Keeping the team together

Employee retention is on the mind of almost every business leader. What are local executives and HR professionals doing to show their employees the love and keep them from leaving?

When your company has found someone worth hiring it’s understood that you want them to work for you, not somebody else. It’s not just frustrating to go through a lengthy hiring and training process with a new employee only to wind back up at square one six months later when he or she jumps ship, it’s also expensive.

According to a recent Glassdoor study, we’re in a candidate-driven market and retention is of vital importance to business leaders who are having trouble finding qualified candidates to fill jobs.

The study shows recruiting is costlier for businesses when the market favors job seekers. It costs $4,000 on average for U.S. businesses to fill an open position, according to the Glassdoor data, and on average it takes 52 days for businesses to fill a job opening (up from 48 days in 2011).

Engaging and retaining highly-skilled workers is paramount to creating and maintaining a positive workplace environment, and its was a topic of discussion during IB’s inaugural Think Tank on Corporate Culture May 24, sponsored by WPS Health Solutions.

According to Shaun Trudell, president of Automation Arts, an audio-visual consulting company in Middleton, in the last five years his company has only lost one person, and he came back nine months later.

“He went to a competitor and found out the grass wasn’t greener,” notes Trudell.

Trudell says Automation Arts invests in its employees through education, but it goes deeper than that. “We talk to them to find out what they’re passionate about. We see if that’s something we can provide for them” either through shifting job responsibilities or training opportunities.

It’s also important for the leaders at Automation Arts to give employees time to bond together. “We have days where we shut the entire company down and do an activity as a group,” says Trudell. “Most recently we took everyone paintballing — one employee didn’t want to join us so we told her to go out and have a spa day on us; another had family obligations so we told him to take care of those and then take his family out to lunch on the company. We paid them for the day of work they missed and paid for the excursion. We try to do that type of thing two to three times per year.”

Not every company has the makeup to shut down for a day — or fire 22,000 paintballs at each other to build camaraderie. (Yes, that’s actually how many paintballs the Automation Arts team went through in one day of blowing off steam.)



Madison-based State Collection Service has been rated a “Best Place to Work in Collections” nationally by insideARM, a publication for the accounts receivable management industry. Chief HR Officer Judy Gray says State Collection Service works with hospitals to outsource their non-critical functions like billing. “We’re a call center — 80% of our employees are agents on the phone.”

That’s a tough environment, and one that’s prone to high turnover. But Gray notes State Collection Service has a turnover rate less than 20%. “We’re not a grindhouse call center, but these are really hard jobs, handling patient billing problems. It’s not easy work, so we try to provide comfort and support around our employees so they feel comfortable coming to work.”

According to Gray, State Collection Service’s ability to retain employees comes down to three main factors:

  1. Family. “We’re a family-run company that has 600 employees, but we treat everyone like they’re part of the same family.”
  2. Relationships with co-workers. “We try to have as few rules as possible so people know what they need to do but they’re still treated as individuals.”
  3. Relationships with supervisors and managers.

“We try not to have a one-size-fits-all approach with our employees,” explains Gray. “We’re contractually obligated by our clients to start answering phones at 8 a.m. But what happens if we have an employee who has been tardy a few times recently? Our employees have complicated lives. We need to answer phones at 8 a.m. but maybe they’ve been having a hard time getting in by then because they’re having issues getting their children ready for school, or they have a sick child. So we bring them in and ask what’s going on, we ask do we maybe need to set their individual start time back to 8:15 or 8:30 so they can handle their business at home without being worried, and then they just work until 5:15 or 5:30?

“Discipline is a last resort for us,” Gray notes.

So, what are some of the best practices local companies are using to retain their employees and keep workers from a variety of generations — boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials — happy and motivated?

  • Onboarding doesn’t end after a month. You’ve probably heard the statistic that about one-third of employees will quit within the first six months of a new job. What’s even more sobering is that same percentage reports knowing within the first week of a job whether they would be with the company long-term. “We always say that first two to three weeks is the most vulnerable,” notes Gray. “That person is really still on the job market. They may have other jobs they’ve applied to, their resume is still out there on LinkedIn, and they’re probably still getting calls about other jobs. If we don’t get that onboarding process right — and it doesn’t end after a month — they’ll leave because they have other options still available.”
  • Institute a buddy policy. To continue the onboarding theme, assign a buddy to all new hires for as long as both parties feel it’s needed. Some companies may select a longer tenured employee who can help the new hire navigate the company and learn the internal politics. Others opt for the most recently hired person since they’ve just gone through the onboarding process themselves and are familiar with all the things a new hire needs to know. Whatever your company does, make sure the new hire is welcomed — that means computer, phone, and desk are all set up when he or she arrives the first day — and looked after when all the HR paperwork is completed.
  • Be flexible and trust your employees not to take advantage. For as many companies out there that now allow employees to spend some of their time working remotely, there are still a lot that don’t out of fear that their workers won’t, well, work when they’re not in the office. The key questions when looking at flexible scheduling or remote work are: Is work getting done? Is it getting done on time? If you can answer yes to both questions, then it shouldn't be a problem to allow employees to work remotely some or all of the time, or let them leave a little early for an appointment and not expect them to make up the time later. Employees know they’ll get fired if they don’t do their job, so trust them to do it. Besides, chances are if they’re not working at home, they also weren’t really working at the office either.
  • Exploit technology. At State Collection Services, they’ve incorporated gamification into their operations. “Our agents can earn badges and things for accomplishing certain goals, and they can unlock other rewards,” notes Gray. “It’s been really popular, especially the younger employees. Others don’t want to participate and they don’t have to, but we’ve found that a lot of the younger workers want to be entertained while they work and this accomplishes that.” For a technology company like Automation Arts, with a median employee age of about 32, it’s not too hard to attract workers, notes Trudell. And once they’re hired? “We have a 98-inch TV in the break room — who doesn’t like that?”

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