Coping with COVID: Make Employee Retention a Priority
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Coping with COVID: Make Employee Retention a Priority


In this series “Coping with COVID,” I’ve been sharing some of the ways we have retooled our company to adapt to the changing business conditions we’ve had to weather for the past two years.

Another important area that falls under this topic is employee retention.

If you read a lot of the studies today, they say that one out of four employees is presently looking for other opportunities, because it's so lucrative. We know money is an incentive, but it's only one of the many ways to retain staff. We have increased our efforts to keep employees happy more than ever.

One thing we did this past year was have an end-of-summer picnic in our parking lot. There was food, drawings and raffles. It was a big event that served as a thank-you for what everyone had done.

During the end-of-the-year December holiday season, we staged the 12 days of Christmas. It started on the 7th, and went through the 22nd. Every day, we had a raffle drawing for three winners who received a $100, a $75 or a $50-gift card.

We also delivered huge holiday popcorn tins to everyone, served festive ice cream sandwiches for dessert at lunch and had hot chocolate bombs, just to name a few things. Basically we offered something to acknowledge our team everyday throughout the twelve days.

It’s a tradition in our company to have a Christmas/Holiday dinner for all three shifts, but because of the pandemic and the fact we needed to be inside (Michigan weather hovers around 30 degrees in December), we felt we had to forgo that. We told everyone, "We're celebrating in July, so be ready!”

For December we gave everyone $50, so they could have dinner with a friend or do something with their family. We wanted to celebrate the season and asked that everyone think about their team members as they enjoyed the holiday, and we will have our traditional Christmas/Holiday party in July. Additionally, everyone received a Holiday gift check equivalent to one week’s pay and we reviewed and increased wages for 2022.

All of this was opportunity to say thank you and celebrate. It's been a rough couple of years. I think anything you can do to continue to say thank you, wages and otherwise, is important.

All Hands on Deck

Another strategy, which is related to the cross training I mentioned in blog one, was to adopt an all-hands-on-deck mentality. When we found we were short on employees in production, we took volunteers from the front office. We really encouraged people to prioritize their work in the front office to be able to help out in the production areas, so we could get product out the door

If you walked back through production, it was not uncommon on any given day to see an artist ticketing or someone in customer service on the folding machine. To make it fun, staff had little competitions between themselves when they were working outside their departments to see how many shirts they could fold in an hour, etc. It was amazing to see the effort everyone put in.

Adding Capacity in Needed Areas

Historically, we have always been a screen-printing operation, with embroidery and appliqué as a secondary decorating service. At the first of last year, we started talking with our accounts. Something that became apparent was a lot of the larger theme parks import their embroidered items, while they do most of their screen printing domestically. They had been going overseas because of pricing, but now capacity wasn’t dependable or available.

Consequently, one of the things we did early in 2021 was buy equipment so we could produce more efficient embroidery. Some of those machines are still trickling in, but most of them are here. All told we added eight machines, a laser bridge machine and a laser-cutting table.

We also added magnetic hooping, which makes that task faster. The goal was to drill down on our processes to increase the flow of product and productivity. As a result of these moves, this segment of our sales increased by a six digit percentage for 2021. Meeting our clients’ embroidery needs has been pivotal to our growth.

I’m not concerned if import products become more readily availble that we might lose this embroidery segment to offshore again, because we never really chased the embroidery business in the past due to limited in capacity. Now that we have increased these capabilities, I believe there will always be a need for quick turns and fill-in product.

COVID Changes Buying Habits

I am also seeing a shift with a lot of our customers as they have gained more of a global perspective. They see how products they have always bought from overseas have been impacted by COVID, and they are now changing their buying habits as a result.

The reality is that COVID is most likely going to be with us (much like the flu or anything else) and we have to learn as a country and a culture how to navigate it. There's still too many contradictions, and companies being reactive vs. proactive. We focus on our long term partners and have been very careful about any new business. Our strategy has been to make our existing clients the priority and take care of their needs. It’s hard to look your existing partners in the face and tell them the lead time just doubled, but we're bringing in new business. It's not the right message.

It’s also paramount to have consistent messaging inside your organization that your people can count on. That's what we've been striving for, to provide stability so that no matter what's being said out in the world, the minute you walk through our doors, the divisiveness stops.

Our facility is safe, and staff knows they are accepted, and that's what's important. As an employer, the more you can do to communicate and be consistent, the better things will be.

As a result of all of our retooling efforts, we ended up with record months in company history for July through December. It was a combination of things that included persuading clients to place larger orders, increasing our embroidery business, evaluating our processes and eliminating extra work that was not critical, and communicating with our partners to fulfill new needs that they had not come to us for in the past.

I hope sharing some of these strategies we have been using the past two years will be helpful. Every shop has its own unique challenges, but oftentimes learning about how others are dealing with the same can be beneficial.  

More Tips!

The Benefits Dilemma

Determining whether or not to offer benefits and what kind is a challenge, and one that requires you understand your employee base. You must know what’s important to them, not you. For example, is it paid days off (holidays and sick days), a 401K, health benefits or simply a higher hourly rate?

This is not an easy task, but for an employee with a parent or spouse who has them on their health care plan, you offering health care means nothing.

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