Keeping Your Best Employees By Bernard Erven

Quality employees are not a luxury; they are essential toachieve sales, customer service and financial and growth goals.

The challenge for greenhouse managers is to providepermanent jobs that are attractive to people whom other employers are trying tohire, as depending on temporary employees who are waiting for a better job tocome along guarantees never-ending labor headaches.

The best way to keep star employees is to convince them thatthey have excellent jobs and that their greenhouse employer provides an excellentplace to work. Job design, team building and employer reputation are the keyingredients. Greenhouse managers are the builders. Their focus should beemployees, and they should emit happiness. Why should employees be pleased tocontinue working at a greenhouse managed by someone not proud of what they haveto offer?

Design Employee-friendly Jobs

Capitalize on employees’ interests and the advantages theysee in producing plants. People who love plants are motivated by theopportunity to work with plants. Some employees like customers more thanplants; others like tools and production equipment. Some enjoy repairingequipment more than using it.

Managers first need to consider the tasks that must beaccomplished for the greenhouse to succeed. Then, they need to consider whatindividuals want in their jobs. Sometimes minor changes in job design candramatically improve an employee’s view of a job, e.g., having some input intoimproving signage, more customer contact or less time watering.

Job design cannot overcome the fact that no job is perfect.Greenhouse jobs have some disadvantages that managers need to address whendesigning jobs. Each of the following job expectations often appear in employeecomplaints: reasonable number of work hours per day and per week, properequipment in good repair, well-lighted and ventilated work areas, training,some flexibility in scheduling work hours and regular communication with thesupervisor.

First, design jobs that encourage and motivate employees touse a variety of skills. Think about why assembly line jobs are boring.Standing in one place using only one or two skills to do the same thing overand over is not satisfying for most people.

Second, design jobs so employees stay with a job from startto finish. Even a simple door repair task may be more satisfying if one personhas the responsibility of doing everything, including determining what partsare needed, buying parts, taking the door apart, replacing parts, reassemblingand testing.

Third, design jobs so employees understand the significanceof their jobs. Why is customer service important? What problems are causedlater on if shortcuts are taken with young plants? Employees should haveanswers to these kinds of basic questions.

Fourth, design jobs so each employee has responsibility,challenge, freedom and the opportunity to be creative. This requires delegationof some authority. Delegation can be a powerful tool for improving a job.”You can do the job however you want as long as you get results.”Such words, delegation and responsibility can have positive impacts onemployees.

Finally, make feedback a part of job design. Well-designedjobs anticipate the need for communication. Most employees want to know what isexpected of them, how they are doing, how they can improve, what latitude theyhave in changing how they do tasks, what should be discussed with a supervisorand when the discussion should occur. Employees rarely complain about too muchcommunication with their supervisor. They often want more communication.

Build a Team

Saying “We are a team” is easy; actuallyfunctioning as a team is difficult. Making employees feel important oftenstarts with how employers view employees. Are employees working managers ormanaged workers? Having employees who function as working managers suggeststhat each person in the business has ideas on how to improve the business. Eventhose people incapable of understanding much about the business beyond theirown jobs may have ideas about how to do their jobs better. Useful suggestionsoften stay hidden inside employees’ heads when they do not feel they are animportant part of the business.

Emphasize team building. Teams are built through fourstages: forming, storming, norming and performing. In the forming stage, employeesbreak the ice with each other, become oriented to store goals and begin toexchange ideas. The forming stage is particularly important when integratingnew employees with established employees. Storming is the stage of conflict,open disagreement and the surfacing of conflicting ideas. Hidden disagreementsconstrain trust and team growth. Norming follows from resolving conflicts. Teamharmony and unity arise. By this stage, team members’ roles are clear. By theperforming stage, the team is functioning well. The entire team solves problemsfor the good of the business.

Turnover among team members forces the team to retreat to aprevious stage of development followed by rebuilding. Sometimes the retreat isall the way back to the forming stage. Clearly, a continuous rebuilding of theteam negatively affects longer-term employees. Thus, employee satisfaction andemployee turnover are closely related. Too often, the impact of turnover onother employees is ignored.

Rewarding only individual efforts sends a strong signal toemployees that the business is a collection of individuals rather than a team.An employer should avoid saying, “We are a team” and then encouragingemployees to look out first for their own interests. Start by asking how theperennial plant team is doing or how the sowing team is doing. Then ask howindividuals within these teams are doing.

Build a reputation

One’s reputation is highly personal. The good news is thateach employer “owns” his or her reputation in the community. Being knownas a good place to work immediately gives new employees pride. They speak withenthusiasm to relatives and friends about their job and start with a positivemindset about their jobs, coworkers, supervisors and responsibilities.

The following is a list of guidelines, strategies, policiesand practices that will help. Some of these overlap with job design and teambuilding already discussed.

Like, Enjoy and Appreciate Employees. The manager’s attitude toward employees can have aÁ great impact on the relationship. Employees easily sense the extent towhich their employer likes, enjoys and appreciates them. An employer with apoor attitude needs to examine its impact on their business’s reputation as agood place to work.

A few bad experiences with just one or two employees cansour one’s attitude. Step back and put the bad experiences in the context ofall employees over the last few months and years. Work hard to prevent a singleemployee or a few employee incidents from poisoning an attitude towardemployees in general.

Use Written Job Descriptions. Employees like to know what they have been hired to do. Asresponsibilities change, they like to have an explicit understanding with theirsupervisor. Employees also appreciate knowing what managers do and what theircoworkers do. Job descriptions provide an excellent foundation for performanceevaluations and discussion of training needs.

Provide Training.Few people enjoy doing what they cannot do well. Training is an investment inpeople. An employer’s willingness to make this investment in employees helpsbuild a positive image among employees, customers and others in the community.

Show Trust. Showtrust in employees by delegating authority and responsibility to them. Thedelegation helps satisfy employees’ esteem needs and improves their sense ofbeing part of a team. A bonus from delegating is the time the manager gainsthat can be applied to more important tasks.

Catch People Doing Things Right. Performance appraisals that emphasize the positivewill help build the reputation of the employer. Focusing on the negative bycatching people doing things wrong and then correcting them causes employees tofear, or at least dread, performance appraisals. Emphasizing the negativecreates an air of assumed guilt rather than the desired air of competence andconfidence.

Develop Pride.Building widespread pride in the greenhouse is a long-term effort. Gettingrecognition, such as customers’ success stories and articles in the localmedia, can help. Employee recognition outside the organization and public showsof appreciation also help. Providing employees with attractive hats, shirts andjackets, with their name and the company logo, that they can wear outside ofwork sends a message that employees are glad to be part of your business.

Celebrate Successes.Teams are expected to work together to accomplish goals. They should alsocelebrate together when the goals are accomplished. Celebrations express theemployer’s appreciation.

Communicate Clearly and Often. Staff meetings, a daily break period including supervisors andemployees, a message board, two-way radios, clear instructions, opportunitiesto ask questions, regular performance appraisals and joint planning are just afew examples of how managers can facilitate communication. An employeecomplaint of too much communication is rare. A complaint of not enoughcommunication is common.

Compensate Fairly.The fairness of compensation — a very important matter — depends on bothexternal equity and internal equity. Greenhouse employers and their employeesmeasure external equity by comparing their pay with what employees could beearning elsewhere in the community, given their abilities and experience.Internal equity measurers how one employee’s compensation compares to that ofothers within the business who are doing work with similar value to theorganization. Paying only on the basis of how long a person has worked at thecompany can cause the most valuable employees to earn less than a long-termaverage worker.

Provide Exceptional Monetary Benefits. Total compensation includes both cash wages andmonetary benefits such as health insurance, paid vacation, paid sick leave,retirement programs, housing and utilities, uniforms, overtime pay and paydifferentials, e.g., holidays and weekends. A store’s reputation can beconsiderably enhanced by offering benefits employees consider exceptional. Acafeteria of benefits allows employees to make choices based on their needs andpreferences. Offering choices need not increase the employer’s cost forbenefits.

Provide Extraordinary Informal Benefits. Informal rewards either have no out-of-pocket costor are low cost in terms of the employee’s total compensation. Some examplesare: birthday cards sent to employees’ children; supervisor attending allweddings, baptisms and birthday parties to which invited by an employee; takinga course in the language spoken by non-English-speaking employees; personallygreeting each employee each day; seeking out an employee just to say thank you;offering an “employee of the year” award with the recipient chosen byother employees; and giving an especially deserving employee tickets to a soldout sporting event or concert. Only the employer’s creativity limits the potential.

Promote from Within.Promoting from within recognizes an employee’s contributions and shows theemployer’s confidence in the employee. It also sends a signal to otheremployees that they have career advancement opportunities without changingemployers.

Become Family friendly.Child rearing, finding reliable childcare and emergencies caused by illness areexamples of family factors that cause employee frustrations. These same factorscan cause tardiness and absenteeism.

Making your business family friendly means anticipatingthese family-caused frustrations and pressures and helping employees deal withtheir family responsibilities. Some ideas to consider: providing child care ator near the greenhouse, offering emergency child care, providing a list ofchild care providers in the community, allowing flexible hours and job sharingand offering health insurance with family coverage. Family-friendly measuresincrease the cost of labor, but they also help attract and keep qualifiedemployees.

In Summary

Remember that corporate success goes hand in hand withemployee success. Employee turnover, unqualified employees, employees satisfiedto just get by, labor shortages and self-focused employees are chronicfrustrations for all managers. Making your greenhouse an appealing place towork helps overcome these frustrations and builds a high-quality labor force.

The three interrelated guidelines discussed in this articlecan help: 1) design jobs with employees in mind, 2) build a team and makeemployees an important part of that team and 3) build a reputation as anoutstanding employer. Immense benefits await greenhouses able to use theseguidelines.

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Bernard Erven

Bernie Erven is professor of agricultural economics and extension specialist at Ohio State University. His extension and outreach program focuses on labor management topics such as hiring, training, motivation, compensation and performance evaluation. He may be reached by E-mail at [email protected]

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