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Blog: Boosting Employee Retention

By Bridget McCrea

It’s no secret that distributors are operating in a very different business world than they were just five or 10 years ago. Sales figures are down or flat, new customers and lines of business are harder to find, and competition is stiff. Belts have been tightened and everything from marketing programs to advertising initiatives to employee incentives has been hit hard. Unfortunately, skimping on the latter and ignoring the need for employee retention strategies can be highly unproductive for the electrical distributor that wants to lift itself out of the “slump” and get back to business as usual.

“Most people are aware that companies are having hardships, and will understand that if they don’t get a sizeable financial bonus,” says Adrian Miller, president of Port Washington, N.Y.-based Adrian Miller Sales Training. “But if you want to have a motivated and enthusiastic workforce where everyone is rowing in the same direction, you still need an employee retention strategy that supports that goal.”

At Warshauer Electric Supply Co., in Tinton Falls, N.J., Jim Dunn, executive vice president of sales and marketing, says offering a solid, steady career path has gone a long way in helping the distributor keep employees engaged and onboard for the long-term. “We encourage our staff members to be long-term thinkers and to think of electrical wholesaling as a career and not just a ‘job,'” says Dunn.  “We’ve found that offering a solid career path – and then living up to that promise – pushes more employees to stick with us for the long haul.”

Showing employees that their employers are truly dedicated to their success has also helped Warshauer Electric retain its top talent – particularly during the most recent downturn. Unlike many companies, this distributor did its cost cutting in areas other than human resources. “We retained 100 percent of our headcount during the economic apocalypse of 2008-2011,” says Dunn. “We did everything we could in terms of belt tightening and fiscal responsibility in order to maintain that headcount.”

Ask Your Employees What They Want
Stefanie Smith, an executive consultant with Stratex Consulting in New York, says distributors should never try to “guess” at what their workforces want. Instead, says Smith, ask them what they would like and then give them choices that are aligned with those desires. Inexpensive options could include short write-ups (about recent accomplishments, for example) in the company newsletter, the chance to head up a project, or the opportunity to attend an industry event.

“Everyone is motivated by different rewards, and where one person might love a write-up, another may really want to go to that industry conference,” says Smith. “By addressing these personal choices you can come up with inexpensive, easy ways to motivate your employees to success.”

Getting there also means shaking off the idea that your distributorship is somehow not as good as it once was, says Smith, and avoiding comparisons to other companies that may be offering higher incentives and rewards to their own staffers. “Look at things from a fresh perspective, and don’t worry about not being able to give your workers what you gave them five or 10 years ago,” says Smith. “Instead, come up with a program that strikes a balance between employee recognition and financial management.”

When in Doubt, Get Creative
Keeping employees happy doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. Simply offering time off can be a great way to reward workers without having to hand out cash or prizes. “People love time off,” says Miller, who also sees simple, inexpensive gestures like gift cards (see sidebar) as an economic way to show staff members your appreciation without breaking the bank. Because they’re tailored to a person’s interest (a book lover would enjoy an Amazon gift card, while a weekend athlete would probably like one from Sports Authority), these incentives go beyond cash and make staff members feel appreciated.

One company that Miller recently worked with created contests in conjunction with a company store, and offered “bonus points” to workers who helped achieve safe workplace and sales goals. The points were redeemable for merchandise, which ranged from small prizes (such as company t-shirts and fleece jackets) to large electronics (the latter of which employees would save up for over time). “For the small investment that the company has to make in these types of programs,” says Miller, “the payoff can be significant.”

Editor’s note: Come back to tedmag.com Friday to find out why everyone loves gift cards.

McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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