Real Issues. Real Answers. Retaining people in tough times

Real Issues Real Answers retaining people
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Finding and hiring good people has been one of the top challenges facing LBM dealers for the past few years. Now, the coronavirus crisis has altered that challenge for many companies, from finding good people to keeping the good people we already have. A dealer in the Western U.S. posed the question…read what more than 200 LBM Journal readers had to say about…

Retaining people in tough times

Question 1:
Which of the following changes have you made with your team in response to the coronavirus crisis?

Real Issues. Real Answers. ChartQuestion 2:

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How would you advise this dealer?
“How do I put some employees on furlough but still keep them for when things get better? We have a great team, and this virus has disrupted the good flow of our operations. Our challenge is keeping up with the daily issues, as well as communicating with those that have been furloughed or are at risk and cannot come to work for safety sake. What are other dealers doing to retain valued staff members in these tough times?”

“Honest, upfront communication about what’s happening, with clearly spelled out expectations/anticipation for their return to the team.”

“Be careful, they may not come back. I hired a great driver who was furloughed from his last job, and am paying him more money than he was making.”

“We have not reduced our work force and have allowed individuals to use their PTO if they did not feel comfortable in the workplace dealing with the public.”

“I would try to keep the ones you need employed. The others I would furlough and take the risk. It’s time to keep mean and lean.”

“We have looked at ways to reduce expenses everywhere we can such as building cost, inventory cost and repairs. We have allowed employees to borrow ahead on time off so they continue to have some kind of income. Our most productive/best associates are taking on more duties also to justify their time on the clock.”

“In our case, the furloughed staff can and are taking unemployment as well as collecting the additional $600 from the federal government. We asked one associate to come back to work and they said they are better off right now collecting the extra $600; I guess that program is backfiring at this time. We also paid everyone who is working some extra $$ for their efforts and we have been providing lunch for everyone on Friday each week as a morale booster.”

“Suck it up and apply for a PPP loan.”

“Although we are not in the same situation that your store is in, if you have hard working employees that work well with others and have been with you for a while, I would do what you could to keep them. This would include continuing to pay them. This virus will not last too much longer and you want your flow of business to continue when this blows over. The amount you will spend to keep them employed will not compare to the headaches and time spent to find and train new employees to replace them. Not to mention the loyalty you will build for the long-term in doing so. Hope this helps.”

“For the immediate short term, we are taking a team approach, all of us are going to make the sacrifice of a full paycheck coupled with shortened operating hours. This will enforce the curtail in pay for hourly employees. Salaried team members are also sacrificing the same percentages for their pay. Commissioned sales are keeping their full weekly salary, however, with the expected drop off in sales, their commissions will be lessened. We will revisit this structure weekly and make further decisions the longer COVID conditions exist as well as monitor sales and cash flow.”

“Find a way, in words and deeds, to tell your staff and customers how valued they are.”

“Pay increase $2.00 an hour for hourly and $100 a week for salaried.”

“Furloughs with shared sacrifices, like working four days instead of five, while keeping benefits in place. Honestly share the status of the business—frequently.”

“We’ve expressed more empathy, listened more and communicated better through this than ever before. I think it has made our team members feel valued and appreciated. Our goal is keeping them safe and our decisions have been made at doing that over making more profits. It’s been a reality check for us on our core values. We’re putting our money on the line to ensure we live up to our family-first core values.”

“I noticed your question is ‘…retain valued staff members…’ rather than ‘retain all staff members.’ One of the continuing challenges of being in the pro lumberyard business is the cyclicality of the industry. For us this means that we must always be ready to reduce our work force. In the 2008-2012 slowdown our sales fell to half and we had to react in order to survive. This time the cause behind the slowdown has been unexpected and more immediate, but a reduction of our people is coming.

“When the cycle turns down and cutting costs is necessary, we do not spread the pain by keeping the entire group by using pay reductions or hour reductions. This solution gets used by company leaders who want to be seen as compassionate. But it’s not. It’s based on the false assumption that all our people are comparable in their performance and contribution. This has never been true for us. The people we hire in the upturn follow the bell curve from overwhelmingly good at one end of the curve, to whelming in the middle and underwhelming at the other end. The downturn is our opportunity to clean up from our hiring processes.”

“We record their expected return date, call them every few days to check on their progress, and modify their return date as needed. Most are returning to work—keeping in touch works.”

“If possible, reduce hours of all employees. Back during the last downfall we alternated Fridays off with no pay. Once business came back our company didn’t hesitate to return to regular hours.”

“This is a difficult decision, but we must remember that most businesses that are unessential have had layoffs and may not be able to recover at 100% immediately after restrictions are eased or lifted. There should be a good deal of quality people that are looking for quality employment when the time comes. You may lose some people, but that also gives you the opportunity to improve those positions.”

“We don’t have that problem, as we are struggling to hire qualified employees.”

“You have to take it on a case-by-case basis. If there is a legitimate reason, comprised health of someone in the household etc., for the employee to not feel safe at work you let them stay furloughed otherwise after the stay at home orders are complete they need to come back to work or lose unemployment.”

“We have been blessed that our workload has stayed at a high level. We have not had to reduce our work force. However, we have increased communication significantly. We added a chat room function for general and departments for our remote workers to communicate in real time. This has increased communication and reduced email traffic. It also brought transparency to each department’s workflow and engagement. We started sending out daily updates to all employees on what was going on within the company in general and departments. It included absences by reason and activity by department. We have now reduced to once a week. Senior team has increased communication probably three-fold and made contingency plans for several possible situations that would reduce the workforce. We also have a system where we can communicate with all employees by text or email. We normally only use this for emergency situations or global HR communication. However, we have used it some when we needed to communicate COVID-19 issues to everyone in the company at once.”

“Employ them as long as you can, then layoff if necessary so they can take advantage of the extremely generous unemployment right now. And make sure they know there will be a place for them when they come back.”

“Try to secure a Paycheck Protection Program loan. Let the team members know they are valuable to the company and offer to pay for at-home training. There are tons of online courses.”

“Don’t furlough. Hopefully everyone got their SBA payroll loan to keep employees working.”

“Unfortunately, it’s critical to make staff reductions before you’re struggling so much financially that cutting staff won’t even help. The first step is an assessment of the team. We’d all like to think that everybody is absolutely essential, but in tough times your ‘A’ players can be counted on to take on the tasks and responsibilities of people that are furloughed, so your path to survival and future success will depend on retaining them first. Provide status update opportunities to keep the furloughed staff informed and provide them facts on how things are going. The more they can stay connected to the team, the better chance you’ll have of getting them back.”

“Make sure the associate knows that you are still investing in their future with you by continuing their benefits, contributing to their 401k and by communicating with them often. Showing genuine concern for them and their families.”

“We applied for and received the PPP loan, and if someone needed to stay home, we would still pay them their regular hours. Fortunately, we have not had that problem and are keeping busy enough to keep everyone on payroll.”

“Communicate with them; let them know that they are valuable, wanted and still have jobs to return to. Ask them how they are doing and do what you can to help them out with their situation. Treat them like the valuable employees that they were before the crisis.”

“We have utilized the Family First Cares program for some employees who have compromised health and must not catch COVID-19. Also, we applied for and received PPP loan funding to carry us through the next eight weeks. The process was easy. I recommend this program. If we do not use it all, we can pay it back.”

“I would first have a meeting with everyone. Explain how things are and give them the opportunity to volunteer to take some unpaid time off. This would help in keeping certain employees from feeling less valuable because you chose to furlough them and not the next guy. You could also set it up as a rotating furlough (three people the first 2 weeks, then a different three people the next 2 weeks, and so on). By doing either of these, it will keep your team morale up and also, if for some reason, you need to reach out to one of the employees that is ‘taking their turn’ for any reason they will be more apt to answer.”

“We did not furlough anyone on our team. However, if anyone had so much as a sniffle or a tickle of a cough or even a bad headache—they were encouraged to go home, no questions asked, until symptoms disappeared, and they felt better.”

“This needs to be constant, open communication while watching/tracking daily activities to see when you feel confident to bring one back at a time. We have been able to shorten our hours, take away OT and even have most employees working 35 hours. This has kept us from furloughing anyone and dealing with minimal layoffs.”

“It’s tough on everyone; however, you should not be worried about retaining employees that you have to furlough. It’s a business decision (an emotional one) and is not personal. There is a strong chance that the employees you have to furlough will come back to work for you if things turn around in a reasonably short period of time. If they don’t come back, it’s okay. If you have a good hiring manager there will be the potential to even upgrade from what you had due to the large pool of potential employees looking for jobs (of course you would lose the investment that you made in your past employees on furlough). We all value our people, but every time I have to replace a current employee, I find that there are countless quality prospects in the market with just as much to offer our company as the previous staff member. Take your time and hire the right person.”

“The key is communicating with empathy and understanding. As much as this revolves around your business and the future of it, this is just as important for your employees’ futures. Communicating with each one individually and directly is vital and needs to be focused on their needs more than yours. A young single person living at home is in an entirely different situation than someone with a spouse and children. Be honest with them especially when the news is not good. If they are encountering difficult circumstances, find a way to help. Walk a mile in their shoes. If you continue to treat them as valued associates, they will be.”

“Use unemployment benefits. Find ways for them to work remotely, even very part time. Find long overdue ‘housekeeping’ projects that have been pushed off in the past due to being too busy to get to.”

“The current unemployment benefits are making furloughed employees reluctant to return to work. We have kept everyone working but have two employees who are staying home because of their spouses. Both have asked to be laid off, but I just don’t see how that is fair to the other staff who are here working. By the way, I tested positive for the virus and was out for three weeks. I closed the store for a week, paid the staff to stay home and had the facility professionally cleaned. We are following all safety protocols, limiting access to the facility and everyone is well.”

“Our business is still good. I’m not furloughing anyone as business is good and we received funds from the PPP. My goal is to keep everyone at or above where they were before COVID even if things slow down. It’s taken many years to build our team and it will take quite a downturn for me to furlough any of them.”

“If they are truly good employees, and you want to keep them, you need to do whatever is necessary. Let them collect unemployment—the augmented unemployment pay isn’t bad now. But compared to the cost and headache of finding equally good workers down the road, it’s a very small price to pay. Plus, you’ll generate loyalty.”

“Daily communication with the team that is still working while doing a bi-weekly communication with those that are furloughed at the moment. Have your benefits team ready and willing to reach out to those team members and assist them in whatever way they can.”

“I have two staff members working from home. I touch base with them at least once a week by phone to make sure everything is going well, and they have everything they need. They have remote access to their desktop, and we have their phones forwarded to their cells during their work hours. One staff member has opted out for underlying health issues. He stops in or calls once or twice a week and talks with his supervisor outside or after hours. He is using accumulated PTO.”

From manufacturers and service providers

“The fact of the matter is this. While good communication is critically important now, there is nothing to stop your employees from talking with a competitor. There are hard feelings, no matter how well we explain that a furlough or layoff needed to happen and those impacted feel a bit betrayed or undervalued. It happens, there is nothing anyone can do to prevent those feelings. All you can do is keep them informed on how things are going and update them regularly via phone or text messages. Express your appreciation and desire to have them back as soon as possible. Go to the extreme of stating your fear. ‘I am sure you are getting calls from our competitors…bottom line is we want you back when it is appropriate from a business and safety standpoint.’”

From wholesale distributors

“Flexibility! We have worked with everyone individually to understand their comfort levels and had volunteers to be furloughed if needed. The staff gets it. They know how debilitating this has been to business and they are willing to do what needs to be done to help the business survive. Don’t underestimate that fact.”

“Tough question. The employee must look out for his/her best interest. If you can’t pay them, you have to be understanding and supportive if they decide to leave. If you treat them respectfully, the door will remain open even if they need to move on right now.”

“Communication is key. Let furloughed people know that this is temporary and, for those you want back, they will be welcomed back when the time is right. It is most likely the staff cuts and furloughed people are those least necessary for the operation of the business. They will find other jobs. In reality, this is a great opportunity to keep the best and eliminate the rest.”

“The extra $600/week government unemployment check allows many employees basically a long extended paid vacation. I know some companies have had employees volunteer to be furloughed.”

“In tough times, when sales are lean and profit opportunities are leaner, it stands to reason the best performers are most highly retained. Advise the furloughed workers, that with additional training and efforts, they can come back and make the effort to be part of that team of best performers.”

“If you expect a return to a sales level where you will need your entire staff, consider a rolling furlough where employees work less than their normal days per week and rotate the schedule to maintain coverage for customers. Keeps employee engagement and spreads the impact of reductions for when business returns.”

“I don’t think you can commit to keeping people when you have no idea what the impact of the virus will have on your business. You need to scale down and wait it out. Trying to engage with people who aren’t working is a waste of time and energy. This is a tough way to look at it but you need to focus on those that you chose to keep.”

“Consider pay cuts rather than furloughs.”

“I wouldn’t put any valued employee on furlough, lest I risk losing that person. Once violated, the covenant of loyalty is hard to recoup.”


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