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Retaining Hourly Workers – Part 1

job-hopping.jpgAt an upcoming meeting of the Workforce Institute Board of Advisors in Boston, we plan to spend a good deal of time investigating best practices in retaining hourly workers.  Although much is written about the retention of white collar knowledge workers, it’s harder to find actionable advice for how to achieve the right retention equilibrium point for hourly workforces.   While a certain amount of attrition is healthy in an hourly workforce, just as it is in the salaried world, many organizations relying on hourly labor struggle mightily to keep their shifts covered.

 Dr. Charles Handler recently wrote about this topic in ERE in an article entitled “Turnover: Insights from the Real World”.  One of the key points he makes is that for many hourly workers, the job is not where they turn for personal fulfillment, but rather to pay the bills while they seek personal satisfaction through other channels. 

We’ll be writing much more on this topic after our upcoming meeting.  We’d love to hear from any of you who have real life examples of organizations who do a good job in managing voluntary turnover in their hourly worker populations.

Are Books and Readers a Thing of the Past?

book.jpgThis week in the Boston Globe, there was an article about the decline in reading for pleasure – especially among people under 24, but true across the board.  Ironically, the cover story in Newsweek this week concerns the Amazon Kindle– a $399 electronic book reader that will allow users to download books from Amazon wirelessly.  This is a logical move for Amazon.  They are already a center of gravity for readers, and this provides them with an alternate channel to readers who’ll appreciate a lightweight portable device that allows them to carry many of their favorite books, newspapers and blogs wherever they go.   While the technology blogs were abuzz with critiques of the design and business model yesterday (See Andrew Lavallee’s Wall Street Journal blog for a sampling),  an equally interesting question to me is whether the eBook readers like the Kindle can have any impact on making reading for pleasure more attractive to those who don’t.

What does this all have to do with workforce management?  Think about the following quote from the Globe article:

“Seventy-two percent of employers rated high school graduates deficient in writing, and 38 percent cited reading deficiency. One out of five American workers reads at a lower level than necessary to do his or her job. Not surprisingly, proficient readers are more likely to attain management jobs and higher incomes.”

Despite heavy high school and college course loads, both of my kids read for pleasure in addition to their reading required for school- which admittedly puts them in a minority among their friends.  (Business model note to Jeff Bezos, by the way – my college sophomore isn’t particularly interested in reading novels on the Kindle, but thinks it would be fantastic as a means of managing all her required texts and other reading vs. hauling texts all over campus.)

In a different way, though, this generation is even more engaged with the written word than ever before.  Although they all carry cell phones, they do a lot more text messaging than calling.  They communicate via IM and online communities like FaceBook.  They’re in constant interaction, but often at an arm’s length remove – electronically buffered from voice to voice or face to face communications.  Unfortunately, while the quantity of written communication may be growing, the quality of the communication is linked to immediacy, not grammar.  This may not be a problem when you’re “chatting” with friends, but quickly becomes a problem when you’re relying on the quality of your written communication to persuade others to your point of view in a business setting.

Per the Globe article, literacy is directly linked to success on the job.  Above and beyond literacy, plunging into a great book and discovering a new insight is one of the great pleasures of being a reader.  Treat yourself this long weekend – read a book. 

When Black Friday Comes…

holiday-shopping.jpgOK – I borrowed the title from a Steely Dan song from one of my favorite albums (link provided for those born after 1970).   The song refers to a few cataclysmic events.  For retailers, it refers to the day after Thanksgiving – when the holiday shopping begins in earnest, and retailers’ financial fates are in the hands of the consumers.  Retailers are worried this holiday season as the mortgage market does the mambo, oil hits $100 per barrel, and the average consumer may be inclined to limit the holiday budget while waiting out the storm.

 In partnership with Retail Systems Research, we’ve recently concluded a survey of major retailers entitled “The State of Retail Workforce Management”.  You can download the full text of the survey from their website.  This research is especially timely as it highlights the balancing act retailers need to achieve between customer service and expense management.  From the Research section of this site, you can download “Customer Centricity’s Impact on the Workforce”, by Nikki Baird, Managing Partner at RSR Research.   This article summarizes the survey findings and describes how management practices for the retail workforce and the tools used to manage the workforce must change if retailers are to survive in a customer-centric environment.

 Among the principle findings of the survey is that while retailers almost universally cite their workforce, and specifically their customer facing workforce, as their most important asset, many still treat their workers as a means to an end vs. a strategic asset.  There are some exceptions out there.  In his blog HRCleanUp, my friend Jay Hargis cites customer service leaders like Starbucks and In-N-Out Burger that offer their employees benefits and seem to reap the rewards in employee and customer loyalty.  A recent Boston Globe story indicates that  some retailers are rethinking the marathon hours for their employees, and foregoing 5 am opening times in favor of having well rested employees who they believe will produce a better result for them.

I’d love to hear from you about retailers you think are doing a great job balancing employee satisfaction with business results.  Happy shopping!