The 5 Things We Must Do To Attract & Retain Great Talent

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Eliminate the risk of burnout by reevaluating and streamlining worker tasks.

The pandemic has allowed people to reevaluate what they want from work. This “Great Reevaluation” has led to the “Great Resignation” which has left the US with a great big labor shortage and a supply chain crisis. What can we do to reverse this trend? What can be done to attract great talent to companies looking to hire? What must companies do to retain their great talent? If not just a paycheck, what else are employees looking for? In this interview series called “The Labor Shortage & The 5 Things We Must Do To Attract & Retain Great Talent” we are talking to successful business leaders who can share stories and ideas from their experience that can address these questions.

As a part of this interview series we had the pleasure to interview Mark Heymann.

Mark Heymann is the Founding Partner of UniFocus, an innovative labor management technology company that provides cloud-based workforce optimization solutions for a diverse range of enterprises in the hospitality, healthcare and retail sectors. With more than 40 years of industry experience, Mark is a seasoned expert on all things labor management and workforce performance. His steadfast commitment to meeting the most pressing labor management needs of UniFocus clients has elevated the company into an industry-leading workforce solutions provider. Above all, Mark is passionate about empowering businesses to foster growth and sustained success by integrating advanced technology and automation into all aspects of their labor management strategy.

Mark holds a B.A. in Economics from Brown University and an M.S. in Business from Columbia University.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Let’s jump right in. Some experts have warned of the “Great Resignation” as early as the 1980s and yet so many companies seem to have been completely unprepared when it finally happened. What do you think caused this disconnect? Why do you think the business world was caught by surprise?

Service industries such as the hotel and restaurant sectors have always struggled with higher-than-average turnover rates, some controllable, some uncontrollable (college student graduates and takes a full-time job). The controllable portion is due to job dissatisfaction, resulting from a range of factors that can include low pay, burnout, lack of regular feedback and a disconnect from the business. Many business owners and operators have typically been so focused on improving customer experiences and revenue that they tend to overlook and/or simply accept, turnover and its real impact on ensuring maximum productivity and heightened service quality, thereby creating long term success. Additionally, the workforce has changed and cannot be considered homogeneous. The expectations of the employee / employer relationship have become more complex. Wages are one thing, but social engagement is now more important. Balance of personal and professional life including flexibility of hours have entered the relationship equation. The needs of specific employees must be accounted for in today’s labor market.

All these factors coupled with the pandemic and the ongoing labor shortage, meant businesses were unprepared for the scale of resignation increases as their staff found themselves in a labor market highly favorable towards employees. Supply and demand has allowed workers to explore and find better employment options that more closely align with their expectations and needs.

What do you think employers have to do to adapt to this new reality?

Employers must now understand that the ability to attract and retain staff is as important as ensuring a steady flow of customers. Only by having sufficiently staffed operations can a business meet customer service expectations to ensure a consistent source of revenue. Businesses therefore need to completely rethink current labor management strategies to create a workplace culture that attracts and retains employees. Employers must look at the relationship with their staff in the same way they address their relationship with customers. What is needed is a B to C focus, with the employee being addressed more like a consumer than a worker. The relationship must be thought of in terms of collaboration as compared to control. To achieve this, employers must identify and adopt new tactics allowing them to swiftly address any number of employee needs or concerns at scale before worker dissatisfaction sets in. Previously, employers had little to no support available to assist with implementing a more responsive and adaptable workforce strategy, but this is no longer the case in today’s market. Businesses now have a range of more advanced labor management tools at their disposal that can fully automate much of the processes revolving around typical employee HR needs, such as scheduling adjustments, easier access to pay and ensuring a more balanced workload of daily tasks.

Based on your opinion and experience, what do you think were the main pain points that caused the great resignation? Why is so much of the workforce unhappy?

Now that workers have access to more and often better job opportunities, many are reexamining their current employment situation and are leaving due to several reasons that go beyond a simple increase in pay. With the rise of the gig economy, as previously noted, more employees are placing a greater level of importance on the ability to obtain an improved work/life balance. With a range of outside of work responsibilities to juggle, including childcare, study or even second or third jobs, employees across multiple industries are increasingly demanding a more flexible schedule that can accommodate responsibilities both inside and outside of work. Those companies unwilling to adapt to this now widespread expectation will ultimately reduce their competitive standing within the labor market, as otherwise content and productive employees move on to organizations that do offer some form of scheduling flexibility.

Another recurring issue, especially for lower paying jobs such as frontline positions within the service sector, is not so much the level of pay provided, but ready access to wages based on the needs of individual employees. Regardless of any wage increase, the vast majority of service sector jobs will continue to be relatively low paying, resulting in many employees frequently living paycheck to paycheck. To make ends meet, such employees are often forced to rely on predatory lending services that charge high interest rates leading to a spiraling of debt, with the only other alternative typically being the finding of another form of employment.

Regardless of industry or job type, many employees now also place a greater emphasis on obtaining a sense of professional fulfillment. Yet many companies continue to create a work environment where employees feel undervalued, with a replacement seemingly waiting in the wings to fill their position should they decide to leave. This lack of self-worth that an employee may feel in their job role typically comes from a few things. One is an absence of incentives that reward staff members for achieving organizational goals coupled with a lack of regular performance feedback that directly relates to the success of the business. It also comes from limited opportunities to enhance skillsets and advance professionally, a lack of true sharing in the success of a business, as well as a perception that their opinions are of no value to the daily running of a business. Organizations therefore need to look at employee loyalty as a two-way street to ensure retention. If a business views their workforce as expendable or feels turnover can’t be controlled better, why should employees in turn provide their commitment to ensuring long term business success?

Another leading factor resulting in employee dissatisfaction and an increase in resignations has been a significant rise in the number of workers experiencing burnout. With so many employees handing in their notice during the pandemic, those who remain are finding that their responsibilities have only increased with no end to this trend in sight. This in turn creates a snowball effect where more and more overwhelmed employees continue to look for job opportunities elsewhere to escape the increasing pressure, while remaining workers again find themselves with even more tasks added to their workday.

Many employers extoll the advantages of the entrepreneurial spirit and the possibilities of an expanded “gig economy”. But this does come with the cost of a lack of loyalty of gig workers. Is there a way to balance this? Can an employer look for single use sources of services and expect long-term loyalty? Is there a way to hire a freelancer and expect dependability and loyalty? Can you please explain what you mean?

The same logic of ensuring a positive workplace environment applies even when utilizing a freelance workforce, perhaps more so. Freelance workers have the power of choice when it comes to deciding who they wish to work for and when, so companies need to again ensure that they can position themselves as an attractive employment option in order to remain competitive. Businesses able to provide such workers with a positive experience will gain a great advantage over other organizations competing for the same source of labor. Over time, this can evolve into a situation where both a business and its freelance workers feel that a continued long-term relationship is mutually beneficial. One means of enhancing being selected is to have freelance staff rate their experience of working for specific employers. It can be a bit like “Trip Advisor” where experience is rated and available to gig workers making decisions of where to work.

It has been said that “people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses”. How do you think this has been true during the Great Resignation? Can you explain what you mean?

An employee’s experience with their boss can certainly make or break positive workplace experiences, and this typically comes down to how bosses manage daily tasks and operations. Being an effective boss doesn’t mean just issuing orders to be completed. To run a successful business involves understanding the capabilities of their staff, both individually and as a team, in order to structure organizational goals in a way that can be realistically met. Candidly, especially in today’s environment but also for many years, the term Boss is simply passe. I had great friend / mentor of mine switch the word Boss to readding it backwards. An interesting perspective. In a study we did a few years ago, we found a .79 correlation between manager engagement and staff engagement. Pretty clear how important this relationship is.

During the Great Resignation and as previously mentioned, one of the leading factors resulting in employees leaving a business is the inability to keep up with the sheer number of responsibilities that are now being funneled their way. An organization simply lets the increase in tasks continue to fall on the shoulders of overstretched employees until they ultimately decide to leave. An effective leadership team will alternatively look into how tasks can be more fairly dispersed or decide the true value of each task from the customers’ perspective to adjust workloads among their employees, which employees are best suited to a specific responsibility and how tasks can be either combined or segmented to ensure a more streamlined workload. These are the types of employers that will be able to not only attract employees but retain them.

I am fond of saying, “If it’s fun they charge admission. But you get a paycheck for working here.” Obviously, I am being facetious, but not entirely. Every job has its frustrations and there will be times when jobs will challenge employees. How important is it that employees enjoy their jobs?

First let’s look at enjoyment. People can enjoy even mundane tasks if they see reward in their actions. A great job leading to a pleased customer. A task well done that helps someone else do his/her job better. Joint performances that drive measurable results. Thanks to the influences of the gig economy and a labor market favorable to employees, employee contentment with their job role has perhaps never been as important as it is today. Workers unhappy with their current job will inevitably be open to exploring more attractive options. Many will actively look for a new job as they understand that current labor market conditions provide them with opportunities to negotiate better working arrangements with a potential new employer. The key for current employers in preventing this from occurring is to simply ensure that their workers have what they need to be satisfied with their current workplace role. A satisfied employee may not necessarily equate to one who enjoys doing their job, but it does go a long way in providing them with enough reasons to stay on. The key is regular information about success and how each team member participates in the organization’s growth. A collaborative environment that reflects individual contribution.

How do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

The wellbeing and satisfaction of employees goes hand in hand with a company’s level of business success. With an unhappy workforce, service quality will ultimately suffer as employees do not feel the need to invest time and effort into providing customers with an exceptional experience. This in turn leads to customer needs and expectations not being met, which inevitably leads them to taking their business elsewhere, with company profits decreasing as a result. And it’s not just the external impacts on the customer. It’s also internal impact such as poor portion control, added waste of product, making someone else’s job more difficult and a general breaking down of the team effort. With regards to health and wellbeing, an unhappy employee is far more likely to identify their job as a source of mental or physical ailments. This again leads to employees seeking out other employment options, a situation that can be avoided if an employer makes a commitment to proactively identify issues impacting employee wellbeing and implementing a solution where and when feasible.

What are a few things that employers, managers and executives can do to ensure that workers are fully engaged with their jobs?

One easy yet effective approach is to simply ask the employees. No set of analytics can provide business operators with the level of insight into making a job more engaging than the feedback of workers who actually perform the role. By opening a direct line of communication between themselves and their employees, employers can readily identify any pain points that are preventing workers from carrying out tasks productively which leads to decreased job satisfaction. They can also determine if employees feel fulfilled in their current role, or if efforts need to be made to ensure that each staff member has access to opportunities for professional advancement or greater flexibility if applicable. Significantly and as an added benefit, seeking out the opinions of employees can also provide businesses with opportunities to improve customer service quality based on their frontline experiences. One critical component of this feedback approach is frequency. Once or twice a year is simply insufficient. There are tools that can enable an organization to get regular feedback, thereby enabling an environment of continuous improvement.

Can you share a few things that employers, managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture?

Business operators need to first and foremost identify any issues that are leading to the creation of a less than productive work environment. This can include the removing of obstacles preventing employees from working productively and completing tasks in a timely manner. It often also involves addressing a lack of communication between managers and their employees, with staff members unsure of what their responsibilities entail, which tasks should be prioritized and most importantly, how well is the team member doing in fulfilling his/her responsibilities. Another means of improving culture, is don’t just have your mission or value statement in a handbook or on a wall. Speak of it regularly. Integrate it into your feedback and incorporate the key values in performance reviews. Ensure that all team members benefit from successes and understand their contribution to growth.

Only by first addressing such issues can businesses begin to effectively build a more positive work culture. This includes creating an atmosphere where employees feel more driven to succeed by knowing precisely what is expected of them, how they can achieve such tasks both realistically and effectively and how their efforts directly drive results.

Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things employers should do to attract and retain top talent during the labor shortage?”

  • Implement a flexible scheduling strategy- Advanced labor management tools are now available that address worker expectations for what each perceives to be a fair work/life balance without jeopardizing service quality. Sidestepping cumbersome manual scheduling processes that have traditionally prevented managers from moving past a rigid shift strategy, these tools instead rely on intelligent algorithms to forecast upcoming service demand volumes and provide employees with options to pick their shifts based on actual business needs. For example, a worker needing to earn their 40 hours per week but having to balance their availability due to a lack of childcare options on a specific weekday, can receive notifications for which upcoming shifts still require staffing that fall within the days and times when they do have childcare services available. This not only provides employees with the flexibility many now expect in order to manage both job and outside of work responsibilities, but also enhances overall service quality by ensuring that each shift is always adequately staffed according to fluctuations in demand volumes.
  • Provide staff with Incentives to Remain and Work Productively- Employees who do not feel that their work contributes to the success of a business will more likely begin to look at other opportunities that do offer a sense of fulfillment. Current employers can avoid this risk by implementing a positive system of gamification that rewards staff members for completing tasks or for learning a new job function. Frequently, point based systems accrue negative points such as absenteeism. A successful gamification strategy for service sector businesses such as hotels or restaurants should be structured to accumulate positive points, such as working shifts scheduled or other positive performance actions. We live in a consumer-based economy where consumers get loyalty points for many actions, hotel stays, restaurant meals, dollars spent on credit cards. The same can be true to team members and could include a points system where employees earn a free night’s stay or meals once a sufficient number of points have been received. This not only serves to remind employees that their efforts are indeed recognized and appreciated, but also incentivizes them to perform a better job and meet organizational goals, ultimately leading to a significant increase in customer service quality.
  • Eliminate the risk of burnout by reevaluating and streamlining worker tasks- Since the beginning of the labor shortage, businesses across multiple industries have looked to hiring more employees as the only solution to lessening the burden on existing staff. Yet more often than not, there are ways to sidestep the risk of burnout and subsequent resignations by analyzing existing operations and task processes in order to uncover inefficiencies consuming employee time. Within restaurants, for example, a lot of time can be spent on food prep when a workday begins. To provide employees with more time to complete other tasks, restaurant operators should consider if it makes sense to instead purchase pre-prepared products, such as chopped onions or pre-peeled potatoes. For a restaurant operating at 25 percent capacity during slower periods, does it really make sense to have servers wait on tables spread out throughout an entire premises? Such restaurants could instead have only one section open to customers during low demand periods, eliminating unnecessary leg work and travel distances for staff while ensuring speedier service. One aspect that can be addressed is starting with staffing levels to develop key activities instead of starting with a list of activities and hoping to get enough staff to accomplish them. Also parsing tasks that when broken down can require different skill sets, can be another means of adjusting staffing needs.
  • Ensure instant employee access to wages- By providing staff members with the ability to obtain their wages as soon as a shift ends, employers can eliminate the stress many frontline employees experience when bill due dates won’t wait for pay day. Businesses now have the option of adopting instant pay platforms that can automatically provide employees with up to 50 percent of their earned wages in advance, sidestepping previous reliance on predatory lending services and ensuring that employees never have to make a choice between landing in additional debt or looking for a new employer. These systems can also process tips, so staff members don’t have to wait until payday (every two weeks).
  • Adopt an effective employee engagement survey strategy- For decades, many businesses would perhaps send out an employee survey once a year if at all. Yet businesses miss a critical opportunity to gauge the current sentiment of staff members if they do not follow up with them for feedback on a more recurrent basis. With a lack of time being the main factor behind managers not checking in on the opinions of staff more frequently, newer engagement survey tools can automate much of the process. For example, businesses can select templates with a dropdown list of optional questions to include, such as whether an employee feels stressed with their current workload or what improvements they think could be made to deliver faster and/or higher quality service. By using engagement surveys and implementing staff recommendations when and where appropriate, managers can again provide employees with a sense that their contributions towards business success are indeed valued. This also enables organizations to keep a pulse of the business and ensure timely response to issues.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Arne Duncan — I’d like to hear his perspective on how the US can improve education and therefore become more intellectually competitive.

Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?

Readers can visit the UniFocus newsroom and blog to stay up to date on our continuing efforts to expand the capabilities of labor management technology. I am also a member of the Forbes Technology Council where I frequently publish articles focusing on the latest trends and challenges affecting workforce management.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.

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