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Real Issues. Real Answers. Employee loyalty

It’s no secret that attracting and hiring good people remains a top challenge for many LBM companies. Even before a global pandemic and subsequent recovery brought about new labor issues, dealers from around the country had reported difficulties attracting and retaining top talent. This month’s survey question comes from a Las Vegas-area dealer who asks, in a nutshell, what’s the secret to creating a “sticky” workplace—one where people want to stay for years?

As we do each month, we share a dealer’s challenge with our audience via a short email survey and share the results with our readers. Thanks to the more than 140 dealers who took the time to respond to this month’s question on employee loyalty.

We asked, “How would you advise this dealer?”

“Attracting and hiring good people is everyone’s problem these days. Everyone assumes they need to pay more to get better people, and while competitive pay is important, I think money is only one piece of the puzzle. What can we do to try to create a ‘sticky’ workplace, where people want to stay for years? I’d love to learn from dealers who have teams that include young people who’re just getting started, as well as seasoned veterans who’ve been part of the company for decades.”

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Responses from lumberyards and specialty dealers

“The lumberyard where I work has people who have been here for 40 years and people who have been here less than a year. I think the thing that makes them stick around is that it is a family atmosphere. We all joke around with each other, and our general manager is super flexible with all the employees if something comes up. It’s pleasant to come to work, and even fun sometimes. I personally have been here four years and I love my job and place of employment. It’s definitely not because I am making the big bucks, so to speak.”

“Today’s youth want things handed to them without putting in the time. They don’t want to start in the warehouse or yard like so many of us have. To retain the next generation, there needs to be extensive training programs. You can’t just throw them to the wolves and expect instant results. There needs to be ample opportunity for high school grads, college grads, and seasoned veterans.”

“We have several employees who have been with our company for around 21 years, yet we have been through more than we can count in the last few years who are gone in a heartbeat. There’s no loyalty or respect—they are only in it for themselves and their benefits. The few who have been with us for two decades have respect for what our company stands for, are always on time, and work diligently for us as well as the benefit for themselves and their families. We try to invest in a new employee by training them and by offering them the best benefits that we possibly can, but people continue to jump from job to job and have no stability in their life. The only way I believe for any of them to stick is if our government stops handing out funds and people get hungry enough to actually be employed and work daily.”

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“I think flexible hours and regular days off (i.e. weekends) goes a long way to keeping people happy. Earning overtime is great but at some point, being able to have time outside of work to pursue interests and hobbies is also important.”

“We have new hires and third-decade employees. Direct communication throughout all operations and each employee has been beneficial for us. We do offer benefits such as paid holidays (seven per year), paid vacations, medical insurance, and IRA matching funds after one year. All the people here interact with each other outside the work arena and it seems to work well for us.”

“Anyone you hire strictly based on pay will likely leave you for pay. You must create an amazing company culture, including job satisfaction, growth and development opportunities, benefits, work/life balance, ect., that is primary to wages.”

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“Our answer turns out to be skin-in- the-game. Here are the components: We have an ESOP that gets company ownership into every employee’s personal investment portfolio. But remember the ESOP is only a vehicle to future wealth, so the ‘stickiness’ comes when, and only when, the value of the shares rises over time. And the value only rises based on the company being consistently profitable over time and achieving profitable growth. It’s all about company performance. A poorly- run company with an ESOP achieving mediocre results is the worst of all worlds—you’ve essentially forced them into a crummy investment. In addition to the skin-in-the-game from the ESOP, every employee has a compensation plan that ties them to the annual profitability.”

“Contribution is one of the six human needs. If you feel like you are needed and your place in the company matters, you will stay. If you have any employee who is just there for the money, they are only worth about half of what you pay them. They will not be loyal. They will leave you the moment someone offers them 50 cents more.”

“Besides offering good pay based on skills, offer incentives (both financial and physical) to excel.”

“It starts with appreciation and respect, then coaching and training so that you can get the results you want or expect from your employees. But make sure you listen and pay attention to what your employees are telling you and act on it.”

“We have a mix of older, more experienced people and a few younger. I love my older crew!!! We have a large number of retired people who know we can arrange our schedule to fit theirs.

In turn, they fill in when needed. I have made it our mission to really make it family-first, including dogs and children. We don’t pay a huge amount, but we make it fair.”

“My lumberyard is located in one of the most expensive places to live in the United States, so paying enough salary to live on is always a challenge. But my company provides something to our staff that is priceless, and that is a caring, nurturing environment in what can be an unkind world. I have worked here for 50 years, and it has been my only job in life. I think our staff appreciates the stability in our company during a rough COVID-19 patch. I like to think we are training our staff to be leaders in life.”

“It is very difficult to pay a competitive wage to someone just starting in our industry who doesn’t know anything. We have a very seasoned staff that is nearing retirement age and the applicants we are getting want to start at the same wage people with 25+ years of experience are making. It is a very slippery slope. The other problem with smaller locations is that all employees need to know a little about every aspect of the business and that makes for a very long learning curve.”

“We have been fortunate to have a great variety of age, experience, and background with our crew. They’re comfortable to rely on each other’s strengths and areas of expertise. It’s not always easy but taking the time to keep our crew informed of current events, as well as future plans, has been much appreciated. Everyone likes to be included.”

“One thing that has helped us is empowering employees to explore roles and tasks that are interesting to them. We have had several new positions created by people finding solutions to problems that we were having during growth stages. We also have monthly check-in meetings where we always talk about growth potential and new ideas for the company and individuals. If someone expresses an interest in training new hires or tackling special order return issues, we give them the opportunity and lend advice and ideas that may have worked or things to avoid. With COVID-19 restrictions easing, we are excited to have more outside-of- work events where we can continue to build strong relationships not based only off of work.”

“Have a total package: good pay and benefits with a workplace environment that is engaging and FUN! Show appreciation to all employees.”

“We have found out that they have to like their job first in order to stay. If they just kind of like it, then pay comes into play. Benefits? What are benefits? In our line of work the younger generation doesn’t give a hoot. ‘Make my job easy and pay me a lot of money and I will stick around’ is their motto.”

“First of all, I cannot find young people that want to work. Working with your employees, job training, creating a friendly workplace and paying a salary that is commensurate to work performed.”

“Take the time to develop positions in your company that fit the culture you want to create. Share your vision with everyone. In our case, it has meant creating junior and senior positions that inherently allow for opportunity to move around with space for personal development.”

“We are very liberal with extra monetary incentives. $100 finder’s fee if a referral lasts 90 days. $20 pocket money just because once in a while. $200 phone allowance a couple times a year. Yearly raises in the spring. Three weeks’ pay at Christmas time and holiday hams. Each week when we hand out checks we make sure to let the employee know that we appreciate him/her and point out something that was noticed that they did on the job.”

“With my younger new hires, it is about assuring them that making a mistake is not the end of the world. I take the time to explain to them what they did and how to not let those mistakes become bad habits. My seasoned employees just need to know they are respected for their experience and are included when looking to make changes or improvements to the location.”

“I personally invest in who they are and what their likes are. It’s an emotional connection. We want to listen to understand, as well as make them realize it’s just as important to make money and function very well as a business to keep operational. I share how much I value them, as much as I value my job and its importance to be successful.”

“We have created some benefit programs such as deferred compensation and supplemental executive retirement plans with benefits paid out much later in the employee’s careers; hopefully assisting in recruitment and retention of employees.”

“I have owned and operated my yard for over 50 years. I have people who started as yard men and worked their way into management and sales jobs by excelling at each tier. Others have come from other companies both in and out of our industry. They came to us because we treat everyone the same. I insist that no one works for someone, we work as one. We set goals that include sales and inventory control and when we meet or exceed these goals the employees choose the way we celebrate. We cater lunch or have a well-known chef come cook for everyone. We profit share with everyone who is employed here. We make it fun to come to work.”

“There will be a segment of potential employees that will always be looking for a bigger salary as their primary decision point. Catering to this will not substantially increase retention, since the moment they find someone willing to pay them a little more they will take off. That said, you have to be aware of your employment market and make sure your compensation package doesn’t lag market rates too much. Cultivating a culture that welcomes new talent, encourages growth and training, values people for everything they bring to the company, and a ‘human touch’ (understanding life happens), flexibility for personal events, celebration of milestones, and many more ‘little things’ that make your business a place people don’t hate coming to everyday.”

“A great way to keep long term employees is to provide them with a happy work environment. Choose employees who work well together and get along. Show gratitude as often as you can and acknowledge the work that they do for you with positivity.”

“Offer a fair wage, which is probably higher than you’ve been accustomed to paying for the past 20 years. Make the wage good enough that it ‘checks the box’ and you can start to talk about the other things that set your company apart. If you’re a small-ish business like ours (20 employees), talk about how you can offer things big companies can’t, like increased schedule flexibility, a more personal culture, being a key part of a small team. Invest time with them early. With our two most successful hires in the past three years, I committed to weekly check-ins, partly because I was the best person to deliver product knowledge training across all product lines, partly because I wanted to hear as early as possible if they had questions or concerns about working for our business. This also created lots of opportunities to instill our values and culture right from the start. This was a lesson learned the hard way. Our previous two or three hires were left to learn on the job. They never fully engaged with our company or their coworkers and left the company within 12 months.”

“I know this sounds funny, but I treat my employees. I make sure everyone gets a birthday cake. I treat them to pizza every other week. I buy about ten cartons of Little Debbies for the breakroom from time to time. I make sure there is always bottled water in the fridge, and I buy ice cream and popsicles for the freezer.”

“Respect!! People want respect and appreciation for what they do. The attitude that everyone is replaceable is a self-causing disaster. Good people are not so replaceable as a manager might think.”

“It’s really very simple: Quit being robber-barons and let them earn equity in the business. Let them earn a piece of the action.”

“We have been blessed with longterm employees and yet my biggest fear going forward with the longevity of our business is employee retention. I have an employee who is still with us that started October 19, 1964. To put things in perspective I am 56 and was born in December of 1964. I have another employee that next year will be his 50th year with us. He works M-F 7:30-12:00 and every-other Saturday. He’s never late and never sick. It used to be if you offered fair compensation, benefits, and a healthy work environment people stayed for years. I lost an employee earlier this year after just six months of training. The individual was working in AP/AR with absolutely no experience. They left for a job with a local manufacturing company that was desperate for workers and offered $20 an hour to start. My compensation and work environment had no bearing on this employee staying. They just wanted the money. In the last eight months I have increased my employees’ wages three times just not to lose another employee. We work a nine-hour day M-F with rotating Saturdays 7:30-12. A healthy and enjoyable environment are important but unfortunately until the government stops paying the extra unemployment money and having those out on unemployment have to show that they are at least looking for jobs, those of us looking for employees will be held hostage to these high compensation packages for those with little to know skill set and lackluster work effort. I’m just paying more in hopes of keeping or attracting potential employees.”

“1) Show appreciation 2) Let them go— it’s amazing what ideas our younger employees have. 3) Ask them for feedback then act on some of their ideas. 4) Promote from within. 5) Hire the person—we can get them the industry knowledge.”

“The younger generation seems to think money, money, money. Sometimes the older employees also. It seems everything is going up except wages. We have to offer more to get people in and end up with a workforce where the newer employees are making more.”

“Building a successful staff is the same proposition as building a successful sales program. It is about your value proposition and whether you can articulate it clearly. Other than money, what else sets you apart? How does this relate to your competition? Does your staff feel appreciated and respected? Are you loyal to them? Are you flexible regarding their schedules, hours, work/ life balance? Is your staff there because they have to be or because they want to be? Challenge your hiring staff just as you would challenge your sales staff. Employees and potential employees have a wide range of options available to them. Knowing what sets your company apart today and into the future will help you build and retain new partners.”

“Try to make a team, not just in name but in a way that everyone contributes and is a true contributing member of the organization.”

“Hire for the personality—who will best fit your current team? Then teach them what you want them to know. All of the experience in the world will not help you overcome a toxic personality. After that, look at your benefits and work environment. What holds your team together and helps them enjoy being there? Flexible hours/schedule go a long way. Besides the benefits that you offer, what benefits do your employees actually want or use? Discretionary bonuses help employees to feel their work is appreciated. Not just cash, but dinner or entertainment gift cards, gym memberships, paid days off.”

“Everyone we look to bring in should fit into our culture first and foremost. We look for people who have good attitudes. We can make the money happen, but it is very difficult to keep everyone motivated when one has a negative attitude.”

“As an employee of 10+ years, it is very, very nice to hear the boss say, “Great job today.” Sometimes just the words are so rewarding. I love my job, and it is because of job appreciation, compliments, and words like that that make coming to work worth it. When a boss asks how your spouse or kids are, or how your weekend was, it makes you feel that you matter. I have had a job where none of this existed, and it was miserable. A few kind words do matter!”

“I think money matters, especially if you are in an area where homes and rent are costly. Money and respect go hand-in- hand and are both always appreciated.”

“In my opinion, the workplace should be an enjoyable environment for the employees. If they can come to work and enjoy what they do as well as get along with their co-workers, I believe they will stay at the job longer.”

“Unfortunately, money is what it requires to get them in the door. That seems to be the first question everyone is asking these days. A competitive salary is a must. Once hired, somewhat flexible schedules have been a big factor in keeping them. Allowing time off for personal appointments has made a huge difference. It doesn’t have to be paid time off either. They seem to be okay without a full 40-hour paycheck as long as they can have the time off as needed.”

“I’m in a college town. I get a lot of two- and three-year staff, but also have the few 10-, 15-, and 22-year stints. I hope to get more mature employees.”

“Have a workplace that appreciates you for what you do instead of just punching the clock. The more you compliment someone on what they do, the more likely they will be satisfied. Reward for great work.”

Responses from wholesale distributors, manufacturers, and service providers

“Employee involvement and trust are keys to retention. If you have hired people to do a job or run a division, give them the latitude to do so. Micromanaging is a thing of the past. Flexibility is also an attribute that should not be overlooked. Understanding that a complete work-from-home environment may not be attainable, seek out compromises and alternatives to keep a good balance.”

“A career path is the one and only way to show a potential employee what they can truly accomplish with each step or perspective being the key to who they are and where you may want them. Remember to always be filling spots even when they do not exist or you will have too many or not enough round holes/square pegs.”

“We see common turnover reasons at specific points in an employee’s tenure. The reasons people leave in the first 30 days are very different than the reason they leave after one year. Our approach has been to address the issues specific to the employee lifecycle. For example, to address turnover in the first 30 days, we focus on our hiring and onboarding practices. Realistic job previews, mentoring, and ‘stay interviews’ help drive results. At the one-year mark, the focus is on training, advancement, and understanding benefits. We see that the soft skills of the immediate supervisor directly impact turnover at every stage of the employee life cycle. Supervisor training and accountability around employee engagement and turnover can dramatically reduce turnover.”

“If you’d like to read a good MBA case study, read ‘Lincoln Electric.’ At Lincoln, a top producer of tow-behind welders for years, they do the following: 1) Pay a 10% premium over local wages. 2)Pay a healthy percentage of year end profits back to all workers. 3) No special treatment/recognition of white-collar workers vs. blue-collar workers. This company’s bonuses can amount to all of the normal working-time paychecks, and workers load up family members, wives, solid friends, etc. for open positions, so this company never pays a head-hunter, and employees stay for generations. In fact, if an employee doesn’t ‘pull his/her weight,’ there have been instances wherein the rest of the line employees will confront—and in cases even beat- up— the offending employee because sloth, waste, etc. hurts everyone’s bonuses!”

“Have a culture where employees want to come to work and feel they are part of something more/bigger than their job. The older the employee, the more likely they are there for the long term. The younger the employee, the more likely we lose them within the year as they continue to chase the higher dollar as that is all they can see.”

“The young people like to be treated as important members of the company. I’m learning how to give more appreciation for the hard work they are doing, while maintaining quality of product. I am also having to rethink my attitude of what it means to be a ‘dedicated’ worker. For me, it always meant working extra hours, whether I got paid or not. But my 20- and 30-somethings want more family time, and I have had to change my old mindset of ‘going home early equals lazy.’”

“I’d like to see a whole lot of opportunities for women and people of color in leadership. And flexible work schedules, with working from home continuing. With women taking on a larger share of home responsibilities, forcing them back into offices with no flexibility is just another way of keeping the status quo.”

“Thorough training from product knowledge, sales processes, inventory control, developing and maintaining strong supplier/manufacturer ties, and the importance of creating and keeping superior customer service and relationships. If we invest (not just monetarily) into our employees from the interview process to their final day; we’ve created an environment for their success as well as for the customer and the company. In the past when there was no training plan in place, our company lived through a period of revolving door hiring process where employees stayed at most a year.”

“Some the best advice on employee retention that I have received is to offer the training and career development opportunities that give a team member the power to leave, but treat them with the respect and dignity that they won’t want to.”

“You need to focus on team, not job roles.”

“Realize and appreciate that everyone has a life! People work to support their lifestyle. Work can be fun and challenging, but it is just a necessary evil to fund what they really want to do and enjoy. Deal with your employees with this in mind and you will have less turnover, happier employees and more production in the long run.”

“Flexibility in working conditions, hours, and location are important. Respect and appreciation for the work done, and an excellent benefits package.”

The reader who suggested the Real Issues topic will receive an LBM Journal Prize Pack, which includes a cap, mug, pen, and more. To suggest a Real Issues topic, email 

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