Spotlight on desk

At this point, the ‘Great Labor Shortage’ is old news. Dominating headlines for months now, the inability to recruit and retain workers continues to send shockwaves through the entire economy as retail, restaurants, hotels, construction and trucking companies fight for employees. The problem is so pervasive that Suzanne Clark, the chief executive of the U.S Chamber of Commerce, labeled this round of labor shortages as the “number one problem facing American business.”

Hiring and holding onto employees may be challenging for every sector right now, but for the building services contractors (BSCs) it’s just another day at the office. Historically high turnover rates, estimated between 200 to 400 percent a year, plagued the industry for years with challenges rising and falling in waves that match broader economic tides.

It may just be part of the game, but turnover is expensive, costing employers one-and-a-half to two times the employee’s salary. For hourly workers, that translates to an average of $1,500 per employee, according to the Society of Human Resource Management. That resource goes into the cost of hiring, onboarding and training, learning and development and the cost of time with an unfilled role.

But there are soft costs of this equation to consider, as well. High turnover leads to woes such as depleted employee morale, lost productivity and diminished employer branding. After all, a company known for its revolving door of employees will not inspire much loyalty or engagement.

Why Is Recruitment Difficult?

Much ink has been spilled on why it is so difficult to recruit and retain unskilled, hourly labor in the wake of the pandemic. Many people, politicians and pundits blame the enhanced unemployment benefits designed to ease workers through pandemic shutdowns. Yet USA Today cites several studies showing the enhanced benefits have had little effect on whether recipients look harder for jobs or accept offers. The news outlet reports that JPMorgan Chase found that the 26 states that cut off the benefits early (over the summer) didn’t notch any stronger job growth in July than the other states.

That may be because enhanced benefits cannot ease problems like the lack of available childcare or the fear of contracting and spreading COVID-19.

Then there is the appeal of moving to other, better paying positions. Months of lockdown allowed workers the luxury of re-examining their career choices and exploring other paths.

“Building cleaners are in hot demand,” writes Eduardo Porter in a New York Times article that examines data from the Brookings Institution in Washington. “But an unemployed janitor who wants something better can probably get a job as a groundskeeper, a house cleaner or a construction laborer. These are among the five occupations that building cleaners most often move to, according to the Brookings data. And they are booming, too.”

So, how can BSCs compete? Three experts share their secret sauce in how they attract, retain and celebrate quality employees. (Spoiler Alert: it’s not all about higher pay.)

Company Culture Is King

“We don’t have associates or employees,” insists 4M Building Solutions Chairman and CEO Tim Murch. “We have team members.”

It is a small distinction, but for the 4,000 4M team members who work in 16 states, the title conveys the strong company culture that anchors the organization. Team members don’t just show up, work their shift and collect a paycheck. Instead, they share in 4M’s successes, take ownership of their jobs and are celebrated for their achievements.

And there are a lot of celebrations. They range from all-out yearly shindigs, bi-monthly recognitions and birthday pizza parties to ‘Safety Bingo’ games and ‘Good Works’ awards, complete with cash prizes. Murch makes a point of writing a personal note on every compliment a customer gives a team member and other team members watch as these “emotional bucks” are presented. Everything is documented and communicated in newsletters and video messages.

“We lead with positivity and try to catch team members doing things right,” says Murch of the programs. He stresses that the high-touch, personal recognition is a vital part of the formula. “Emails alone don’t cut it. There must be a literal pat on the back and personal recognition.”

That level of attention has helped to create a strong retention program for the growing BSC. Team members who feel appreciated for their hard work tend to stick around.

For recruiting new talent, 4M, like many other BSCs, relies heavily on recommendations from their own. Team members receive a $100 bonus for every hourly person they recruit. Salaried recruits earn team members a whopping $1,000.

While feel-good incentives and finder-fee bonuses go a long way towards building good will and engagement, the company also leads with offerings beyond standard wages. They offer a variety of benefits, including a 401K plan with a match for all employees, even those that work under 30 hours a week. The result: 4M was named a top employer in Forbes magazine’s 2021 list of America’s Best Mid-Sized Employers.

Murch explains that this commitment to engagement is nothing new.

“This is not something we just cooked up,” he says. “We’ve been doing this for the last 35 years.”

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