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Hiring and Keeping Great Employees, The Struggle is Real

I went to a networking event last week at a local brewery’s tap room.   The space was amazing, the beer was tasty and the taco truck, well damn, that was awesome!    I spent quite a bit of time chatting with the manager of the tap room, complimenting her on the space and telling her that I imagined that their event business must be brisk, particularly going into the holidays.  I then waited for the inevitable sigh of frustration which I knew was coming.  She said exactly what I was expecting, “We could be doing even bigger business if we had enough help, good help.”       Whenever I talk with local small businesses we eventually get to the same place.   Yes, business is great but unfortunately, they can’t grow as quickly as they would like since it is nearly impossible to find, attract and hire quality employees and keep them in this tight job market.   

I have been working with employers to get to the root of the problem and the bottom line is that at less than 3.5% unemployment, there simply aren’t enough people out there looking for work.   Open the paper in Maine on any given day and you are likely to see an article about a business closing, cutting back hours or limiting service due to the challenge of finding employees to do this work, particularly in the wage band of $12 to $15 per hour.    My new friend, the manager of the tap room went on to explain that even when they do find someone who is good, they are often lured away by another restaurant for $.50 or $1.00 more per hour.   There is a veritable fight among restaurants to get the best talent and keep them.   I don’t believe this challenge is exclusive to hospitality.    I hear the same thing from business owners in manufacturing, call centers, cleaning services, you name it.   

What can you do as an employer to keep your best talent in this environment?  

Well here are five simple things to retain good employees in a competitive employment environment. 

1.       Invest time training new employees.    New entry level employees are usually tossed right into the proverbial fire with little training.    Many employers report that as many as 2 out of 5 new staff members disappear during their first week on the job.  This is likely due to being discouraged, dejected or overwhelmed by the job and without a lifeline it’s easier to opt out and move on and hope for a better experience somewhere else.  

2.       Consider the culture.  Take my restaurant example.    In these environments, new people are often treated with disrespect by experienced kitchen and wait staff. It has often been viewed as a right of passage to endure some hazing.  This is not OK.  Period.  This type of environment shouldn’t be tolerated unless you are fine with scaring away good talent.   

3.       Find out every employee’s WHY.  In other words, why did they take this job?    Knowing that your dishwasher is saving up for a car or that your cleaning person is trying to put her kid through college is important.  This will allow you to understand their base needs and you can find way to help them achieve their goal. 

4.       Make sure there is something in it for them besides money.    Maybe the dishwasher is learning how to prep foods.  The receptionist is learning about organization and scheduling.  Your bartender can gain valuable insight into purchasing.    Teach customer service and other skills that your employees can put on their resume.  And tell them about it.  Don’t assume they know they are getting that specific skillset.  

5.       Check in regularly with every employee, even the quiet ones.    Say thank you.    Early and often.  Thanks for working late, thanks for hard work, thanks for taking care of that large party.   Don’t assume the paycheck or the tip is the reward.    Recognition and true gratitude can be a very big reward for many people.

Finally, get creative.    Are there perks you can give your employees outside of the wage to make the job more attractive?   Maybe give employees 1 day a quarter to do volunteer work, or give them the ability to work remotely 1 day a month for office workers.    Offer a discount for friends and family if you are in retail.  Weigh the cost of these perks versus the cost of losing good employees and the cost of hiring new ones. 

The bottom line is that if an employee feels valued, properly trained, trusted and understood they aren’t going to leave you for an extra $.50 an hour.    I guarantee it.   Need help coming up with strategies to hire great people, train them and retain them?   I can help.   Drop me a line and we can talk about your unique situation.  

In the meantime, here’s this week’s addition to the inspireal playlist…throwing it back with a little Loverboy. 

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Jill Parker