Reducing Employee Turnover

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Eric Frederick |

Columnist says important factors are in managers’ control

ROANOKE, Va. — Employee turnover hurts your productivity and the quality of the product you produce. It is a generally accepted theory that low turnover would be a desirable situation. The question has always been, “How do I reduce turnover?” 

Many managers complain that the factors they think cause turnover, salary and benefits, are not within their control. The truth is that the most important factors affecting employee turnover are directly in their control. This article will explore several of these factors in more depth.

Understand the history of your industry and embrace that history through your hiring practices. The laundry industry in the United States has always been an entry-level industry, staffed by the latest wave of immigrants to our country. Immigrants often have language difficulties and lack the normal education adults have in our country. But feeding towels into a folder or feeding sheets into an ironer does not require a high level of education or an ability to speak fluent English. 

Most immigrants come from countries where the work is difficult, hot and very physical. They see the modern laundry and think that this is a wonderful place to work. They do not think it is too hot or the work is too demanding like many recent high school graduates or drop-outs. They are excited to have the opportunity to work and support their families. All they want is an opportunity. 

Recruiting this type of employee requires a little leg work. In Alabama, I noticed a sign for English as a second language class being offered in a local church. I called the number and talked with the teacher, and he told me many of his students need a job or a better job. Soon I had more applications than I could hire.

In Roanoke, Va., I contacted the Immigration and Naturalization agency associated with the Catholic Church. They were helping legal refugees from war-torn parts of the world relocate to the Roanoke Valley. I happily supplied jobs to many of these people. As my business grew, so did the number of immigrants that came to the valley. 

The second point is to respect your employees. All employees want to be respected and treated fairly by their boss or supervisors. As a manager, you are responsible for how employees are treated under you. If you give them respect and understanding, they will give you loyalty. 

To show respect, you must get out of your office and spend time out in the laundry. It is not enough to say you have an open-door policy, and if they have any questions they are welcome to come ask them. The boss’ office is a sacred place, and most of your employees would rather die than enter that location. If you are to show respect, you must go to your employees. 

I have done this in several ways over the years. I made sure that I ate lunch in the breakroom at the same time as the employees. I encourage questions from my staff and would ask them about their families and follow up with them if a spouse or a child was sick. I would take time to explain the reasons behind company policies. I knew they would not always agree with the reasons, but they at least knew why things were the way they were. They wanted and deserved the truth. I made sure all work rules were administered fairly and equally. 

Finally, I started walking through the laundry every morning and saying “good morning” to every staff member. I was surprised at how much the staff enjoyed this morning ritual. If they had a question, I stopped and answered it. I commented on a new haircut or a new outfit. I smiled, and they smiled back. I took time to listen.

My organization became invested in their future. We hired an English as a Second Language teacher that gave them daily lessons during their lunch hour and afternoon breaks. As their English improved so did their self-esteem. The instructor also became a friend and helped them to prepare and apply for citizenship. Because we invested in them, they returned the favor with dedication and hard work. My laundry became the preferred location in the area for new immigrants to work.

I insisted that all employees be treated fairly. I trained my management staff in how to effectively accomplish that task. Too often, high turnover can be traced back to a bad supervisor or a toxic fellow employee. Many laundries think employees must be constantly pushed to achieve good results. I believe that if a productivity program is implemented in a laundry, the workers will automatically increase their production to prove their worth. A fair productivity system improves production and employee morale. 

All of these things can be accomplished by any manager. None of them are hard or expensive to implement. Embracing the industry’s history, hiring appropriately, showing respect and investing in your employee’s future are simple basic management principles.

About the author

Eric Frederick

Eric Frederick served 44 years in laundry management before retiring and remains active in the industry as a laundry operations consultant. You can contact him by e-mail at elfrederick@cox.net or by phone at 540-520-6288.

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