Employee Engagement at A-dec: It’s About Culture

When some people first come to work at A-dec, it’s a little disconcerting. “Everybody here’s so nice!” says one employee. “I’m from California. There it was like, ‘Mean Girls’ central. Here it’s like, “good morning!” “Good morning!” “Good morning!” I thought I landed in Stepford!”

Well, it’s not Stepford. It’s Newberg, Oregon – a small semi-rural town outside of the Portland metropolitan area, known for its wineries, antique shops, and friendly people. And the company, A-dec, is one of the leading manufacturers of dental equipment in the world.

At present, A-dec (American Dental Equipment Company) is the biggest employer in Yamhill County, Oregon – and although the town is within easy commuting distance of Portland and even Salem, the company, founded in 1965, continues to draw 62 percent of its Oregon workforce from within the county. They also have a manufacturing campus in China and facilities in the United Kingdom and Australia.


A-dec realized early on that they would have far better results long-term by carefully building a coherent, positive and sustainable corporate culture, and ensuring employees understood it and could be fully engaged in it.

A study presented in the Harvard Business Review showed that actively engaged workers are more productive and profitable for their employers than neutral employees, and workers who are actively disengaged can be tremendously damaging to their employers.

For example, the study found that disengaged workers had absenteeism rates 37 percent higher than average, and suffered 49 percent more workplace accidents. They also were involved in 60 percent more “errors and defects” incidents, which any manufacturer will tell you will kill your business by killing your reputation.

Beginning with the culture

From the beginning, A-dec founders envisioned an A-dec “culture” centered on caring for people, and especially for employees and their families. They created “The A-dec Way,” a list of 15 core principles, by which they guide the company and by which they expect managers and employees to conduct themselves in their day-to-day actions.

It’s a commonality that all A-dec employees have across the board in all their facilities worldwide. All training begins with a close look at The A-dec Way and its principles and how they are applied.

“The first full day is all about the culture,” says Amy of A-dec’s Newberg, Oregon campus headquarters.

Then, later on, there’s a deeper dive: A full 2-day immersion on A-dec’s culture and the organization. “Really it’s about making each employee feel like they have an active role.” Amy continued. “We have a mission statement, we have a vision statement and we’re very big on making sure that everybody understands that.”

The A-dec Way

01. Concern for people

02. Provide opportunities and assist in self-development

03. Provide an atmosphere encouraging self-satisfaction and pride

04. Encourage team effort

05. Maintain complete fairness, honesty and integrity

06. Maintain open consistent and regular communication

07. Encourage public service

08. Encourage creativity

09. Commitment to quality and productivity

10. Maintain consistency

11. Dedication to improvement

12. Keep things simple and basic

13. Build on the basis of “need”

14. Attention to detail

15. Conserve resources

The First Principle – Concern for People

As Kara points out, “The number one principle of the A-dec way is the principle, we care about people.” she describes how that affects business decisions:

When we sit in a board meeting with family members, it’s all about taking care of our families,” he says. “Our top identity piece is we’re committed providing for the families that we employ.

“For example, we get multiple offers from these juggernaut organizations, offering to purchase us and move us out to the Midwest. But we’re not gonna do that. Because of the families.

The company and the founding family members as private individuals have deep roots in Newberg and Yamhill County, and have been generous supporters of education initiatives, charities and the arts, both in the Yamhill County area but also internationally, for instance, by donating equipment to Mercy Ships, We Care Dental and other charities providing dental care to poor individuals in Africa, Asia and all over the world, and for disabled and poor individuals here at home. Thus far, at least 80,000 patients have received sorely needed dental care on chairs donated to charity by A-dec and employees love being a part of that effort.

There is a lot of philanthropy the founders do privately that is not publicized, as well.

Screening and Hiring

The employee screening process can be lengthy – the company warns applicants of that from the beginning, right on their website. But because the company’s senior management places so much weight on their organizational culture as an essential part of their brand, it’s important that they screen carefully for cultural fit. Anything else they can train for.

As a result, not only does the company have an extraordinarily low turnover rate for a manufacturer of its size; they also routinely get referrals, and they have many, many 2nd and even 3rd-generation employees working with the company.

Studies show that more than half of professionals say they would start looking elsewhere for a new employer if they perceived that their current employers were ignoring their health and wellness issues.

Benefits and Wellness

A-dec has a variety of benefits related to work-life balance and other aspects critical to employee wellness and stress reduction. They list a ‘work from home’ benefit on their website, and also provide maternity (and paternity!) leave, dependent care benefits, reduced and flexible hours, family medical leave, volunteer time off, adoption assistance, childcare, sabbaticals and bereavement leave.

Additionally, workers tell us that the company does, indeed, emphasize work-life balance throughout its operations.

The company has an excellent reputation in the manufacturing industry and among employees for safety awareness and best practices. This is apparent in employee reviews even from unhappy former employees, so we know it’s not just lip service. This is in part because of the remarkable engagement of employees at all levels, as safety and engagement are closely linked: A Gallup study found that business units with engagement scores in the top quartile of Gallup’s employee engagement database have 70% fewer safety incidents compared with bottom-quartile units.

A-dec Wellness initiatives

In addition to the formal benefits package, A-dec provides healthy snacks to employees at work gratis. And some not-so-healthy ones. But someone had the keen insight into human nature and foibles to keep the cookies, but make people walk past the fruits and vegetable trays in order to get to them!

Moreover, A-dec’s HR team put together an in-house health and wellness fair. More than two dozen different vendors showed up and shared their products and services with an eager employee population, and the next fair promises to be much bigger. A-dec used the fair to offer free biometric screens and mammography breast cancer screening to employees.

Workers can often elect a 4-day, 10-hour per day work week – making every weekend a three-day weekend they can use to spend with their families.

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