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Dealing with Laundry Labor Demands (Part 1)

“Like many laundries, I’m still dealing with labor shortages and demands for higher wages. What suggestions do you have for finding and retaining employees?”

Long-Term Care Laundry: Juli Reding, Wood-Lawn Inc., Batesville, Ark.

Labor shortages and demands for higher wages were happening to companies prior to COVID-19.

One thing that increased these challenges we are facing was the recipients of state unemployment benefits were provided an additional $600 in weekly benefits by the federal government on top of their standard unemployment.

Most of these recipients made more money while unemployed than they made while they were working. This made it exceedingly difficult for a lot of us to fill open positions.

Now in 2022, things have improved slightly. We have increased wages to be more competitive with other companies. We are not only focused on hiring new staff but also on retaining what staff we do have.

With all that said, here are a few suggestions:

  • First and foremost, have consistency and fairness in the workplace.
  • Managers need to be supportive leaders. The objective of supportive leadership is team members who can work autonomously but who feel comfortable seeking support when they need it.
  • Provide quality tools and equipment to do their job.
  • Provide them with a more than adequate quantity of supplies to perform their job. It can be humiliating to staff to not have the supplies they need to perform their job.
  • Flexible schedules—when possible, try to work together with your staff.
  • Offer a sign-on bonus payable after 90 days of perfect attendance.
  • Relax company dress code a little—if possible, allow staff to wear jeans.
  • Offer payroll deduction for work clothing and shoes.
  • Adjust your absentee policy.
  • Offer free or discounted meals.
  • Make the work environment more comfortable.
  • Use social media and recruiting sites like indeed and your local newspaper.
  • Cross-train current employees.

I hope that my contribution has provided you with some ideas that will help with this ongoing challenge we all face. I wish all of you success.

Equipment Manufacturing: Al Adcock, B&C Technologies, Panama City, Fla.

Since labor costs are one of the largest expenses when running any business, it makes the most sense to treat your employees as the assets that they are. 

People, in general, wish to be challenged, respected, given responsibility and trusted. Of course, pay is part of the equation, but it is much easier and less expensive to retain an excellent employee than it is to find and train a replacement.

Make your workplace great and word of mouth will get you great employees through recommendations from your current employees.

How can you make your workplace great? Try the basics:

  1. Treat your employees like humans. We are all a part of the human experience and no one is any better than anyone else. Realizing this and treating others the way you would like to be treated creates trust. No one goes above and beyond for someone they can’t trust.
  2. Pay them well. We’re all working because we have goals in life and at this time, solid hard-working employees find themselves more valuable than ever. Reward your employees for their hard work in growing your business. Keep in mind that buying lunch is nice, but money pays the rent. If you’re underpaying compared to your competition, no amount of pizza parties will keep your employees happy.
  3. Listen to their concerns and act on those concerns. No matter the business, there is always room for improvement. Listening to ideas from the people who are actually doing the work and then acting on those ideas builds trust (there’s that word again) in the relationship. If you’re truly interested in creating a work environment where people want to stay, trust is key.
  4. Let them know they are doing a good job both verbally and monetarily. Compliments are free and should be handed out when appropriate and it’s always appropriate to compliment a job well done. Dealing with a difficult customer in a great way? Compliment! Did something nice unexpectedly? Compliment! If you have a hard time with this, just try simply saying thank you as it really goes a long way when the boss gives you a compliment. Handing out performance bonuses (again, money, not gift cards and the like) regularly is also an excellent way to literally put your money where your mouth is and show appreciation for your hard-working staff.

We’re all on this journey together, and we as humans have the unique power and capability to improve each other’s lives. It’s well past time that we should treat each other with kindness and understanding in order to create a better world for ourselves, our children and future generations. We can make the choice to start right now.

Chemicals Supply: John Schafer, Diversey, Fort Mill, S.C.

The labor market is especially tight now, more so for hourly employees than others. These employees have more choices and are demanding higher wages. 

Working in a laundry is harder work than many of the other positions they could possibly choose. You will need to create a positive work environment that focuses on your employees. 

First, make sure your existing employees are happy. Ask them what else you could do for them—besides a wage increase—flexible schedules, better communication, advancement.

Also, ask them if they know of anyone looking for a job. Offer incentives for referrals.

Make sure your management team is treating your existing employees with respect. 

Look outside your normal recruiting avenues. Don’t exclude potential candidates based on criminal records. I had great success when running a restaurant hiring folks from a halfway house. They are required to work and if they don’t or get fired they typically are sent back to prison. 

Be cautious and diligent in your interview process but I would not exclude these folks from my recruiting efforts. 

Other ideas:

  • Contact your local unemployment office. 
  • Advertise online. 
  • Network with other facilities. Perhaps you have a schedule that is more attractive to their employee or perhaps they have a schedule that is more attractive to one of yours; don’t be afraid to trade labor back and forth. Or perhaps someone is willing to work two jobs.
  • Consider temp agencies. 
  • Contact former employees to see if they might want to come back to work for you (assuming they left on a positive note).

Commercial Laundry: Lee Baldauf, Superior Linen Service, Tacoma, Wash.

These are trying times, in many ways. Laundries, and the engineering side of it for sure, have always been underserved with a good pool of labor.

Let’s face it, many of us are saying no to potential new accounts simply because finding the bodies to process the work is near impossible.

If someone wants a job right now, they have people begging, and even overpaying, to get them on board. Those are the most untroubled candidates.

Many of the applicants that so many see now are troubled people with checkered employment and background history.

This reminds me of 2005. If you had a good employee who showed up late every day, you were grateful they showed up every day.

This is cyclical. In 2009, I had people begging for work. I don’t think we will see an economic downturn of those proportions again, but I do think it will level off.

I think for the present time we must be cognizant of what keeps our current employees feeling appreciated and willing to come back tomorrow. It also means being more patient with people who have come on board because of a satisfied employee suggesting they give us a shot.

We’ve all read the articles telling us how much more a millennial wants recognition and a pat on the back, rather than a raise. I’ve promoted guys out of the washroom to engineering. I started doing this when I found it hard to compete with offers for already qualified technicians and engineers.

Others in the plant recognize advancement can happen through hard work and reliability, and it shows them this isn’t a dead end.

I don’t know any magic tricks. People don’t grow up saying they want to work in laundry. The only magic bullet I have is letting others outside of our field know that even I was able to find a career here, and that means there is opportunity in laundry for anyone.

Check back tomorrow for advice from experts in healthcare laundry, consulting services and equipment/supply distribution.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].