Signing bonuses. Referral rewards. Free beer!
With the labor pool tightening in Minnesota, employers are looking for strategies to attract and retain good employees — from monetary rewards to morale boosters to yes, for IT start-ups, even beer on tap.
The causes of labor shortages vary. Some industries are simply growing quickly, such as information technology, health care, financial services and pretty much anything involving helping older people. Others are struggling to replace retiring employees.
But from an employee’s perspective, a tight labor market allows them to be pickier or more demanding. Even people who like their current jobs may feel tempted to look around to see what else is out there.
That’s what this year’s Top Workplaces survey showed. The percentage of employees who said they had not considered searching for a better job within the past month dropped to 60 percent — down from 64.8 percent in 2014, to its lowest level in years. In other words, more people are looking out for new opportunities.
We talked to some companies in the survey that had the fewest employees considering a move — that is, the most people content to stay where they are. Clearly, these companies are doing something right.
“We have a mission statement and set of core values that are focused on people,” said Michael Solberg, president and CEO of Bell Bank, whose Minnesota employees ranked it No. 1 on this question among midsize companies. “The financial industry is so focused on earnings and ratios, very numbers-driven. We figure if we get [the people] part of the equation right, the numbers take care of themselves.”
We asked high-scoring employers what explains their success at keeping employees loyal. Here are some tips.
1. Make them feel appreciated
Employee of the Month awards weren’t invented for nothing. People like to have their accomplishments recognized. Bell’s “Bell Value Program” seeks anecdotes about employees going beyond the call of duty for co-workers, customers or community members. Nominees are eligible to win trips. For example, Solberg said, one wintery day a bank president looked out the window and saw that a little girl had dropped her coin jar in the parking lot, her change spilling onto the pavement. The president and branch workers dashed out to help retrieve pennies.
Frerichs Construction Co. takes superintendents on frequent trips for fun or strategic planning — a program that not only makes the superintendents happy but serves as an incentive for workers to stick around, said Chris Zuspann, president and CEO of the St. Paul company. “Some of the other workers that want to move into a role like that, they see some of the benefits of being part of a leadership team and say, ‘I would like to do that.’”
2. Be nice
Once a year, Bell Bank’s “Pay it Forward” provides employees with a $500 gift card and a day off to spend with family, spouses, kids, etc. They report back on how they used the time and money; the best ones get compiled in a documentary.
On days before holiday weekends, employees at Calabrio Inc., used to rush to get out early, said Tom Goodmanson, president and CEO of the Minneapolis-based software company. So Calabrio cracked down — by making those days official holidays, too.
Marsh & McLennan, a Minneapolis-based business insurance agency, shuts down the office every year for “Innovation Day.”
“We pair off all our colleagues into groups and they think about what could we do differently to better serve and elevate the colleague experience and the client experience,” said President Ryan Watkins. “In the afternoon, we have a big party and every group explains their ideas.” The best ones get acted upon.
3. Help employees give back
Many companies provide their staffs opportunities to support their communities, whether by organizing volunteers for nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity, involving them in fundraisers or letting them choose worthy causes.
For the past 10 years, Bell has given every employee $1,000 to help out the recipient of their choice (excluding relatives). They are then asked to report back what happened. The program has handed out $10 million over the decade, Solberg said.
4. Provide opportunities to learn and grow
Knowing that employees are more engaged if they feel they are learning and progressing in their careers, employers offer in-house training, mentor-mentee pairing, programs for interns and apprentices, and promotions from within.
Serenity Couture Salon & Spa in Rochester, which ranked No. 1 among small companies on the retention question, is dedicated to helping employees pursue their passions. Employees are encouraged to share their dreams with colleagues and supervisors, who use industry connections or other resources to try to make them come true.
“Years ago we had a hairdresser who shared that he loved photography,” said salon director Jessica Huxsol. “So now he is an on-staff, full-time photographer. He creates pieces of artwork we can put on the walls, pictures for photo shoots.”
5. Offer good benefits
Benefits go a long way these days to enhance employee satisfaction. Some companies go beyond the basics.
Marsh & McLennan offers “Dream It, Do It,” which provides employees the time and money to fulfill a dream — take a trip, make home renovations and so on. “Whatever they can dream up, they would essentially be given the time off and some extra cash,” Watkins said.
6. Be flexible
Job flexibility has become a common benefit, with many companies offering telecommuting, flexible hours and other ways for employees to balance their work with the rest of their lives.
You can’t get much more flexible than letting employees decide exactly when and how often they work, said Diane Bjorkman, co-owner of Edina-based Gentle Transitions, which helps out when seniors or others are relocating.
“I truly think [flexibility] brings our employees to us and it keeps them with us for long periods of time,” she said. “They mark their availability from our company portal, marking themselves off whenever they don’t want to work.”
7. Provide a pleasant space
“There is, I dare say, no place that is more fun to work,” said Mark Daly, national media director of Self Esteem Brands, the parent company of Anytime Fitness and Waxing The City. The company’s Woodbury headquarters features an on-site gym, walking trails, informal meeting spaces and lovely views of wetlands.
“Everyone faces glass walls that overlook the wetlands areas,” Daily said.
When gorgeous views aren’t an option, employees look forward to jobs that offer welcoming atmospheres, warm relationships and a sense of purpose.
“It’s certainly not a beautiful headquarters,” said Bjorkman, laughing about Gentle Transitions’ Edina base. But then, most employees don’t spend much time there — they are out helping seniors relocate their homes. Gentle Transitions employees try hard to improve that experience, and their clients’ positive responses suggest they’re successful.
“I would say that the majority of our employees come to us for the reward of the work that they do,” Bjorkman said. “Our clients love them and appreciate them and what they’re doing. Often, they get immediate feedback from the client about the difference they’ve made in their lives.”