The Care and Feeding of Employees: How Can Ceramic Manufacturers Create a Caring Workplace Culture?
Despite the increasing difficulty and expense of recruiting and retaining suitable employees, little effort has been made by most employers to demonstrate that they truly value those "assets."
How often have we heard some company owner or representative declare: “Our employees are our most valuable asset”? Certainly more than occasionally. Some companies have even adopted this claim as their byword. In an era of more-than-full employment and a growing shortage of qualified job applicants in virtually every industry, those words have now become a reality for most employers.
The unfortunate fact, however, is that few companies, owners, managers or supervisors have taken that claim to heart. Despite the increasing difficulty and expense of recruiting and retaining suitable employees, little effort has been made by most employers to demonstrate that they truly value those “assets.” In all but a few workplaces, it remains work as usual, with little (if any) effort made to show genuine employee consideration.
While wages are finally trending upward, largely due to the competitive job market, the recent tax overhaul and state-mandated minimum wage increases, it isn’t always a matter of more money that makes employees feel appreciated. For years, studies have confirmed that what is actually most important to the majority of employees is having a boss that genuinely cares about them—one who is fair and makes them feel a part of the company. Yet surveys also show that most managers and supervisors believe that what matters most to employees are tangible factors such as wages, benefits, and promotions. While some employees certainly care more about money and benefits than an employer’s thoughtful attention, the reality is that they are generally the exception.
Create and Nurture Employee Goodwill
How does a small business owner, plant or department manager, or even a supervisor create that employee goodwill and a caring workplace culture? Trite as it may seem, an occasional “Good morning,” “Thank you for staying late yesterday” or “I really appreciate your extra effort in completing that project so quickly” and similar sincere remarks can make a world of difference in how employees feel about their company and management. Over the many years that I have worked with employers, the most successful managers I have known were those who made their employees their paramount concern every day. How is that done? Most of the time, it is easier than you might think.
One particular plant manager, who ultimately became the chairman and CEO of his highly successful Fortune 500 company, began each workday by walking the plant floor and engaging every employee he encountered in casual conversation. Sometimes the conversation was about how things were running in their department. Other times, it was about their family or how they had spent or intended to spend their vacation. Some days, his tour would take him as long as 2 hrs to complete. Despite the fact that there were almost 500 employees in his plant, spread over numerous departments, he knew them all by name.
I once asked him how he could afford to take so much time each day away from the many critical matters that required his personal attention as general manager. As you might expect, his answer was, “There is nothing that I do that is more important than talking with our employees.”
One more example of demonstrating caring interest in employees comes from the word’s most successful retailer, Sam Walton. Throughout his long career in building Walmart into the retail giant it has become, Walton frequently visited the company stores. He almost always walked through the various departments and engaged employees in conversation, mostly small talk about themselves, their families or how they liked their job.
He also required that every manager and supervisor know all they could about each of their employees. He expected them to know about their families, their spouse’s name, how many children they had, their interests, and similar personal information. He would occasionally walk into a department and ask the manager to tell him about a specific employee. If the manager was unable to respond in detail, it was made clear that their job would depend on knowing that information should the question arise again. The Walmart employees knew that their boss cared. Despite Walton’s passing a number of years ago, that employee focus remains at Walmart to this day.
Develop Appreciation Events
Giving daily attention to your employees and their concerns is critical and requires a sincere effort, but it is obviously not the only way to show that you truly appreciate what they do to make the company a success. Like the daily greeting or occasional thanks, small gestures can pay big dividends.
One mid-sized employer with which I am familiar made a gesture at the beginning of 2017 that some might consider trivial: They implemented an incentive program that rewarded the production line that generated the best numbers for the month with a chicken luncheon for the entire line. Almost as importantly, the winning employees were given additional lunchtime to enjoy their meal, and they were joined by the entire management team.
This simple and well-known method of rewarding employee productivity created such a competition between the production lines that plant productivity was up over 8% by year’s end. The seemingly small, well-worn and low-cost program paid off in a big way. The company was so pleased with the results that it is exploring additional, similar steps to demonstrate its gratitude for employees’ efforts in 2018.
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