Recruit and retain

May 1, 2008
How do you avoid cracked eggs? In the supermarket, it's pretty easy. You simply open the container and inspect them. In the job environment, where cracked

How do you avoid “cracked eggs”?

In the supermarket, it's pretty easy. You simply open the container and inspect them. In the job environment, where “cracked eggs” are applicants who are going to turn out to be unproductive or ill-equipped workers, it's a bit more difficult.

Never fear. Mark Travis, an attorney for Wimberly, Lawson, Seale, Wright & Daves, PLLC, had the answers in “Effective Recruiting and Retention Strategies.”

Some of his recruiting tips:

  • Employee referral program

    “When you do have openings, instead of just going back through the stack of applications or calling a temporary service or the state department of unemployment, you have a program set up in your company that resembles something where you would have departmental meetings and discussions with employees and ask them if they have any references they'd like to submit. The best source of recommendations is from a good employee. It ought to be somebody who's going to be good for you.”

  • Employee involvement in hiring

    “This may sound off-the-wall, but I've seen it done with success. When you do interviews, you might want to have a session with the supervisor involved and a good lead person or just a regular production worker. Get their feedback. They may know something about this individual. I've seen situations where after a person was hired, somebody said, ‘Can you believe they hired this person?’ I'm thinking, as a lawyer, that you not only get a good employee to maintain profitability, but that you don't want to hire that lawsuit. The troublemaker, bad performer, substandard types — those are the types who typically sue you.”

  • Effective advertising (print, web, etc)

    “If you do advertising in local media or the Web, you should post the opening on your Web site. You have to be careful with what you do with the applications you receive. If you utilize print media, present a positive image of the company. Put your logo in there and be specific about what you're looking for.”

  • Utilize job fairs

    “This is more for a mass hiring situation. The more you can expand your pool of applicants, the better chance that you find some good ones in there. For example, the state department of labor and the unemployment office have local job fairs in high schools, technical colleges, etc. That increases your applicant pool.”

  • Consider alternative positions

    “With employees who are preparing to retire, consider working out arrangements where they can stick around and be part-time. Be as creative as you can legally in terms of letting them work and continue to get benefits. That way, you can keep people around who are good performers.”

  • Headhunters and recruitment agencies

    “You're probably not going to use that too much with the regular, run-of-the-mill, hourly production worker. It would be good to use with supervisors on up. I was surprised to learn there are headhunters out there who are looking for supervisors. I always thought of headhunters as people looking for executive VPs or VPs of operations or manufacturing managers.”

  • Temporary agencies

    “If you're going to use them and they're a good competent provider, you're going to probably pay a little bit more. But if you go to someone who has a national or regional or statewide reputation, that's probably going to be money well-spent. There's a loss of productivity and profitability when you bring people in from substandard agencies that are scraping the bottom of barrel.”

  • Accurate job descriptions

    “There's nothing worse than hiring somebody who doesn't know what's required of them in their job. I'd suggest you have an accurate job description. I know it's hard to do and they're subject to change, but they're important in returning to work following injuries, disability claims, and what's expected if they sue for discrimination.”

  • Train interviewers

    “Make sure the folks that are doing the interviewing are good at that and have some training. Not just from the legal perspective of knowing what to ask and not to ask, but get someone who has the skills necessary to interview and present a positive image of the company. There are effective and ineffective ways to interview. That's money well-spent.”

  • Background/reference checks

    “They're very important — not just in hiring the best employee you can who's going to be with you a long time, but also as a way to minimize legal liability and minimize hiring that person who is a lawsuit looking for a place to happen.”

Some retention tips:

  • Open the lines of communication. “The more you do that, the more you create happier workers.”

  • Create a more positive working environment.

  • Reduce costly turnover rates.

  • Avoid litigation. “If people don't leave, people don't usually sue you. Most employment lawsuits come from people who were terminated or constructively discharged or from resigning under duress. From a lawyer perspective, retention is important. It avoids litigation if you can keep people working.”

He said employee surveys are an effective tool.

“When I first started practicing law, our firm was founded by some guys who were human-resource consultants who went to law school,” he said. “That's why we take a different HR perspective in terms of keeping companies out of problems. In my early days, we used to do open-ended employee surveys. It's not terribly expensive if you do it every year. If you establish relationships with survey companies, they can tailor it to your operations. They can come in electronically and spit it out by department, demographic, age, seniority. They're good things to have. Gives employees a voice in their working conditions and where the company is going.”

Some tips on surveys:

  • Include everyone, not just select departments.

  • Change-focused. “If you are going through some particular changes, that's a good time to do a survey.”

  • Adequate time. “Don't just rush through the process and the evaluation.”

  • Distribution time. “Get it to them well in advance. Let them know and give them time to think about it. You don't just have an all-hands meeting and start handing out surveys. You prep them. Get them to start thinking.”

  • Assure anonymity. “If you have a two-person department, you might want to mix that in with another department. If you don't, they're going to know their responses are being found out, and that will destroy the credibility of the process.”

  • No more than one a year.

Retention-management strategies:

  • Conflict management and dispute resolution systems

    “A problem that has boiled up into a federal lawsuit probably was something that had its genesis in a personality issue or conflict — something that could have been addressed a long time ago. Now we're spending money hand over fist because somebody got fired. These systems are designed to avoid that.

  • Peer review systems

    “Peers make a recommendation. If you're management, what would be your first fear? Surrendering control. You wouldn't want employees making a determination with respect to other employees. But surveys show, and my personal experience shows, that most times employees are harder on each other than you could be on the employee. Why is that? Because as an employee, you've seen them do it over and over again and you're thinking, ‘When are you going to wake up?’ If you pick a peer review system, you disarm a lot of this stuff at that level.”

  • Managerial mediation

    “You have supervisors and managers trained on how to resolve it.”

  • Mediation/arbitration agreements

    “Most employers don't realize that this is out there. I have clients that have astute and very competent, professional HR departments that don't realize that this idea is legal to do. If I told you that you could have employees sign an agreement that they couldn't sue you, how many of you would be interested? They can file a claim. They are still an employee-at-will, not a union. As a condition of employment, you can require them to sign an agreement they won't sue you. If they have any dispute with you, it will be submitted to arbitration. That's legal and binding. The downside is that you have to pay for an administrative filing fee. Within that, you require them to go to mediation before arbitration. 75-80% of cases get settled in mediation.”

  • Job shadowing

    “Try to train supervisors to monitor certain employees who may be at risk. Shadow them to see if there are any particular issues or problems.”

  • Foster work/life balance

    “Acknowledge that they have priorities other than work. Offer scheduling options. Make options acceptable. Consider contingent workers. If you have some positions you can use people for on a temporary basis and they are good people, try to consider those things.”

  • Acknowledge individual contribution

    “They need to know what role their particular job plays in the output of this particular product. Move people around if you can so they don't get bogged down. That's especially true for this new generation. They like to see new and different things.”

  • Retention bonuses

    “If people stay X-number of years, there's nothing wrong with giving a bonus. It's something to show their work is appreciated. I'm not talking about a gold watch. I'm talking about a gift card.”

  • Years-of-service awards

    “Not just a retention bonus. Give them a gift catalog and let them pick out something on their own.”

  • Exit interviews

    “You may think you know why a person left and you may be dead-on, but you may learn other things as well. Expect some negativity. It's not going to retain that person, but hopefully it will correct something in the big picture that will retain other people. If you have a systemic problem, a bad supervisor who's causing problems, this may fix that problem.”

About the Author

Rick Weber | Associate Editor

Rick Weber has been an associate editor for Trailer/Body Builders since February 2000. A national award-winning sportswriter, he covered the Miami Dolphins for the Fort Myers News-Press following service with publications in California and Australia. He is a graduate of Penn State University.