow for spontaneous conversations. Although core weeks are very busy for all employees, company leaders believe the policy helps them recruit and hire talented employees who are interested in positions at Smucker but don’t want to live in northeastern Ohio. As a result, some corporate employees make the daily drive during core weeks from close cities such as Cleveland while others living in cities farther away such as Cincinnati and Pittsburgh drive to Orrville and stay overnight. Smucker chief marketing officer is in Orrville during the core weeks but spends the summer in New York, and lives most of the year in Connecticut and Vermont. A marketing vice-president lives in San Francisco but commutes to Orville for the core weeks. She catches a flight to Cleveland and stays in a hotel close to Orrville. At the end of each core week she flies back home.
There are several HR challenges with any return-to-wok policy that includes any type of hybrid work arrangement, i.e. both onsite and remote work. One of the HR challenges is insuring that the company is appropriately withholding taxes from each employees paycheck based on the percentage of their time spent on Orrville and at home. Employees are asked every business quarter to report how much work time they are spending at headquarters and at home. Another challenges include insuring that the company culture is maintained, employee development remains on-track, and insuring employees are satisfied with the policy and engaged at work. Finally HR is still responsible for providing services to employees and sharing expertise to managers who have to work onsite with no remote option. This includes food scientists and other specialists who use specialized equipment at the workplace and production workers who work in the plant that makes the jams, jellies, and other products.
Mark Smucker is committed to evaluating the company work arrangement policy and making any needed adjustments. He doesn’t believe a hybrid work schedule is going to disappear any time soon because employees are used to working remotely and capable of using technology tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to interact and conduct meetings.
Sources: Based on C. Cutter, “A Return-To-Office Plan That Employees Actually Like”, The Wall Street Journal (August 26-27, 2023): B1,B4; J. Thier, “Smucker's return-to-office plan is a full embrace of remote work—with the big catch that it creates an entirely new kind of super-commuter” (August 29, 2023) from fortune.com, accessed January 3, 2024; L. Hahn, “What Every Hybrid Workplace Can Learn From Smucker”, (September 6, 2023), from reworked.co, accessed January 3, 2024.
Questions for Students
- How does the return-to-work policy support both business and employee needs?
- Which of the competencies needed by HR professionals do you believe were most critical for helping Smucker leaders decide which policy to adopt?
- What flexibility options should Smucker consider for its food scientists and manufacturing plant employees who are unable to work in a hybrid work arrangement?
Note for Instructors
This case can be used in numerous places in your course including as part of the introduction to the purpose and importance of HR issues, HR competencies, or as a discussion of hybrid work arrangements. An excellent 3 minute video to accompany this case is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ms-hVv7x6LI&t=31s which is a CNN interview with Smucker Chief People Officer who discusses the core work schedule.