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Keys to keeping employees

Features, Management | October 1, 2008 | By:

Keeping employees happy and protected can be your key to keeping employees.

Wanted: Willing employee to work long hours in brutal heat carrying heavy rental equipment for tent installation and teardown during the busiest months of the year.

Sound familiar? For many rental companies, the task of finding and retaining good employees throughout the busy season is a challenge. The demand for workers often causes companies to compete in terms of wages and to forgive employees for just about any infraction in order to get the job done. The old adage still applies: Good help is hard to find.

The search is on

Companies throughout North America say that seasonal employees can be found through print and online media, as well as college job fairs and old-fashioned word of mouth. Some companies say that current employees refer others to the business and help manage the new hire, which keeps qualified people in the position and turnover throughout the season low. Dan Nolan, Tents Unlimited Inc., Marietta, Ga., says those who begin as installers and seasonal employees have the best chance of being promoted within the firm.

“We are very open about who we hire and we are able to get the people who are promotable,” he says. “It can be a little difficult to find good people, but you can bet that most who are in a management position started out as an installer who understands the job.”

Working hard for the money

Staying competitive when it comes to wages is another key to retaining employees, say industry experts. Many firms endeavor to provide a complete benefits package to full-time employees, but what matters to part-time workers and seasonal help is the hourly wage, which must meet their daily needs with a little left over. Kevin McBride of P.J. McBride Inc. in West Babylon, N.Y., says that money matters can make or break the deal.

“It is the number one priority for a worker,” he says. “If you can’t pay your bills, a pat on the back and insurance coverage isn’t going to help you one bit. If you have the wages at a point where they can pay their bills, then you can add the retirement plan, the benefits, [and so on].”

McBride says that keeping wages competitive is paramount to a company’s overall success. By cutting costs elsewhere, such as for office and technical upgrades, he is able to help his employees make their own ends meet as well as offer an extensive disability package to help them feel confident that the money will be there if they are hurt on or off the job.

Of course every employee enjoys a pat on the back, and incentive programs can range depending on the company. Some firms reward their employees with cash bonuses or gift cards, while others take the time to order pizza at the end of a long day. McBride says one of the most popular incentives right now is, of course, the gas card.

“We tried bonuses at the end of the year for two years, but then I opted out of it because I had to take the money from my savings to do it,” he says. “I finally told everyone it wasn’t working for me, but I still find ways to reward for a job well done.”

Breaking up is hard to do

During the busy season, it is hard to let go of a bad employee, especially when the company is overbooked and high turnover is a threat. George Smith of Mahaffey Fabric Structures in Memphis, Tenn., says that during the busy season, companies are held hostage by the workload and whether the company can find employees for summer work. But, he says, if an employee does something to warrant his or her termination on the spot, then that’s what will happen. In most cases, however, an employee will have a sense that he or she is about to be fired, based on a series of warnings leading up to termination.

“If an employee doesn’t know he is going to be fired when you fire him, you or your managers aren’t doing their job,” Smith says.

Smith says that the downturn in the construction industry has allowed for better candidates to seek work in the rental field. He says that being selective and checking references goes a long way toward finding good workers to last through the season.

“In past years, we have had to deal with some real underperformers, but lately we have seen some good candidates come through the door,” he says. “I don’t think you have to settle as much as you used to.”

Julie Young is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis, Ind.

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