A ‘People-First’ Culture Extends To Workers Of All Abilities
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A ‘People-First’ Culture Extends To Workers Of All Abilities

Profitable, employee-owned grocery store chain hires people with disabilities as part of its commitment to diversity.

Profitable, employee-owned grocery store chain hires people with disabilities as part of its commitment to diversity.

With 175,500 employees, Publix has the distinction of being the largest employee-owned supermarket chain. It also has the distinction of an Employer of the Year Award from United Cerebral Palsy for its commitment to hiring people with disabilities.

Founded in Tampa, Fla., in 1930 by the late George W. Jenkins, a former Piggly Wiggly store clerk who grew up working in his father’s general store, Publix now boasts 1,077 grocery stores across the Southeast, according to spokeswoman Maria Brouse. As an employee-owned company, employees receive 8.5 percent of their paycheck in the form of Publix stock.

In 2013, Forbes profiled the unique culture at Publix in an article entitled “The Wal-Mart Slayer: How Publix’s People-First Culture Is Winning The Grocer War.” That article praised Publix for its transparent management style and also said it was the most profitable grocery chain in the United States.

Publix has a policy of supporting employees who want to try new skills. Chris Friedman, who has intellectual disabilities, has been an employee with Publix for 14 years. When managers at the store in Longwood, Fla., became aware of his strong math skills, they gave him the support he needed to transition from bagger to cashier. In his new position, Friedman not only feels more productive but has also become a customer favorite. Many regular shoppers make a point of coming into the store during his shift so that they can come through his aisle.

“We place a priority on providing a workplace where everyone can feel welcome, secure and valued. This guiding philosophy has been part of the reason why we’ve been able to grow and continue growing in the competitive grocery industry,” Brouse said. “We believe that every associate should be able to bring their whole person to work each day. Our company recognizes that we are made up of the talents of many, yet we foster the uniqueness of each. It’s a place where you can be exceptional, and be yourself.”

United Cerebral Palsy chose Publix for a recent Employer of The Year Award because of its “contribution to employing people with physical disabilities and helping people with disabilities reach their full potential through meaningful employment.” They praised Publix for setting a precedent for all workers to respect diversity and for requiring all managers to attend diversity workshops. In addition, disability awareness is incorporated into every new associate’s training.

The company has had a relationship with Special Olympics Florida for more than 40 years. Since 1994, Publix associates and customers have helped raise more than $29.6 million for Special Olympics scholarships given to athletes across the Southeast.

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