OPL 101: Slowing the Employee Revolving Door

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Craig Hanson |

Reducing staff turnover starts with communication, setting clear goals

ST. PAUL, Minn. — What is it that makes one laundry better than another? In the equipment distribution business, obviously we like to think that when a hotel or other on-premises laundry (OPL) invests in high-featured equipment with the latest technology, results are guaranteed. They aren’t.

This is why many operations have opted for laundry management systems. Such systems act as the eyes and ears of the manager, when they can’t be on-site. The networked technology is a check of efficiency, processes and correct cycle selection/machine operation. 

However, a quality operation is more than just high-tech equipment and systems. Behind it all are the people entrusted to manage this important task. It’s not glamourous work; often it’s hot and thankless work. Those are just a few of the reasons laundries can see significant turnover in staff.

Obviously, we can’t really change the work environment, so how do we keep employees, reducing that revolving door situation that so many laundries battle?

FOCUS INWARD

We’ve already established that the overall work and work environment is less than desirable. Now imagine that the management is less than collaborative. Turnover is an absolute certainty. 

So, as we look to curb the churn of employees, a good first step is to focus attention within. What is the work environment created by management? Is it one where employees are valued and their efforts appreciated? Is it collaborative?

The very nature of a busy on-premises laundry is one of constant pressure to meet the daily throughput volumes. It never ends. For most operations, employees start the shift behind—laundry is already there waiting for them—and it continues to pile up throughout the day. At the end of the day, if we are lucky, all the loads are processed. But come the next day/shift, it all starts over again. If that pressure and lack of progress is matched by management that seems unappreciative, it’s no surprise that employees would become disenchanted and jump at the first opportunity.

So, look at the workplace atmosphere. A simple “thank you” can go a long way toward employees feeling valued, and that, as we can all attest to, contributes to increasing job satisfaction. 

Similarly, are you taking time to highlight someone who went the extra mile? Doing so helps perpetuate it; employees are more likely to do it again if they think the effort is appreciated. You’d be surprised by how something as simple as a cup of coffee as thanks for covering a shift or uncovering an issue can change an employee’s mindset. And the more employees you have supporting management, the better the overall work environment can be.

But all this starts with managers being able to look at how they treat employees and their willingness to change. Managers who operate in a dictator style will never inspire true teamwork.

SET A STANDARD

As I mentioned, management systems like TotalVue help managers collect seemingly infinite data on the operation. Using the systems to set a baseline for the laundry can be the start of another strategy to improving staff morale. 

Again, it comes down to the laundry manager taking a positive approach. For the operation run under a dictator style, the addition of the laundry management package could be viewed as “big brother” monitoring and trying to catch employees slacking or making mistakes. Not a great way to keep staff happy, engaged and employed.

A more progressive way of looking at the technology is as the foundation of a team approach. What if the baseline numbers could be used in a positive way to measure performance and reward teams for hitting key performance indicators? The ability to monitor and measure performance is a great tool to build greater job satisfaction. 

Hitting or exceeding KPIs (key performance indicators) could mean small bonuses or even just a pizza lunch. It’s amazing the level of appreciation that a few large pizzas can convey. Job satisfaction increases exponentially when staff feels appreciated.

The key to building in the incentives is to make sure quality doesn’t suffer. It’s about meeting or exceeding daily volumes, while not impacting rewash.

ASK QUESTIONS

Employees are far more engaged and satisfied when they are asked for input. A quality work environment should include two-way communication. Managers should strive to avoid barking orders or talking at employees. Work to engage staff and ask for their thoughts and input. These are front-line staff who offer insights into the operation and processes that you might be missing.

Not only might you gain information on how to improve processes, but you also could identify ways to improve the overall work environment. I’ve heard of managers having great luck with hosting just short weekly or monthly informal stand-up meetings. It can give a great gut check on how things are going and uncover and process breakdowns or opportunities to improve training.

Speaking of training, are you doing enough of it? Is it adequate? Here’s another example where asking questions can help identify improvements in the on-boarding of staff. It’s no secret that poor training processes can lead to ambiguous direction, which leads to general job dissatisfaction. Create a solid training program for new hires that includes circling back a few weeks later to gauge its success and if you need to tweak it.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The thoughts raised in this column aren’t really breaking new ground. Keeping employees engaged and happy requires simple communication skills: Ask for their input, set clear expectations and spotlight successes in front of the team. Employees who feel empowered, heard and rewarded for their efforts are more loyal and inspire the same behaviors in their co-workers.

From there, it’s a matter of utilizing systems to measure performance. Generally, we all like to have a goal to shoot for. It keeps us focused. The last thing a laundry wants is staff that comes in, heads down, and has the attitude that no matter what I do today, laundry will pile up and it will start all over again tomorrow. 

Engaged employees who know that what they do in the laundry impacts the quality of a guest experience or comfort/health of a patient will see their position as more important. That will mean greater satisfaction of a job well done and an overall longer tenure with the operation. 

Strive for improved communication and engagement—you’ll be surprised by the impact not just on staff turnover, but also finished quality.

About the author

Craig Hanson

BDS Laundry

VP Commercial/Industrial Equipment Division

Craig Hanson is vice president of the Commercial and Industrial Equipment Division at BDS Laundry, a UniMac distributor based in St. Paul, Minn. He has 35 years of laundry industry experience.

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