Uniforms/Workwear Manufacturing: Alexis Miller Lettis, Regent Apparel, South San Francisco, Calif.

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Alexis Miller Lettis

Alexis Miller Lettis

A   company’s success is dependent on the engagement of its employees. First and foremost, it is important to hire based on company fit and character, rather than a specific set of skills tailored for a particular job description.

Unlike work ethic and integrity, particularized knowledge or experience can and will be developed over time. A company culture that emphasizes teamwork, cross training and flexibility will also promote a sense of camaraderie among employees and encourage people to remain on the team.

For managerial positions, we rarely recruit using traditional job postings and prefer to either promote people within our organization or draw upon our existing network.

People are the lifeblood of an organization, and it’s helpful to always keep an eye out for the right people to join the team, even if there is not a specific job opening.

For example, one of our key team members was hired over 15 years ago when we weren’t actively looking to fill a particular role. We recognized that this individual’s character would be invaluable to our organization, and he now operates our primary distribution center and is instrumental to the success of our business.

Empowering employees and soliciting feedback also promotes employee retention, as well as improving overall business performance. For us, this has been particularly important among our factory operators and warehouse staff. Not only does this help upper management to recognize and correct potential inefficiencies, this also increases employee engagement, and staff has an opportunity to see their recommendations put into action.

It’s also important to foster a team-oriented work environment where accomplishments are celebrated and individual employees understand they are contributing to the success of the business as a whole rather than just being siloed into a narrow role.

As we all know, first impressions last and the onboarding process is critical in setting the stage for successful employment.

This starts during the interview process where it is important for employers to be transparent about the duties and responsibilities of the job you are hiring for. It doesn’t do anyone any favors to hide the ball during the interview process only to lose a new employee down the road after you have spent six months or more investing in them.

It is also important to include both supervisors and potential co-workers in the interview process. The more future colleagues a candidate meets, the more prepared they will be to walk in on day one confident with their decision to join the company.

Once a new team member joins the company, set specific goals and targets during the first six months of employment and maintain an open-door policy where new employees feel comfortable coming to their supervisors with questions or concerns.

Equipment Manufacturing: Bob Fesmire, Ellis Corp., Itasca, Ill

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Bob Fesmire

Bob Fesmire

Employee retention, especially in this almost full employment atmosphere, is critical as everyone knows. At Ellis and Ludell (our sister company) we view retention as a reflection of our culture. If you have the right culture, it can go a long way toward retention.

We consciously work on this by hiring people that fit into our culture. We do this by having prospects take a test that looks specifically at the attributes we find most important: Commitment (to us and our customers), Continuous Improvement and Integrity (do things right, do the right thing). When people are aligned with those attributes, we find retention lengthens.

We also have flat management and an open-door policy. People have to feel that they can go to someone in the organization who is truly listening to them and valuing them. If they bring something up and it is ignored, you will probably not hear from them again until they tell you they are leaving. This goes for both complaints and ideas. It is critical to listen to all ideas.

Achievements, no matter how trivial you think they are, need to be recognized. Maybe not in a big way (though big ideas deserve big recognition), but in a personal way. Treat people how you want to be treated. We all need to work on this!

Onboarding is very important, naturally. Having a clear path, especially in the first 90 days, is critical. Setting clear milestones and expectations helps everyone.

All the above being said, it is especially challenging in the current economy. We all as managers and employers have to challenge ourselves to move people to new roles, new skillsets and new opportunities.

Long-Term Care Laundry: Brian Polatsek, EcoBrite Linen, Skokie, Ill.

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Brian Polatsek

Brian Polatsek

First and foremost, your compensation package must be competitive. Every single employee needs to know that they are being paid appropriately for their work.

Assuming that is the case, you need to recognize that in the current market, you need to make sure that your employees have a very good reason to stay with you and not be actively seeking or even flirting with the idea of leaving.

Employees will typically stay at a job when they feel appreciated, are connected to the people they work with and have a sense of purpose. To achieve this, we need to constantly strategize on methods to maintain this level of connection. We incorporated a whole bunch of initiatives and practices to accomplish this goal.

On a direct personal level, I try to constantly let my employees know that I appreciate and recognize their effort and contribution. What I found to be very powerful is taking the time to go out to their work area to thank them. Some other good practices include team-building events, luncheons and personally signed birthday cards, along with a gift.

Employee development and advancement opportunities are key. We have a very strong culture of advancing and promoting from within. Our employees know that if they excel, they have a lot of upside opportunity. We also do our best to accommodate our employees’ schedules and personal needs. They know that we care about them on a personal level.

When onboarding new employees, the most important thing is communication. They need to have a very clear picture of what the job is, how we operate, our culture and expectation. It is also imperative that they understand that we welcome questions and want their input.

Using a buddy system for new hires is very effective. It allows them to share more and ask questions they may not be comfortable asking a supervisor. Having regular check-ins with new employees goes along way and can sometimes be the deciding factor whether an employee makes it.

In general, the better human connection you maintain with your employees, the happier they will be, their performance will show it, and they will stay with you long term.

Consulting Services: David Bernstein, Propeller Solutions Group, Park City, Utah

Employee retention and engagement are two of the hottest topics in our industry, as evidenced, empirically, by the amount of time these topics are given at industry events and conferences, and anecdotally by the amount of time our clients spend discussing these topics when we meet.

This should come as no surprise when we consider the United States’ record-low unemployment, increasing minimum wage, transgenerational workplace issues, and the time and expense required for industry-specific training, especially for managers and engineering/maintenance personnel.

Employee retention begins with company culture, and culture is driven from the top. As an owner or senior manager, you already know that leadership does not mean ruling by fear and intimidation, but rather fostering a company culture that demonstrates to employees at all levels that they are valued, appreciated and that their opinions matter.

Some of the most successful and profitable companies in the world subscribe to the philosophy of Lean Management, one of whose core concepts is listening to employees and valuing their input. By doing so, you demonstrate to employees that while payroll may be your biggest line item expense on the P&L, they are the biggest and most important asset your firm has.

These values should also be reflected in your company’s mission and vision statements.

Going hand-in-hand with subjective cultural messaging are tangible and objective demonstrations of employee worth through the provision of value benefits and amenities.

Employees and prospective employees have come to expect certain traditional benefits, such as paid time off and health/dental insurance, but in a competitive hiring environment, it behooves you to consider what other amenities and non-traditional benefits can be offered to attract and retain talent.

One example that seems to come up in every discussion of plant design or renovation is ownership/management’s desire to provide their employees with larger, more functional, and, yes, more welcoming breakrooms, locker rooms, and restroom facilities.

In addition to these sorts of amenities, and in a further effort to attract and retain employees, companies around the country are adding non-traditional benefits such as educational assistance (including on-site language and literacy courses), wellness benefits such as discounted or on-site fitness memberships, loyalty/longevity awards, employee referral bonuses, transportation assistance, secure indoor bike parking, discounted food and drinks, and more.

Understanding your employees and the impact of the above ideas on their performance, loyalty/longevity, and issues that could affect these important metrics is what “employee engagement” is all about.

Employee engagement is defined as the extent to which employees are willing to contribute their knowledge, skills, abilities, and effort to help an organization succeed, and is defined by how employees think, feel, and act.

Measuring and affecting employee engagement is made easier through the use of smartphone apps such as redeapp and Nudge Rewards.

Apps such as these provide a unified communication, motivation and optimization platform to allow measurement of employee feedback and insights, communication of work schedules, operational and safety videos, handbooks, and SOPs (standard operating procedures), instant and updated company news, sharing of best practices and ideas, and gamification to ensure continued use of and engagement with the system and, thereby, the company.

One of the eight wastes of Lean is the concept of Underutilized Human Resources. Simply stated this means that we need to ensure that we use our personnel in a way that allows them to fulfill their potential and that allows us to have the most success in our operations.

Attracting, hiring and training new personnel is an expensive and time-consuming process, so we must strive to find ways to ensure that once we have found the right personnel, we are able to retain them for as long as possible. Providing the right balance of culture, benefits and amenities, and engagement will go a long way toward achieving this goal.

Check back tomorrow for insights from commercial laundry, equipment/supply distribution, textiles experts.