How to Motivate a Workforce

When Whitney Shelley joined Denbury, she was tasked with making the growing company stick to its small-company roots. It’s been a perfect fit for the HR veteran, who has a workforce in love with what they do.

Denbury Resources is known for more than its oil and gas prowess. The industry newcomer has built a place where no employee leaves hungry and everyone dresses for Halloween.

In 2009, on her first day of work as vice president and chief human resources officer at Denbury Resources, Whitney Shelley knew the company was a special place. “Every person I was introduced to told me I was going to love it here,” Shelley says.

Denbury Resources is a growing independent oil and gas company and is headquartered in Plano, Texas. The company is the largest oil and natural gas producer in both Mississippi and Montana, owns the largest reserves of carbon dioxide used for tertiary oil recovery east of the Mississippi River, and holds significant operating acreage in the Rocky Mountain and Gulf Coast regions. More importantly, when Shelley looked into turnover and the career progression of Denbury employees shortly after she started, she realized something important. “It was really clear that people who came to Denbury stayed,” she says.

When designing and relocating to the new headquarters, Denbury employees were allowed to vote on many items and styles for the final layout.
When designing and relocating to the new headquarters, Denbury employees were allowed to vote on many items and styles for the final layout.

This is impressive given that the company has approximately $10 billion in assets. “We are a company that has grown substantially in a relatively short amount of time,” Shelley says. “We have worked hard to retain the elements of our company that make us special and unique, while implementing programs to keep us competitive within our market. In fact, when I was hired, board members took me aside to reiterate how important it was for us to keep the small company feel as we continued to grow.”

Shelley and her team have done just that with a number of initiatives, such as an open-door policy—there are literally no office doors at the corporate office—that encourages employees to come to the human resources department with suggestions or concerns. The company’s top executives also regularly meet with employees and managers over lunch. “[Employees] will ask anything from ‘Why is the stock price going up?’ to ‘Have you thought about having blueberries on the salad bar line?’” Shelley says.

What makes Denbury Resources a great place to work?

Noelle Osborn
HRIS Manager

“Denbury feels like family! There aren’t any doors in our corporate office, so you can walk right in and strike up a conversation.”

Barbara Kearney
Geologist E&P Manager

“Denbury is a great place to work for so many reasons, but mainly because the company puts the employees front and center.”

Steven Shanks
AV Support Specialist & Project Manager

“Denbury has been a great place to work for me because we are a go-get ’em type of company, but in a relaxed atmosphere.”

And at Denbury, the salad bar is a big deal. Denbury recently built a new facility that would allow all of the company’s corporate employees to work together at the same campus. This facility features a café serving made-to-order breakfasts and lunches to all employees at no cost. The program has been so successful that, last year, the team expanded the services to include a meals-to-go program that allows employees to order complete dinners to take home for only the cost of the food. “Our folks work really hard and put in a lot of long hours, so the idea that they can go home with a meal—that’s pretty special,” Shelley says. “It’s a great way to show that we care about our people.”

The walls of the facility are decorated with photography submitted by employees. Plenty of vacation pictures and portraits of employees’ children can be found next to oil-inspired images. Moreover, Denbury is the kind of place where people feel comfortable occasionally bringing their kids to work, a place where nearly everyone dresses up on Halloween, and a place where, if you need a break, you can take one in the campus courtyard, which is stocked with blankets, footballs, and Frisbees.

Furthermore, Denbury offers competitive benefits, such as “Pick Your Mix” annual long-term incentives offered to every employee, which strive to make employees shareholders by providing an annual dollar award commensurate to salary that the employee can apply to a variety of stock options or receive as a cash payout. Beyond this, Denbury offers vacation grants based on relevant industry or job experience and promotes career development with tuition reimbursement and its continuing-education program, Denbury University. Denbury also encourages employees to volunteer and contribute to charitable organizations, encouraging employees to take paid time off to support their preferred organizations.

Given all this, it’s no surprise that, when Denbury launched an employee-branding campaign, employees bought more than $20,000 worth of merchandise boasting the Denbury logo. “It creates a sense of pride,” Shelley says. “I was at the mall and the lady behind the counter saw I had on a Denbury sweater and she said, ‘You work at Denbury. That’s the place where the employees get to decorate the walls. I want to work there.’”

Shelley has held HR positions at Bank of America, Blockbuster, and FedEx, and began her career teaching computer engineering for Microsoft. While there, she began to think about the importance of a business having a compensation program that rewarded people not just for showing up to work, but also for leadership potential and driving revenue. Shelley realized human resources was the place for her. “I love the complexity of people,” she says, adding that she enjoys understanding what motivates people to succeed from a business perspective.

Shelley also believes that it’s her team’s job to offer employees the right amount of comfort and information whenever a crisis strikes. “If they’ve found out that they are critically ill or their child is sick, they need reassurance that we’re going to take care of them and that our insurance is great,” she says. “Being there when the times are tough is one of many ways my team has the opportunity to make a difference.”

For the last four years in a row, Denbury Resources has been voted one of the top 100 places to work by the Dallas Morning News. But, despite all she’s implemented, Shelley refuses to take credit for the company’s great reputation. “The success of our organization is the result of talented and committed employees whose leaders act with a tremendous amount of integrity and character who are truly in it for the good of the whole,” she says. “I wake up every day knowing I’m the luckiest person alive to get to work here.”