Employee power!

Employers no longer have the upper hand in hiring, so how can they keep their great employees engaged?

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Unemployment rates hovering around 3 percent and a workforce that is choosing flexibility over tradition is causing many employers to scratch their heads these days.

Jobs seem plentiful, but technology allows employees to submit resumes or be recruited from their laptops while at work without their employers ever knowing. Besides that, anonymous reviews can fairly or unfairly characterize workplaces for the public to scrutinize.

Suddenly, valued employees may fly the coop for more money, better benefits, or both. And if that job doesn’t work out, they’ll likely turn around and do it all over again. Today’s workforce is clearly driven by the demands of employees rather than the employers. So, what’s an employer to do to keep their great employees engaged and their new employees around?

In this article on worker retention, we look at workforce trends and how employers are stepping up to the plate.

Low unemployment brings challenges. The onus is on the employer to not only find qualified employees, but to keep them employed because the sudden loss of a valuable employee can be just as jarring to remaining employees. No company wants to have a revolving door, yet many do.

If business owners learn one thing from today’s workforce, it’s that work-life balance, community give-back, and culture matters more than ever. The younger workforce wants to impact their company’s future, have their opinions heard, and be treated fairly and honestly.

According to a recent Robert Half blog titled, “Effective Employee Retention Strategies,” retention of employees should be the priority of all business owners, particularly in this job market. Some strategies to consider:

  • Set new employees up for success with a thorough onboarding and orientation program explaining the job, the culture, and how they can provide input;
  • Create mentorships between new and seasoned employees;
  • Offer excellent wages and benefits soundly based on market research;
  • Acknowledge employees for jobs well done verbally or through incentive programs or handwritten cards;
  • Offer professional development programming to coincide with their goals;
  • Encourage employee ideas and acknowledge any concerns they may have;
  • Be transparent and honest, and handle major announcements face-to-face, allowing time for employees to digest the information and ask questions;
  • Encourage collaboration on team objectives, business goals, and roles;
  • Celebrate major milestones, whether that means the birth of a child, employment anniversary, or birthdays; and
  • Revisit all of these ideas at least once a year to stay on track, particularly with your competitors — other employers. Tweak if necessary.

Consider the following, posted recently in a FastCompany.com report titled “What companies should be doing to retain talent in 2019” dated Jan. 5, 2019:

  • 83 percent of companies suffer from low employee engagement, primarily because the management doesn’t have the ability to define engagement in any meaningful way.
  • 69 percent of employees say they would work harder if they were recognized for their work, according to Socialcast, so be timely and personal in that recognition.
  • 59 percent of employees rate their company as either not effective or somewhat effective at empowering career decisions, according to a recent Deloitte capital trends study.

According to a Gallup poll, 98 percent of employees say they will not be engaged in their jobs or their company if they don’t receive manager feedback.

Top companies also are signaling a trend that goes beyond just engaging employees to enabling them. According to Deloitte, this shift toward people enablement empowers employees “to acquire valuable experiences, explore new roles, and continually reinvent themselves.”

Local input: Know your employees

“This is a very good candidate-driven market,” notes Jim Jeffers, Wisconsin market manager for Robert Half, who oversees the Milwaukee, Waukesha, Appleton, and Madison markets. “The chips are all with the candidates. They can pick and choose who they want to work with and who they want to work for,” he states.

The question is, will they choose your company? And how do you compete if you’re a small business?

When meeting with an employee, Jeffers cautions employers not to make a job review solely focused on the job. “Reviews have to be about what makes the employee happy, what keeps them here.” That, he continues, creates a competitive, creative, and diverse workforce.

With several generations represented in the workplace, everyone is motivated by different things, which can be healthy for employers, Jeffers says, because it introduces a diversity of thought, decision making, and networking.

He suggests making your excellent employees part of the company’s culture, asking them to serve as mentors to others, help establish relationships, and learn what motivates others.

Is it money, for example? “I think it’s a case-by-case scenario,” Jeffers responds. “We talk a lot about generations, but if you find the right motivations, generation doesn’t matter.”

Admittedly, employers can only do so much, he adds. “It’s a tough market for employers and a great market for candidates. [Candidates] can go after their dream job right now, which is fantastic, but employers also must do a great job determining who they are, what they stand for, and offer their best tools to retain employees.”

Mary Jo Spiekerman, vice president of human resources for Hausmann-Johnson Insurance, acknowledges the pressure facing employers these days, and urges companies to think of their employees as customers.

“Increasingly, customers are more educated. For example, they’ll tell their doctor which drug they want based on an ad they saw.” Just as retailers have to compete for shoppers, employers need to compete for employees, she adds.

The speed at which a unique benefit moves from “special” to commonplace, however, is also increasing, Spiekerman observes.

“It’s been surprising to me the number of employers that have embraced paid leave programs, starting with maternity and paternity. Some employers, like Hausmann-Johnson, offer compassionate care leave, for example, allowing employees who need to care for an ill family member in hospice, for example, or a sick child in the hospital, to take time away from work to care for them without forcing them to use paid time off or vacation time.”

Many large employers have been offering benefits such as student loan repayment programs, genetic testing, infertility and adoption support, or charity gift-matching to keep valuable employees.

Paid sabbaticals are growing in popularity among some organizations, allowing employees to take one or two months paid leave for whatever they choose — volunteering, a trip, or just taking a breather from work.

And as baby boomers age through retirement, Spiekerman says some companies are offering graduated retirement options, whereby employees might negotiate a plan to work 40 hours a week for a year, then 32 hours, etcetera, until their retirement date.

“A lot of employers are doing that because they’re desperate and are having trouble replacing these people,” she says. “We’ve even lured people out of retirement, which is a real trick because most retirees don’t want to put in a 40 hours anymore.”

Spiekerman mentions one Wisconsin hospital that allows employees to work six months on and then six months off, yet stay “employed.” The reasoning, she explains, is to attract “snowbirds”— generally retirees — who winter in warmer climes but return to the area in spring and summer ready to work just as year-round hospital staff is anxious to take vacations.

From an administrative standpoint, Spiekerman says it can be both challenging and costly to orchestrate such arrangements, and it could lead to situations where an employee receives full benefits for part-time work. “On the other hand, some organizations may feel it’s worth it, or feel a sense of obligation to honor their good, long-term employee.”



Small fish benefits

How can small employers compete in this race to retain? Actually, it may not be as difficult as it seems.

It’s all about culture.

“Some people don’t want to be a small fish in a big pond,” Spiekerman notes. “They’d rather do the same job but maybe just down the hall from the company owner.” Additionally, small businesses are nimble and able to change more quickly. They tend to rely more on employee input and innovation, which is attractive to many younger workers.

Employees may have to wear more hats in a smaller organization, Spiekerman explains, but they also will be able to affect change, whether that means allowing pets in the workplace, flexible schedules, work-life balance, or really focusing on supporting the local community.

“Smaller organizations tend not to be so hung up on rules of the past, while large organizations can’t typically do that,” Spiekerman says.

No matter the company size, culture reigns supreme in terms of employee retention. “The bottom line is that employees need to feel trusted and respected,” she adds. “That’s huge.”

Rewarding younger employees with promotions and new titles is also important, Spiekerman explains. “Employees want that new business card and the opportunity to keep updating their LinkedIn page,” she explains. “New titles should also come with a bump in pay, though, otherwise it’s just window dressing.”

Spiekerman encourages all employers to treat employees as they would their best customer. “Step up your game! You’re competing with other employers for employees. That’s your business competition.”

We asked several area employers what they’re doing to retain employees. Are they checking all the same boxes? Read on!

Monona Bank

In 2017, Monona Bank merged with Middleton Community Bank and its employee count increased from about 100 to 160-plus across nine locations.

The merger helped expand job opportunities, according to Michele Baldwin, senior vice president of human resources, who notes that 15 people have already been promoted or transferred as a result. “We focus on the fact that we’re a community bank making a difference in our local communities,” she explains.

Monona Bank participates in wage surveys to ensure its employees are competitively compensated. It also focuses on company culture, benefits, being transparent and appreciative, and developing friendships from the top down.

Paul Hoffmann, president and CEO, is actively engaged, as well, from the monthly newsletters he writes, to thanking employees for their work and explaining how their work matters, to personal notes each employee receives from him on their birthdays and work anniversaries.

Several times a year, Hoffmann invites the bank’s newest associates, from tellers to business bankers, to join him at a sit-down lunch paid for by the bank so they can get to know one another. Five-year employee anniversaries are also celebrated with gift cards and recognition throughout the organization.

Monona Bank employees also have an option to purchase bank stock with their 401(k) money from the previous year. “We have a high percentage of employees that do that,” Baldwin says, which gives them a vested interest in helping the bank grow.

While a variety of social events and friendly competitions are planned throughout the year, including pot lucks and a company holiday party, “Paul is the bank’s biggest asset,” Baldwin insists.

Universal Presentation Concepts

UPC is a 41-year-old manufacturing business founded by Dan Levine. The company works both nationally and internationally to create product-specific displays and racks for retail establishments designed to present products — from surfboards to golf clubs, or appliances to wood flooring — in their best light. “Most of our customers are the manufacturers of the consumer product,” he explains, like Hallmark, for example.

Not surprisingly, most turnover involves labor and unskilled workers, and the company is perpetually hiring, yet 60 percent of UPC’s current staff has been with the company 15 years or longer.

“We’re a very fun company,” Levine adds. “Our customers are really fun. All of their products are really fun. It’s a fun business, and that’s what helps us a lot. We know that our competition is every employer looking to hire in this community.”

Lisa Adkins, director of human resources, says UPC prides itself on several retention perks, including one related to wages. “We ask our employees what they’d like to learn to reach a certain wage, because we want them to stretch themselves.”

Full-time employees can participate in a 401(k) plan that offers 50 cents for every dollar contributed up to 6 percent of their salary, and vesting occurs after six years of employment.

UPC offers full-time employees the option of choosing from four different health insurance options, including a no-deductible plan that, in Adkins’ words, is “pretty unheard of,” and an employee assistance program that is available starting on the date of hire.

Periodically, the company brings local advisors in to provide financial or insurance information and counseling to employees, and each year, UPC hires a vendor to administer flu shots on site, whether or not they subscribe to the company’s insurance plan.

On a monthly or quarterly basis, employees with perfect attendance are entered into fun drawings that can result in significant cash prizes, or items such as a large-screen TV, mountain bike, or grill. As a motivation, the prizes are often on display in the company’s break area to sweeten their interest.

Levine says managerial candidates at UPC can write their own ticket. “I tell them that from day one. If they want to be the president, go for it! We don’t care. We don’t have seniority here.”

In addition to numerous cookoffs and celebrations for safety records (hours worked with no lost time), each Thanksgiving, the company sends every employee home with a frozen turkey to share with their family. “We hire families, not individuals,” Levine states. “Our highest level of management wants to provide things for our employees that they want for themselves — quality of life, financial gain, retirement, and fun in life. That’s transcended since day one.”

RenewAire LLC

Tammy Schmeiden, vice president at RenewAire in Waunakee, says the company can offer something many employers cannot — a clean air environment in a manufacturing plant.

RenewAire makes energy recovery ventilation (ERV) units for both residential and commercial buildings that clean and condition indoor air.

“The job market is the tightest we’ve seen throughout my career, but our turnover here is extremely low. We’re pleased with that but we also don’t rest on our laurels,” Schmeiden states. “We’re always hiring, and our plan is to continue to grow, but we’ll also hold out for the right people.

“We do business as business should be done,” she adds, “treating every employee with respect and being ethical, open, and transparent in all of our business practices. At the end of the day, people want to like and believe in what they do, and that they matter and their work matters.”

In addition to the air quality inside, Schmeiden believes other perks help retain RenewAire’s 115 employees.

Monthly meetings offer employees a transparent look at how the company is performing.

It conducts competitive market studies to ensure wages and benefits are in line, and keeps insurance premiums and deductibles as low as possible. “Other companies have gone to high deductible plans, but we have not because we don’t’ want to pass the costs on to our employees.”

RenewAire follows the Quality Response Manufacturing (QRM) methodology that promotes cross training across all areas of production. “The more people know, the happier they are and the more they contribute to RenewAire’s success.”

In addition to an annual party or dinner, the company plans a fun event monthly, whether it’s a cookout, cookoff, or Halloween party in October.

To help burn off the excess calories, RenewAire has an onsite fitness center with elliptical machines, treadmills, free weights, and other exercise items, plus showers employees are free to use afterwards.

“The current marketplace is making us think more strongly about what we’re doing or have done, Schmeiden admits. “We try to do as much as we can to make this a good place to work because we all believe that work is needed, and employees are not only valued, they’re our most important asset.”



Retaining employees after a crisis

How a tragic event affected Paradigm’s retention strategies

September 19, 2018 started out like any other day at WTS Paradigm in Middleton, until an active shooter — a company employee — began firing. The gunman was killed by first responders but not before several employees sustained multiple injuries.

Aubree Martin, senior manager of human resources, was in the building that day, and now speaks to other businesses about leading through a crisis.

Prior to 9.19, or “the incident,” as the company refers to it, the software company had worked with building security experts and done all it possibly could, short of installing metal detectors. Employees had key cards and limited access doors into the office, “but when you have an employee in active, good standing they have that key card and there’s really nothing you can do to change that,” Martin says.

The company, led by owner and CEO Nathan Herbst, now has a very unique perspective on how a public and tragic incident can affect employee retention.

“We didn’t know what to expect from staff, but we were hopeful there wouldn’t be a significant number of people that would leave,” Martin says. “We were certainly prepared for that, but that didn’t happen.”

What Paradigm did have in place, was a strong management team able to lead under duress and put its 180 Middleton-based employees — and not the company — first.

Without any prior crisis training, leaders instantly adopted a “lead with the heart and put people first” mantra that led the team in every decision that followed, from accounting for all employees, to ensuring their safety and well-being.

Over time, some employees struggled in their work and left, deciding either to reevaluate their lives or their careers.

Every two weeks since then, a counselor drops by to lend a trained ear for those needing emotional support, and the company recently enhanced its Employee Assistance Program (EAP), as well, switching to a more proactive rather than reactive plan. “We now realize how critical an EAP plan can be in a crisis situation,” Martin says.

After the event, Paradigm enlisted the help of security consultants as it moved ahead to remodel parts of the office space. Collaboration areas were key, including soft-seating areas, and a large screen TV, and management instituted flexible work hours to emphasize the importance of work-life balance.

“We have a much greater understanding of life outside of these walls and how and important and valuable it is,” Martin adds. There’s a renewed emphasis on fun, from charity cookouts to Office Olympics and corn-hole tournaments, and deeper friendships have been formed.

An open-door policy allows employees to approach company executives with ideas or concerns, but if someone chooses to remain anonymous, an old-fashioned suggestion box is always available, somewhat unheard of in this high-tech environment.

“If an employee feels they need to remain completely anonymous, we invite them to take out a pen and write down their thoughts,” notes Martin. “We don’t want anyone to feel like they have a barrier in getting their ideas or feelings across to management.”

The company doesn’t run away from “the incident,” Martin explains, “but we don’t advertise it either. It happened. Every employee has been on their own journey toward healing, and that will continue. We can’t just check a box and say it’s over.

“We have an amazing work environment and work culture here, and we’re thankful and lucky that people are still interested in working here,” she notes. “The last thing we want to do is give anyone any reason not to.”

Nearly a year later, the company has shortened its name to Paradigm and established the Paradigm Foundation to give back to the first responders and local community who helped that day. Turnover is “well below industry standards,” Martin reports, and the company is in growth mode, with more than 20 job openings posted online.

Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.