Unfortunately, many employees don't feel well at work. An international survey of 10,000 workers by Ipsos confirms this statement. The survey found that 85% of employees are unhappy with their office environment and struggle to concentrate. This phenomenon can have various causes. It could be due to an unpleasant work atmosphere, a demanding boss, or perhaps a lack of appreciation. This problem leads to unhappy employees, who are consequently less productive within the company. However, Torfs shows that this can be done differently. Torfs cares for its employees as if they are family. This caring corporate culture focuses on SDG’s good health, wellbeing, gender equality, and decent work. Notwithstanding this ‘human’ focus, Torfs achieves attractive growth figures.
Anouk Van Lint
Torfs is a family business, mainly engaged in the sale of shoes and other leather goods. Over the years, they have established more than 70 stores spread across Flanders. Louis Torfs founded the company in 1948. At present, his grandson Wouter Torfs leads this flourishing organization. Wouter Torfs is a level five executive whose entrepreneurial and human vision resulted in a unique business culture.
“My father can proudly say I’m the product of him and my mother. The combination of my mother's gentle, caring attitude and my father's rational business thinking makes me the business leader that I am today.”
Torfs’ mission, “360° care, results in 360° profit”, embodies this corporate culture. Taking care of all stakeholders can be accomplished by organizing workshops for employees on healthy nutrition or general health and personal development. Torfs promotes a healthy lifestyle among its employees because they believe that fitness in mind and body ensures more happiness. Another initiative Torfs engages with is Trooper. For each purchase made at Torfs - via Trooper - they donate a commission to a particular charity or association. By doing so, the company takes care of society as a whole.
Furthermore, they aim to be a company where everyone can be his authentic self. Everyone is welcome at Torfs, regardless of age, gender, religion, origin, or sexuality. Even people with a physical or mental disability are included, as they cooperate with sheltered workplaces. Torfs finds it very important that people get the opportunity to develop their talents to the fullest.
This people-oriented corporate culture is also reflected in the values of Torfs. Important values within the company are; being your true self, a warm family feeling, enthusiasm, sincere appreciation, job satisfaction, responsibility, flexibility, and innovation.
Many companies share the same values as Torfs, but Torfs stands out in fulfilling them. It turns out that employees really appreciate this care. As a result, Torfs was awarded Best Employer several times.
Despite winning multiple prizes for its great workplace, creating a people-orientated business culture hasn’t always been this high on Torfs’s agenda. The real pivot point came in the 1990s. The company wasn’t doing very well, so Wouter Torfs decided to turn the tide. The company’s mission proceeded from operational excellence to doing the right things towards all the stakeholders: customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers, and society.
Where did Wouter Torfs find his inspiration to do so? According to himself, taking care of others has always been part of his DNA.
“Being the eldest of four kids, I’ve always gotten the mantra to take care of my siblings and to be a good role model.”
Besides, he learned a lot from his grandmother when it comes to interacting with his employees. She always used to say that a good word does much more than a bad word. This morality is certainly reflected in the way Wouter treats his employees.
Although taking care of others is somehow embedded in his personality, spirituality has also impacted Wouter’s leadership. In his mid-thirties, he followed a workshop on Neurolinguistic programming. By doing so, he learned a lot about communication and leadership. Later he delved into Eastern spirituality. Wouter states that his spirituality, the way he sees the world and his role in it, is a stronger and more solid foundation in business than if he were to do it purely for profit. In this manner, Wouter Torfs was able to unlock his leadership potential as a quantum leader.
Whilst the impact of caring for all your stakeholders, and especially your employees, is not always directly visible, Wouter Torfs is convinced that the companies who put this high on the agenda are the companies of the future. Torfs takes a leading role, as they believe that happy employees result in happy customers. Consequently, they have been awarded by Great Place to Work as the Best Employer in Belgium for 10 years in a row. On top of that, in 2019, they became the Best Employer in Europe.
“A great place to work is a place where not only the companies’ figures rule, yet one where experience is at the heart of the business.”Still, at the same time, revenues have been increasing at a steady pace. This shows that there is no trade-off between well-being at the workplace and revenue growth. In his book, Wouter Torfs reveals that well-being is determined by authenticity, sensitivity, connection, and fun. By truly connecting and listening to his employees, Wouter Torfs gains everyone's respect in the company. Consequently, when (sometimes though) decisions have to be made, he has a motivated workforce behind him. This gives Torfs an edge over the competition in the long term and makes them achieve a net positive impact.
How does this focus on well-being at the workplace benefit the business exactly? As mentioned earlier, Torfs’s core belief is that happy employees lead to happy customers. When people work with a smile, enjoy their colleagues, and have pride in their jobs, they radiate a positive atmosphere to the customers. Consequently, customers will have a better customer experience. By providing the best service, Torfs manages to differentiate from other shoe retailers and gain market share from its competitors.
Another effect of this people-oriented corporate culture is that employees become much more flexible. They feel good and appreciated within the company, making them want to give something back from time to time—this dynamic of giving and taking facilitated the introduction of night work within the company.
“People ask me how come the negotiations went so easily. I guess you reap what you sow. It’s the result of the ‘human’ corporate culture we’ve built over the years.”
However, not only employee concerns play an important role in night work negotiations. In Belgium, firms have to pay their employees a higher wage if they work at night. Therefore Belgian firms are generally not very eager to implement night work. In contrast to other companies, Torfs was able to overview the short term disadvantage of lower margins due to high labor costs. This is because they’re convinced that the lower margin is offset by the high sales they can achieve because of the pleasant customer experience, which is caused by the care for employees.
“It is our goal to change the distribution network of Torfs and deliver packages to customers on a bike, from the nearest store. Thereby we wish to fulfill the customers’ demand for a greener planet, together with an active lifestyle for our employees and on-demand fast delivery.”
Besides, Torfs manages to achieve a very high retention rate. This is logically the result of the attention and care of their employees. Because they experience great job satisfaction, they're likely to remain true to the company. Wouter Torfs states that in 30 years, only 2 people left the management team, which is very little. Wouter certainly sees this as a strength for the company.
Not only does caring for employees benefit the company, but society benefits from this innovation as well. Torfs puts its employees at the heart of the organization, allowing people to develop themselves and their talents to the fullest. Employees like to go to work; they talk enthusiastically about a visit from Wouter Torfs and feel happy. Wouter Torfs states that he is sincerely interested in all employees. This also explains their great satisfaction.
Wouter Torfs believes that companies must act as responsible citizens and not only care about figures. Customers and employees all need to be taken into account. This people-oriented corporate culture can be seen as an innovation that can inspire other companies to do well for society. The innovation can be applied in practically all sectors and all countries and is therefore scalable. Wouter Torfs' goal is to inspire other people to adopt this people-oriented corporate culture. That is why in 2014, he published his book, "Working with heart and soul: building blocks for a great place to work." This book wants to inspire other companies by explaining how he achieved the best employer award for four years in a row.
With this innovation, Torfs focuses on SDGs' good health and wellbeing, gender equality, decent work, and economic growth. They attach great importance to the health and well-being of employees. This leads to happy employees who are productive within the company and thus increase profits. Further, Torfs tries to involve everyone in society, from different races to people with disabilities. The company is thus also highly involved in creating decent employment for society. These created jobs and profits contribute to the economic growth of Belgium. Therefore, it is safe to say that Torfs does not only care about figures but actively tries to build a better future.
Lise Conix, Marketing and Sustainability Manager
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Sint-Niklaas, Oost-Vlaanderen, BE
Business Website: https://www.torfs.be
Year Founded: 1948
Number of Employees: 501 to 1000
Torfs cares for its employees as if they are family. This caring corporate culture focuses on the SDG’s good health, well-being, and decent work. Notwithstanding this ‘human’ focus, Torfs achieves attractive growth figures.