RIPON, Wis. — Conversations with on-premises laundry managers are a little different today than they were in the past. Time was that managers were solely focused on just keeping machines turning, discussing ways to increase efficiency, improve quality and keep employees from bypassing processes or from engaging the rapid advance to get out of work earlier.

While keeping the machines turning will always rank high in conversation, today, labor is top of mind. However, it’s not just top of mind for laundry managers. Getting and keeping employees is a challenge facing most business—no matter if it’s manufacturing or service-focused.

BY THE NUMBERS

Attracting and keeping employees right now is a tall order, and the reason is because it’s a seller’s market. Unemployment is low … really low. With the current rate at 3.7%, you’d have to go back roughly 50 years to see a better figure.

Again, laundry managers aren’t just competing against one another for employees, they are competing with a host of other industries. The bottom line is that workers are in short supply, and laundry managers—in whatever industry they are supporting—need to do all they can to attract and retain quality employees.

START WITH A PLAN

Attacking this issue can and should start from within. During tight times, the popular saying is “do more with less.” That’s the statement that really should drive a laundry’s first steps through a focus on getting a handle on the operation as a whole. Is our operation as efficient as possible? Could we manage the daily throughput requirements with fewer hours or less people? 

Before banging your head against the wall trying to fill staff positions, you first must understand your operation and if you need to fill all the positions. That means having a grasp of costs, cycle times and staff hours. Without a true understanding of what your operating costs are, managers aren’t equipped with the data to improve the situation.

Laundry management systems are becoming the norm in providing this information. Data goes far beyond just what cycles are being selected. 

One example I can offer relates to a hotel property that had recently opened in Oregon. Despite new, high-performance equipment, the laundry was not keeping up and was outsourcing once a week. It seemed an additional shift might be necessary.

However, digging into machine operations data showed that there were significant process breakdowns that were not only costing the laundry time, but also money. With this information, they were able to correct problems and meet the daily throughput volumes without outsourcing. In addition, the laundry could actually meet those numbers with less staffing.

Moral of the story is, before filling or increasing staff, look at your operation objectively to determine if it’s truly necessary. If you don’t have data to help in this review, you are, quite frankly, flying blind.

THE BASICS

As you continue to set a baseline on the overall efficiency of the operation and where improvements can be made, one seemingly small area can have a major impact is in loading equipment. Loading to full capacity is low-hanging fruit when it comes to staffing. The simple act of under loading machines can add additional loads onto the day, which again impact staffing.

Again, technology in the form of a laundry management system can offer warning signs that your laundry is suffering with this condition. Frequent out-of-balance errors are likely caused by staff under loading the washer-extractor.

This issue impacts efficiency and staff time a number of ways. First, the machine is wasting water and chemicals—formulas are created for full loads. Regular under loading also necessitates that more loads need to be run daily. In addition, the under loaded washer-extractor likely is not hitting its full extract speed because of the out of balance condition. That contributes to more water left in loads, which requires more drying time and wastes additional staff time. 

Make no mistake, while under loading seems like a minor issue, it has a real impact and these are real staff hours (and money) being wasted.

Just training staff on what full loads should look like can help reduce the number of loads being run and trim staff hours.

Similarly, over drying of loads also wastes utilities and staff time. Technology, in the form of accurate over-dry prevention systems, can again help overcome this problem and further trim staff time.

NEXT-LEVEL THINKING

If laundries are running at peak efficiency and still struggling with staffing up, it may be time to think outside the box. Is cross training other employees outside the laundry an option and vice versa? Sharing employees between departments can not only take pressure off hiring, but could offer greater job satisfaction as employees get variety.

Build in some flexibility in scheduling. Can you leverage the delayed start feature on some equipment to stagger staff scheduling? Flexibility is almost always a desired perk for employees.

Is raising wages a possibility? If you are leveraging technology to bring greater efficiency in utilities and staffing, those savings could be tapped to raise hourly wages to reduce turnover. It’s also incumbent upon managers to do more than manage the throughput workload, they also must engage with employees. Part of that comes with laying out opportunities to advance in the laundry or even outside (see the cross training). Career progression can go a long way in eliminating turnover and getting new hires in.

When it comes to recruiting during a labor shortage, you have to identify the things that you absolutely need in the person and what you are willing to train on. Make it exciting for a candidate to come to a new opportunity, where they get to learn and be challenged. People don’t leave for the same job they are already doing. Invest in your people and their development and recruiting will go much smoother.

In approaching advertising for open positions, don’t just post the job and hope you get applications; tell a story and sell them on why they should want to work with your team. Also, make the interview process special—think conversation versus interrogation.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Our current labor shortage is only going to get tighter, evidenced by December 2018 job growth of 312,000 positions, which surpassed expectations. And during tight times, managers must figure out first how to achieve maximum efficiency by getting a firm grasp on what their true costs and productivity levels are.  

From there, it’s about dialing in processes, hiring quality staff and keeping them happy through flexibility, incentives and other activities that build satisfaction and engagement.