The human touch

Plymouth entrepreneur helps employers foster emotional intelligence

Posted on Nov 30, 2017 :: The Business of Life
Jessica Thiel
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Walk into a coffee shop on any given day, and the place will likely be filled with people hunched over their cellphones, scrolling in a never ending quest for that next nugget of knowledge, that small hit of gratification. While technology continues to grow and evolve, Bill Marklein, founder and CEO of Employ Humanity, says it’s not robots and artificial intelligence that set companies apart but rather human skills.

He established his company with the vision of helping employers increase their emotional intelligence — or EQ. “Thriving organizations are making their workplaces more and more human,” he says. The idea for developing a business around emotional intelligence started brewing when Marklein interned in marketing at a hospital. Working in a health care setting, Marklein says he witnessed the range of human emotion — from sorrow to joy.

He noticed a need to more effectively communicate feelings, which sparked research into work-life integration and building emotionally intelligent workplace cultures that embrace all feelings. Marklein, 33, began his career working for chambers of commerce, first in Fort Atkinson and then as community relations director at the Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce. In March, he ventured out on his own to launch Employ Humanity.

Through his work, Marklein says he wants to encourage leaders to become more mindful and aware of how their own actions affect others. It’s important for managers to develop empathy, he says, so they can understand other people’s stories and adapt and lead accordingly. Cultivating EQ can have a significant impact on a company’s success through factors such as employee retention.

“It directly impacts the bottom line,” he says. “You lose 1.5 times the salary of the person that’s leaving just through the search process and lost productivity. When you have employees that are emotionally intelligent, they manage their emotions, so they’re less likely to leave during stressful situations.”

Jamie Schramm, employee development manager for Kohler Credit Union, brought Marklein in to conduct leadership training for the workplace. Schramm says it helped the organization better define the way it wants to lead.

Conflicts with managers top the list of reasons for employees leaving a company, Schramm says, and he hopes the training will help strengthen those relationships. “It’ll cement the bonds of trust between employees and managers,” he says.

Through consulting work, team training and delivering keynote speeches he’s delivered around the state, Midwest and throughout the nation, Marklein teaches clients the importance of developing awareness, adaptability and empathy. People need to become aware of their emotions and actions, Marklein says. He’s no Luddite and acknowledges the value of technology and the draw of the smartphone, but at the same time, he says it can affect people’s brains and attention spans negatively.

Thus, it’s important to foster awareness and mindfulness, he says. Marklein, who works out of his home in Plymouth, says workplaces call on employees to adapt to all kinds of personalities. It’s important to see where others are coming from, he says, and that’s where empathy and that ability to feel with someone else comes in.

Marklein says focusing on emotional intelligence is a crucial tool in the quest for landing top talent. In effectively functioning workplaces, employees work on EQ, which in turn positively affects the overall culture, he says.

“I think top talent is gravitating toward emotionally intelligent cultures because they have everything in place to thrive,” Marklein says.

When he considers employers that are doing it well, a major player in his own backyard comes to mind. He cites Plymouth’s Sargento Foods, a company he says supports its employees through wellness initiatives and community involvement. Leonard Gentine founded the company on the motto, “Hire good people and treat them like family.”

Work life affects home life, and home life affects work life in an ongoing cycle, he says, and emotionally intelligent companies recognize that and work to effect positive change around it.

“They live and breathe it, and that’s been an inspiration to see how workplaces affect not only individual
households but also the community,” Marklein says of Sargento. Employ Humanity recently presented its inaugural excellence award to Miron Construction Co. Inc., a company Marklein says supports its employees and the community at large with programs such as the Dream Project and Build Like a Girl, which introduces construction careers to middle and high school girls.

In its Dream Project, Miron provides a life coach to employees dedicated to helping them work toward their personal dreams and aspirations. Dave Walsh, vice president of human resources for Miron, says employees find renewed joy in their work from positive experiences in their personal lives.

“I think folks are more engaged by having the opportunity to spend time with the coach,” he says. “Helping them be engaged in what they’re doing helps them then be more productive.”

Marklein hopes to continue to grow his business and reach more companies, but right now he’s simply enjoying a successful ride.

“Being from the Sheboygan area, it’s kind of like surfing,” he says. “You just catch a new wave and see where it goes. I have a good feeling the best is yet to come.”