It’s worth saying this at the start if only to highlight an important truth:
Having a plan to keep your staff from quitting will never be foolproof.
That said, building a recruitment and retention plan will help you to keep staff around for longer. Not only that, but a good retention plan will ensure that you can continue to benefit from the knowledge and experience of your qualified engineers, even when they do eventually move on.
Let’s take a look at the best way to go about building a recruitment and retention plan and how it can help you reduce staff turnover:
- Succession planning.
- Handover of responsibilities.
- Review your salary and bonus structures.
- Is it time for some reorganisation?
Some of you may wonder why a recruitment and retention plan is necessary, but I suspect there are more of you who are instead wondering what you can do to make a difference.
First, it helps to better understand what you’re up against before you can help your business. The main issues are turnover cost (which can be much higher than you thought!) and employers’ refusal to accept that even happy employees might want to move on.
Let’s break it down:
Fix Radio recently reported that:
“Recruitment costs for trade businesses have risen by at least 30%” and of the businesses surveyed, “40% said they’ve had problems with recruitment and fulfilling roles”.
Financially, it’s also difficult:
“Losing an employee in the first year of their tenure can cost your company up to three times the person's annual salary,” and that’s without the physical and mental effort that finding a new hire takes! - Achievers
Throw in the mix the challenge of an ageing workforce and the struggle to entice younger generations to join the field—not to mention the effects of a pandemic—and it’s easy to see how there are more than a few challenges affecting the industry at large.
“For the sixth year in a row, skilled trade positions (electricians, carpenters, welders, etc.) were the hardest roles to fill, followed by drivers and healthcare professionals.” - FieldServiceEU
From HVAC, electrical, plumbing, construction, and more, many field service businesses have continued to experience staff shortages and find that hiring qualified engineers is highly competitive.
When it comes to retaining staff as well, it can be easy to get caught up in the idea that “Our employees are like family!” or “They’ll never leave, we’ve been through so much together!”. It’s hard to prepare for a potential problem if you don’t even acknowledge the possibility that it may exist.
In the best-case scenario, the above statements turn out to be true! But of course, even when things are going great for your business, turnover is inevitable and, just like in any family, your employees will want to grow and move on to new experiences, sooner or later.
While it’s a shame when they do leave, their absence doesn’t have to hurt your business and there’s plenty you can do to ensure you’re well prepared to cope when they do!
4 steps in building your recruitment and retention plan:
Now that you know more about the challenges, let’s take a look at the steps you can take to help your business.
1. Succession planning
Every gas, electrical, heating or plumbing company, whether large or small, needs to consider succession planning. Unfortunately, very few do.
After all, no matter how good an employer you are, there are always going to be competitors who will want to poach your top managerial and sales talent, as well as your most profitable engineers.
The prospect of increased pay, joining a bigger firm, or getting more responsibility is tempting, after all. It could even work the other way around, with staff leaving bigger companies to join smaller, less stressful independent businesses who find it easier to provide flexible hours and offer an improved work/life balance.
“Multiple studies reflect the fact that providing flexibility to employees results in fewer sick hours, greater employee happiness, higher productivity and less stress.” - Achievers
But when that happens, how does your business react?
A succession plan can help mitigate those risks, no matter which way it goes.
So, what is an employee succession plan?
Succession planning is all about having a process in place where you can identify and train individuals to build up their skills, as well as better prepare them to take over from senior leaders when they move on or retire.
If you develop a process that makes it easy to collect and share knowledge from older to younger staff, then you can make it easier to hire a green person and train them up as a good successor.
This also makes it easy for staff to transition into new roles, and when that’s the case you’ll find that staff experience less stress, especially when expectations are more clearly outlined and they’re prepared in advance.
Without a policy, you’ll not only waste a lot of your own time and that of your employees–and it could have a serious impact on the customer relationships you’ve worked so hard to build. You can hope for the best, but you should always plan for the worst.
2. Handover of responsibilities
Working with your engineers
An engineer who leaves will likely have outstanding jobs that are scheduled for completion after their leaving date. Similar to above, you need to establish a process that makes it easy for ongoing work to be properly managed and ensures that their jobs are completed.
This might also involve introducing the new engineer to the customer, especially if a strong professional relationship exists. It could be that John, your senior electrician, is retiring, and he’s known the Fitzpatrick family for donkey’s years after doing a lot of great work for them! Allowing them the chance to say "farewell", as well as introduce John’s replacement, is a great opportunity to build on an existing customer relationship and show respect for the work that’s been done.
Not only will your customers appreciate this on a personal level, but with a handover process in place, the work your team does will more likely carry on smoothly, with as little interruption and as few wasted resources as possible.
After all, if you’re understaffed, you may struggle to meet deadlines. Making customers aware of this sooner, rather than later, will prevent a lot of headaches and, while it won’t fix every problem (the customer will still expect the work done), by having these processes in place, you’ll make life easier for everyone.
This doesn’t just apply to your engineers, either.
Working with your administration staff
Many trades businesses have an admin that’s been doing the same job for years and who have developed their own workflows and methods -- for better or worse. The issue is when they need to retire or move on to another job, it’s difficult to train a new person if all the information is handwritten in a notebook or spread across many spreadsheets.
Fortunately, nowadays, using software has removed the need for someone to remember or record every appointment and service reminder, making it much easier to onboard new employees, especially if they offer additional training packages.
At the same time, it can be easier to weather periods of time where you’re understaffed, by making use of tools that help everyone work more efficiently; whether it’s through intelligent scheduling for booking jobs, automated invoicing for chasing payments, and plenty more besides. This way, you’re not losing any customers because of admin inefficiencies, or wasting time chasing down debts.
To help improve communication, consider using The Customer Service Cheat Sheet.
Combined with software that automates all sorts of customer correspondence, it’s an effective tool that can significantly improve how you interact with your customers!
3. Review your salary and bonus structures
Money is a motivator, it has to be said. If you’re finding that young engineers are leaving after just one or two years because of lucrative offers elsewhere, you may need to consider what other incentives you can provide to help keep them around.
After all, "41% of employees say that they would leave their present companies if they found a position that offered better career advancement" - (Achievers).
In these cases, it’s your competitors who are offering a pay hike that will be the main beneficiaries of all that time and money you invested. You'll have only ended up helping bring their business to peak performance, so where does that leave you? Out of pocket and with yet more work to do... It's safe to say that reviewing your salary and bonus structures could play a part in encouraging your staff to stay around long after you've trained them up.
Of course, throwing money at the problem isn’t always a viable or ideal solution, but ensuring your wages are both sustainable and fair will help. It will also save you money & headaches on hiring and training in the future.
As we said, money isn’t the only motivator. Simple as it sounds, it will also help if you demonstrate appreciation to your staff for the work that’s being done:
“79% of employees who quit their job cite 'lack of appreciation' as a primary reason for leaving.” - Workwave
If your staff themselves feel valued, not just their bank accounts, then you’re more likely to be rewarded, too.
4. Is it time for some reorganisation?
Looking internally at how your business is run can be a difficult and uncomfortable task, but this sort of self-reflection is incredibly important. Doing so can help you identify if there’s a problem in your business that’s worth exploring. After all:
"One manager with poor people skills can do damage to the culture and effectiveness of a company in a short period of time," points out Maricopa County CIO, David Stevens.
This can lead to a multitude of issues. For instance, if an employee feels like they’re not being supported by their manager, they may leave, or if they feel that their team isn’t being led in an effective way it can be demotivating.
Alternatively, someone might feel as though they’re being micromanaged, which can create a stressful work environment. These, and many other issues, can be frustrating for staff, but you won’t find out about them (or learn how to solve them) if you’re not taking the opportunity to talk to staff and collect feedback. (The same applies to collecting reviews from customers, of course).
As mentioned in Point 1, succession planning is one step that could help you identify an ambitious and highly competent engineer who could step up and support the management team; not only do you reward an ambitious employee, but you can help relieve pressure on staff, too.
To discover more about your staff, consider what strategies you have in place to learn from them. For instance, do you carry out 1-1 meetings, or have exit interviews when an employee leaves?
When an employee does quit (but ideally before that time), it’s well worth setting up a way for them to provide feedback. They may indicate that certain pressures are causing them stress, or even putting them (and maybe others) off from staying at the company.
Pressures and concerns could be something straightforward, like their pay, hours, the tools they do or don’t have. Alternatively, it might be something more complex, such as a management issue, or their rapport with other employees. More often than you’d think, it’s reasons like these that people cite when they leave a job, rather than an issue with pay.
You’ll also want to know about these issues sooner rather than later so you can open a dialogue and take steps to implement changes, as appropriate. Doing so can help save your company from the kind of staff turnover that’s near-impossible to bring back under control.
Make sure you include regular employee one-to-one discussions, where feedback is genuinely welcomed and considered, but be ready to hear some hard truths. It doesn’t get more honest than at an exit interview, where an employee may seize the opportunity to give sincere but direct feedback.
Managers and business owners can often be caught unaware of their staff’s actual feelings towards various aspects of the job. What a manager feels to be true versus what their workers think are often not one and the same! For instance, when it comes to careers advancement:
“60% of managers reported that they provide their employees with a clear path for advancing their careers, while only 36% of workers felt that this was true” - Achievers
For more on exit interviews, check out this excellent article from Gallup. Otherwise, take a look below for important steps to take when collecting feedback from employees.
Essential steps to take:
You could consider asking taking some of the following actions and creating questions around these prompts; it’s important to be mindful of their impact, as highlighted by these tips from WeekDone:
- Give more praise and recognition: Many people quit because of a lack of appreciation.
- Set clear objectives and goals: Results are only as strong as the objectives you set.
- Be future driven: Using a management technique like PPP— Progress, Plans, Problems—be aware [and guide] your teams’ plans.
- Seek input and ideas: Your team has brilliant ideas; just learn to ask.
- Give continual feedback: There is a correlation between employee engagement and periodic feedback.
- Measure satisfaction: you can manage only what you measure: by speaking with lots of staff you can more accurately measure satisfaction.
- Ask about emotions and attitudes: You may be surprised by what you learn.
- Save time in meetings: One of the biggest employee motivation killers is wasting their time
- Don’t be too negative: To keep your people happy and motivated, be positive and lead by example.
- Communicate openly: Share your weekly plans and thoughts; it will encourage an open atmosphere
- Get to know each other: Team building activities are an often-overlooked perk that engages employees and boosts their morale.
The advice above is flexible for big and small organisations alike. Of course, it relies on you to listen to your employees, all so that you can create a plan that fosters open communication and helps you attract new employees.
At the same time, you should encourage staff to give feedback. When they're included, they'll feel more content to stay and help you build a better workplace for everyone.
The emotional, financial, and human impact of building a recruitment and retention plan will lead you to value new employees, help them build their careers, and support your business, even if they do decide to move down the line.
Spend a year collecting the voluntary turnover figures for your organisation to get a sense of how turnover fluctuates throughout the year (internal benchmarking).
Calculate voluntary turnover for high performers as this is what has the greatest negative impact on your business.
See if there are any trends by level of seniority and experience, age group, gender and function (e.g. engineers and office staff).
Look through your exit interviews for trends on why people leave.
Determine where the voluntary turnover rate spikes and if the turnover is acceptable or unacceptable.
Ultimately, each organisation needs to decide for itself what voluntary turnover targets are acceptable to them, and then take the necessary actions to redress the situation.
We don't doubt you'll find what works best for you.
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