If you pick up any trade journal or talk to your HR department, it’s hard to ignore the fact that hiring is a challenge and workplace dynamics are changing. While it seems the pool for qualified candidates is slim and the competition to hire them is fierce, you likely have a staff of well-qualified, loyal team members that are running the day-to-day operations. While open headcounts may be the hurdle at the forefront, retaining the current team is just as important as adding new members. (Consider the metaphor: A penny saved is a penny earned.)

The culture and anticipated management styles of the American workplace have evolved, as have the expectations of today’s workforce. People expect certain things from their environment and are free to change it to better accommodate their needs and wants. 

So, what drives someone to change their environment? Often, decisions occur when someone exercises their power of choice, which is often rooted in two key areas:

1. Avoidance of pain: People will do things that they prefer not to do to avoid a worse situation. For example, they decide to dedicate a significant portion of their income to their mortgage or rent every month to keep from being evicted. (Pain)

2. Pursuit of pleasure: (This sounds more enjoyable than avoiding pain.) Think about booking a cruise or going on a tropical vacation, which a person could do with a portion of their monthly income.

As depressing as it may seem, most people make decisions based on avoiding pain versus pursuing pleasure. Each month, people make the choice to pay their mortgage or rent rather than go on vacation. How does this translate to retaining employees?

Think about the work-from-home movement that is impacting office environments and corporate America. Where, because of COIVD and enabled by modern technology, offices were closed and employees were sent to work from home. This was done for the safety of the people and the preservation of the company.

The American workforce didn’t just voluntarily decide that working from home sounded nice; they opted to pursue that pleasure and tell their bosses, “Hey, if you need me, I will be working from home from now on. Peace out…” The sheer thought of doing that in 2018 would have been professional suicide, so everyone just kept enduring their commute to the office, working 9-5, and staying the course because it avoided the pain of confronting the status quo and the risk of losing their jobs.

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Today, corporations are fighting a cultural and professional battle to get their staff back to the office. Not because the staff doesn’t want to work or that working from home is so much fun. It’s a challenge because the employees view the loss of the freedom that they gained while working from home as painful, and they are fighting to avoid that pain.

Consider the distribution and logistical requirements of the LBM industry, coupled with its being an “essential business.” Much of our industry has been able to avoid or minimize the “return to the office” drama that is crippling corporate America, but it provides a nice example of what it takes to retain employees. People, for the most part, are loyal, and given the right environment, they won’t change jobs. Further, the longer they are with a company, the longer they will remain with the company because making that change is scary and unknown, which is associated with pain, and they will avoid it.

One of the key functions of management is to ensure their staff is safe. When the employee knows they are safe, they are free to work. Safety has a broad definition and should be considered from a variety of angles:

• Physical: Ensuring that the employee’s physical well-being is cared for and they can work free of injury

• Financial: Where the employee doesn’t have to worry about their paycheck bouncing and that the company is on solid financial footing

• Cultural: When the employee knows they can make an honest mistake without fear of reprimand or demeaning or harsh consequence

When an employee worries about their physical, financial, or cultural safety, their ability to work is compromised as they are distracted by a perceived pain. This will drive them to start looking for a new opportunity, avoiding the pain caused by a lack of safety. This will lead to employee turnover, not employee retention.

To minimize these, put due effort into setting a culture of safety for the organization. The goal is to eliminate fear, and people tend to be afraid of what they don’t know. An informed staff is one that doesn’t have to wonder or worry. Providing clear, open, and frequent updates to the staff about how the business is performing will have a positive impact on the culture as a whole and allow you to prompt and provide the employees with a sense of safety and freedom. Consider things like:

• Tracking and posting the number of days without injury or highlighting new safety topics

• Sharing performance to budget or some other indication of the business’s stability or progress against core objectives

• Highlighting specific employees and showing how their contributions or ideas made an impact on the business

When you see the future marred by the challenging prospects of hiring new staff, it really highlights the need for creating a culture of safety and helping the team stay informed so they can be free of worry and are able to work and succeed in their current environment. This will minimize their need to look elsewhere to avoid pain.

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About the author: Want more insights on how help your customers recognize your value? Or take your company’s performance to the next gear? Tom Zimmerman, principal of SHIFT Sales Training & Consulting, has helped many companies better position themselves as valued-added partners for their customers, which has resulted in increased revenues and customer loyalty.