Interview by Susan Burns

Q:

Robert owns a small software business with eight employees. His business has grown 20 percent in each of the last two years and he is starting to win bigger, more complicated projects that require longer timetables and highly experienced employees. Unfortunately, he can’t take on all the projects he’d like because he keeps losing so many employees, and he has no idea why they’re leaving. “It feels like I spend all this time training new people, and then they leave in less than a year,” he says. Because he’s in the tech industry, many of his workers are millennials. Robert wonders if they just don’t have the same work ethic and habits as older employees. He isn’t making enough profit to raise salaries. All this turnover is hampering his company’s growth. Is there anything else he can do to keep his employees?

A:

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 LISA EDING,
HUMAN RESOURCES DIRECTOR, SUNSET AUTOMOTIVE

I WOULD SUGGEST that Robert sit down and talk to his people individually about what’s happening. If he’s not comfortable one-on-one to sit and talk, he can do a survey. It could be anonymous, but he needs to craft the questions carefully so he can get the answers to the issues that he has. He could get an online survey at little to no cost. SurveyMonkey is the most popular, but an online search will reveal several options.

If he does the survey, I would suggest he ask another business owner, a confidant or an HR consultant to look at the survey to get feedback before he sends it out. Once he gets the responses, he needs to analyze the information, meet with employees and discuss the issues. It’s important that Robert understand there must be follow-up. If the owner wants to think the answers are all garbage, he’s done more harm than good. But if he takes the feedback and goes over it with staff and says, “Here are the things we can take a look at,” he will be making progress. Maybe employees’ issues are specific: “Our lunchroom is dirty.” That’s an easy one to fix. Half a dozen complaints might be simple and he can solve those immediately so employees can see tangible efforts and progress.

If the high turnover turns out to be a result of inadequate training, CareerSource Suncoast has training programs paid for by the state and customized for each business. Robert could go to CSS, talk to a business development counselor and talk about their On The Job program; there are grants available to help defray the costs.

“The managers who are most respected are fair and usually quite firm.”

Another important initial factor for him is to reevaluate his interviewing selection process. He simply may be selecting the wrong candidates. There is a lot of material online and many books on interviewing and selection. CareerSource Suncoast has experts to assist him with this as well.

But some issues—particularly business services the company offers and the benefit packages available—might be impossible to fix, and Robert needs to be honest and say, “These are the things that aren’t going to work and here’s why.” He must be upfront about “These are my non-negotiables.” Robert can ask employees for their input and get their ideas, but he must let them know that the owner has the final decision. For example, a non-negotiable might be that a business with a storefront must be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Flextime might not be an option here.

The ultimate culture is set by the owner, and employees will mirror what they see. If the employer talks about fairness and morality but employees are not treated well, they lose respect. Employers need to walk the talk. It’s becoming more so in the workplace. People are becoming more educated about what is right and what is important to do. The most effective style is firm but fair. You don’t treat everyone exactly the same, but you treat them equally. When I talk to employees, the managers who are most respected are fair and usually quite firm. They tell their employees, “Here’s the standard I will hold everyone to.”

Working with millennials can be a challenge if you’re from a different generation. Millennials like projects and they like their bosses to give them a deadline and the instructions for how they want it done. They like flexible schedules and will work at 3 in the morning, especially if that means they can quit early and go to a movie or the beach. Since Robert is in the tech industry, this might be an option. He should be open to giving them a project with a deadline and see if they can do it on their own timeframe.

Millennials also like a lot of feedback and enjoy team work, so Robert might consider providing more input about projects and setting up teams for some tasks.

In the end, Robert needs to ask his staff, “How can we turn around our culture and enjoy our workplace, be fulfilled and feel like you are making an honest day’s wage?” He has to make his employees understand that we’re all in this together and that if the business isn’t successful none of us have jobs. ■

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