Here are some simple steps that electrical distributors can take to help keep their current workforces happy while also attracting new employees in any labor market conditions.
Skilled labor shortages, a national unemployment rate that’s hovering around 4%, and a healthy economy are converging to make things pretty tough on electrical distributors that need new staff members, sales reps, and managers right now. And while much of the focus is on finding new employees to fill out their ranks, distributors also have to keep their existing workers in place, productive, and happy in a world where the next job opportunity is literally one screen tap or mouse click away.
For some companies, a simple employee breakroom overhaul could mean the difference between holding onto that 20-year veteran worker or watching him waltz out the door in search of greener pastures. “If your breakroom is just a folding table shoved in the corner of your warehouse with a coffee pot on it, it’s time to rethink your work environment,” says Janel Anderson, owner at Working Conversations and author of Head On: How to Approach Difficult Conversations Directly.
In touring an electrical distributor’s facilities recently, Anderson says that’s exactly what she saw when she asked about the company’s breakroom: a table, a coffee pot, and a box of doughnuts. “That just doesn’t encourage people to connect and have conversations with one another,” says Anderson, “nor does it entice anyone to want to spend 8-10 hours of every weekday at your facility.”
Because there’s nowhere to go but up from that particular breakroom scenario, Anderson says the distributor that makes even the smallest improvements in that area can reap immediate rewards from its efforts. “Even if all you can do is a lean-to setup, at least put up some walls to create a ‘base’ where your people can take a break, unwind, chit-chat with one another, and enjoy a small respite,” says Anderson, who notes that for employees to be able to “work hard and play hard,” they need their own space to do the latter.
“I’ve seen people working in warehouse and distribution center (DC) environments having an absolute blast with one another—all while getting their jobs done in a very productive manner,” says Anderson. “A lot of times, these interactions and relationships start in the breakroom.”
Breaking the Mold
A lot goes into good workforce development and employee retention plans. Recruiting strategies need to be developed; new staff members need to be on-boarded and trained; workers need to be educated and mentored; and then those valued hires need to be treated in a way that makes them want to stay with your distributorship for the long haul.
None of these tasks is easy or clear-cut in today’s tight labor market, but the to-do list doesn’t end there. Distributors also have to look at the physical work environment and how that environment impacts their employees.
“The quality of the work environment matters to employees, especially in a tight labor market when they have options,” McCallum Sweeney’s Beth H. Land points out in How to Solve the Top 5 Labor Shortage Issues. “We hear that work environment is typically one of the main reasons an employee will leave their job, not necessarily pay. This is especially true in industrial facilities where they are doing something that they didn’t expect would be challenging (e.g. reaching and squatting in a fulfillment center, handling raw meat in a food processing environment, or being subjected to extreme cold or hot temperatures).”
According to McCallum Sweeney’s research, companies whose facilities were plagued by heavy odors and dust—or where work had to be performed outside in the weather elements—experienced higher worker turnover. Land goes on to say that employers stated that facilities that aren’t air-conditioned or heated comfortably contribute significantly to employee turnover. “Employers should be attuned to how the work environment is affecting employees,” Land writes. “Could investing in an HVAC system drastically help reduce the costs associated with employee turnover?”
Getting Them to Stick Around
Thinking beyond the breakroom, Anderson says electrical distributors that want to create a physical workspace where employees actually want to come to work every day should start by developing a clear value chain for those workers. For example, if employees spooling cable to fulfill an order can connect that task with new homeowners being able to turn on a light switch or a commercial building having reliable wiring, it turns the task of spooling wire into more meaningful work. “When employees can connect what they do on a daily basis with the downstream impact of that work,” she says, “it reinforces their value and importance to the company.”
Distributors can also integrate gamification into the work routine and make it part of the everyday work experience. “The more ways the employer can make work fun and interesting through incentivizing the kinds of behaviors they’d like to see repeated, the higher employee engagement will be,” says Anderson. “From celebrating consecutive days without accident or injury to creating team competitions for orders fulfilled without errors, there are many ways to inspire employees to use gaming to play ‘full out.’”
Finally, electrical distributors can also work to create a physical space where personal relationships can thrive. Once acclimated to a DC and familiar with the work, for example, employees can begin to bond with one another and create relationships. Those “work buddy” relationships often become the motivation for showing up and doing a great job.
“At work, it’s often about not letting your buddies down,” says Anderson, “so design the warehouse and office space to incorporate spaces and places for relationships to develop and be maintained. This will help companies create a workplace culture where people want to stay and contribute.”
These efforts can help distributors attract new workers while also keeping their current staff levels intact, says Anderson, in a world where all trades are dealing with a shortage of labor. “Anything you can do to attract and retain employees is critical right now,” says Anderson, “so if you can create a place where people want to come work every day—and where employees feel like you really care about them and their comfort and wellbeing—you’ll stand the best chance of keeping them around.”Tagged with best practices, retention