By Diane M. Calabrese / Published November 2022
Recruitment. Retention. Reciprocity. Therein are the three Rs to benefit from ongoing investment in employees. In the last year, many employers have incorporated a fourth R for “return” as they try to persuade employees to abandon the work-from-home approach. Special meals, workplace socials, and other lures are offered.
For at least some employers—those who are desperate to get people to return to the site of a business—ongoing investment in employees could have provided an incentive for employees who appreciate the importance of engagement with colleagues and all dimensions of the company. It’s something newer hires who never worked in-house may not perceive.
The tired adage “perception is reality” applies here. If employees do not understand how the strength of a business derives from the contributions each employee makes, enticements unrelated to the function of the business are unlikely to change that.
“From our perspective, the most important investment you can make in an employee is well-thought-out onboarding/training that includes, but is not limited to, the tools they will need to be successful,” says R. Calvin Rasmussen, CEO of Royce Industries L.C., which has its corporate headquarters in West Jordan, UT. “At our company the onboarding process begins during the selection process, while the employee is still a candidate for the position.”
Rasmussen has had many opportunities to give presentations to industry colleagues and competitors about onboarding. He shared with us a six-page script that he uses as a guide in his presentations and generously allowed us to relay some highlights of his 90-day plan.
On the first day, employees hear about the company from Rasmussen, tour the facility and meet team members, and learn the ins and outs of the telephone system, office equipment, passwords, and so on. Etiquette is part of telephone and email discussions.
By the end of five days, employees are versed in building security and safety, vehicle administration, vendor website interaction, and the logistics of company administrative tools (e.g., hand tickets, work orders, and profit analysis). And they have a good overview of the company.
That overview includes a history of the company and its distinguishing traits, mission, and philosophy. New hires should understand the way the past, present, and future hold together, thanks to the detailed introduction they receive.
Although employees at Rasmussen’s company are reminded on day one why their decision to join the team is a good one, after five days of training, they would make that assessment themselves. Logistical training continues throughout the first 30 days. It’s coupled with training—directed and self-directed—in industry products.
At 60 days, employees are expected to be well versed in the system of the company. At 90 days, they are expected to have mastered it. Videos, ongoing training, a success library, and role playing all contribute to the learning and the mastery.
Mentorship and job shadowing as well as ongoing training ensure that employees at Rasmussen’s company keep learning and growing. They understand how their work contributes to the vigor of the business.
Rasmussen quotes the founder of his company, his father Royce Rasmussen, who advised him to “empower” employees. Empowerment is essential to the well-being and profitability of the company. If a company is going to have a healthy bottom line, it must invest in all parts of its organization and in its people.
Reciprocity naturally grows from the sort of investment Rasmussen’s company makes from day one in its employees. They learn what’s expected of them. They learn the investment the company makes in them. That sort of mutual understanding fosters a tie that can hold even in the toughest times.
Since spring 2020, businesses have experienced some of the most difficult trials ever confronted. Companies that had invested in employees likely had a bit of an easier time.
“Investing in employees and employee retention are highly correlated,” says Daniel Sherlock, senior manager, engines and export, at American Honda Motor Co. Inc. in Alpharetta, GA. “In other words, the more you invest in your employees, the more they are likely to stay with your company; and unfortunately, the opposite is also true.”
The current labor market poses many challenges, and the challenge of persuading employees not to jump ship is real. On the other hand, most employees want to stay.
“We have found that most employees want to participate and add value in the success of the company,” says Sherlock. “When we invest in them, we see enablement—a measure of the employees having the tools and knowledge to do their job to the best of their ability; engagement—a measure of the strength of the connection employees feel toward the work they do, their teams, and their organization; and company loyalty—the likelihood that the employee will stay at the company and improve.
“So, investing in employees should improve employee retention,” continues Sherlock. “Even in a tight labor market, as we are now, a company investing in their employees should perform [in terms of employee retention] better than a company that does not invest in their employees.”
Just as business owners have a vision of the future for their companies, so employees have a vision of their professional future. Tying together the company vision and the employee’s outlook can be a good way to invest in employees.
“Providing employees with the opportunity for professional development is key,” says Heidi Unglaub, MBA, PHR, senior human resources generalist at Veloci Performance Products in Burnsville, MN. “However, the most important part of that is to provide individualized development for each employee that will benefit their professional growth the most, both in their current role and in their future roles.”
Can she give us an example? “We sell pressure washing parts and accessories—pressure washers use different nozzle orifice sizes, and the wrong size just won’t work,” says Unglaub. “That’s the same as getting an employee training they don’t need: it just won’t work.”
In short, tailor the training to the person. Not only does such an approach bolster the employee in the performance of their role at the company, but it also equips the person to reach out and guide others.
“It’s important to work with each individual employee to get them the professional development that will benefit them the most,” says Unglaub. “And, in turn, they’ll bring what they’ve learned back to their roles and help impart that knowledge with their coworkers.”
To varying degrees, employees want to know that their employer recognizes they have a job that is part of their life, and that their life includes multiple facets.
With the provision of mandated state and federal benefits for employees, which range from FICA contributions to workers’ compensation premiums, employers’ reach into their employees’ lives is a given. Beyond the formal requirements, though, many employees look for indicators that the employer recognizes the many different facets.
“Investing in your staff is the most important aspect of your business, or it should be,” says Troy Jaros, president of Lease Consultants in Des Moines, IA. “Besides all the standard benefits needed by all employees—insurance, retirement, etc.—our most important investment is prioritizing a work-life balance.”
The importance of that balance to employees can be significant. It’s often significant enough to cause some workers to move to another job.
“Work-life balance is where an em-ployee equally prioritizes the demands of one’s job and personal life,” says Jaros. “Employees with a balanced work-life are happier at work and more productive.”
Incorporating the flexibility needed to give employees the balance they seek can be trickier at some busi-
nesses than others. In some instances, it’s not going to be possible—e.g., a surgeon cannot leave the operating theater to attend her child’s soccer game. But where it’s possible, it can bring dividends to the employer.
“Employers committed to employee work-life balance save costs on less turnover, experience fewer cases of sick days, and enjoy a more loyal and productive staff,” says Jaros. With the plusses, he does continue with a caveat.
“There is no ‘perfect’ work-life balance,” says Jaros. “Talk with your employees, and you’ll have a better understanding of what you can do.”
Of course, talking with employees about the kinds of professional development opportunities they would welcome is a good idea, too. Not everyone will be looking for the same thing, and the range of suggestions will encompass everything from flex time to profit sharing to wellness programs.
Employers are accustomed to coordinating competing requests for benefits from employees. What’s new to the mix is the growth in requests to work remotely.
Some employees believe they have jobs suited to a work-anywhere model. They want to work remotely. Allowing remote work may increase retention, but it can add to the array of issues that a business must handle, such as setting stringent security protocols for remote workers who tap into the company server and defining an on-the-job injury.
Ongoing investment in employees could suffer if employees lose opportunities to learn directly from one another and form functioning teams. Or it might not. Time—and the strength of reciprocal bonds—will tell.