Employee Retention and the Design, Print and Packing industry.

We’ve just come through a major recession, where employee mobility was low, and employers could pick and choose from a huge talent pool when – and if – any positions opened up within their firms. Employees were ‘stuck’ in many ways – stuck in the same role with no promotion or advancement opportunities as most companies were in survival mode; stuck at the same salary; stuck at the same experience and training level.

Now, the labour market has shifted dramatically. It has become a tough market out there for recruitment, as all those employees who once felt stuck are now free to explore a whole range of creative, competitive and dynamic places to work. Small and medium enterprises have to compete with much bigger multinationals, who have huge teams, and big budgets for high-impact employee retention programmes. But SMEs can take cues from their playbooks, and create their own great places to work.

Staff perception of ‘a good place to work’ has changed. A good place to work used to be largely determined by the initial salary and benefits package. But now, research among Millennials in particular shows that far more than money, they are motivated by three key things: purpose, flexibility, and independence.

  1. Purpose

Your staff need to feel they are working together towards a shared goal – and have a sense of where the business is going in the future. Not only should your team feel included in the company’s vision, they also need to feel they are doing good in the world. Consider a company volunteering day, fundraisers or CSR initiative, led by your employees. Pick a charity and donate a print run or redesign their logo for them.

A company’s culture means a lot to people when choosing where they want to work, and creating an environment where people work to shared goals and values helps shape a sense of belonging, worth and value.

  1. Flexibility

A recent Forbes article showed 43% of workers choose flexible working arrangements over a pay increase. If possible, a clear working from home policy should be implemented. Consider small perks such as flexitime which give your team more control over their working hours and their day. Given the fact that most employees will stay late or work through their lunchbreak in order to meet a deadline, its important to recognise this by being flexible yourself.

Presenteeism is a cultural norm we need to change. Just because someone is sitting at their desk, doesn’t mean they are being productive – or even working at all. This is often not because they are purposely slacking off – but people work differently – better and with more focus – at different times of the day. Allowing people to have some control over when they work results in people feeling like they can ‘clock out’ if they have lost focus, and come back fresh – perhaps a little earlier in the morning – to start again the next day. IN the Print, Packing and Design world, we often work to tight deadlines, so management can often be reluctant to introduce these kinds of arrangements, for fear of people downing tools just at a critical moment. But policies can be written in order to allow room for flexibility while ensuring clients’ needs are met on time.

In particular, women bear the brunt of inflexibility in the workplace when they have children, and are forced  to work part time or to give up work altogether. So if you are seeking more gender balance in the workplace, introducing a level of flexibility can be a great starting point.

  1. Independence and Leadership

Allowing your team the freedom to make decisions and work relatively independently is key to high staff performance and employee retention. Giving your teams more responsibility and leadership roles, with support for them to be able to rise to the challenge, is key to boosting morale. Ensuring they have all the tools they need to complete a project, giving ownership to a more junior member of staff can often deliver surprising results – and indeed, will give that employee the sense that they are valued and trusted.

People like to have ownership over their work. They also like to have clear pathways for progression – and in small companies, this can be hard. So think of other ways you can let them know they are doing a great job – by giving them more freedom and independence over their work, as well as letting them know where they are aiming for (e.g. in six months time, we’d like to see you become a client services manager. Is that something you think you’d like to achieve? How can we help you get there?)

Importantly, have a close look at your team configuration. Have you high turnover in a particular section? Do you have a manager who tends to control and micromanage details? If so, consider management training for this person – they could be doing untold damage to employee morale.

  • Investing in your staff: Training and Development

Investing in your staff promotes ‘reciprocity’ – a key behavioural science social norm whereby if someone does something for you, you then feel obligated to return the favour. Have a think about your staff’s training needs. Consider a bursary to send a staff member through a further education programme. Send your staff to conferences and events in the industry, and ask them to report back their findings. Invest in your staff and show them that you care about their development through in-house and formal training initiatives through DPPSkillnet and other industry channels.

Finally, if you are worried about your company culture, increased turnover, or staff retention – find a way to ask staff how they are doing. Consider an anonymous ‘gripes’ report – where staff can vent about anything that bothers them in the workplace – including people. Consider a staff survey, asking people, again anonymously, to tell you about what could be improved for staff and teams. Rather than second guessing, speaking directly to your teams sends a strong message that your employees matter.

And ultimately, creating a workplace where your staff count – their work, their viewpoints and their time really matters to you – will ensure they stick around for the long haul.

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