5 overlooked keys to attracting, retaining great workers (and keeping them beyond the holidays)

As 2018 winds to a close, the lowest unemployment rate in almost 50 years seems like cause for celebration. But for bosses battling for talent on the front lines — particularly in high-turnover industries like retail, hospitality and food service — it’s anything but.

Rarely easy, recruiting and keeping hourly workers has become a pitched battle this frantic holiday season, with some employers going to new lengths to fill roles. Fast-food franchises are turning to seniors to flip burgers; sit-down restaurants are sending line cooks to culinary school.

But simpler — and far less costly — ways to boost recruitment and retention among hourly workers often go overlooked. Here are a few small steps that, in my experience, can go a long way in keeping workers happy and on the job this holiday season and beyond.

Don’t ignore onboarding. Whether you’re running a restaurant that’s short on servers, or a retail store that sorely needs sales staff, it’s easy to throw new hires into the fray in the hope that they’ll hit the ground running. But doing so can seriously undermine their longevity in the job.

Studies show that a disorganized — or worse, absent — onboarding process can severely impact how long a new hire stays. Conversely, research from the Brandon Hall Group shows that a structured onboarding process can increase retention by 82% and boost productivity by more than 70%.

holiday shopping
Christmas decorations sit in a window display as shoppers browse inside a luxury handbag and shoe store in the Marunouchi area in Tokyo, Japan, on Monday, Dec. 19, 2016. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has outlined plans for a marginal increase in its initial budget for the next fiscal year, leaving investors to wait for supplementary spending packages for any significant fiscal boost from Japan in 2017. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

Too often, onboarding gets ignored in an hourly context — or confused with on-the-job training. Onboarding is much more than that. It’s an introduction to the company and the workplace culture, outlining expectations and opportunities for advancement. It can even include a peer mentor to help new hires with tips like where to park or a good place nearby to grab lunch. This might seem like a luxury — but in actuality it’s this kind of onboarding that earns Whole Foods and Old Navy top employer honors year after year.

Crowdsource your schedules. One of the greatest sources of frustration for hourly workers is unpredictable schedules. A recent study from Workjam found more than 60% of hourly workers said the most difficult aspect of their job search was finding a position that matched their availability, and more than half said they receive their schedules a week or less in advance.

Setting consistent work schedules around employees’ needs is an important signal that employers care about their work-life balance, family demands or school schedules.

See also: Walmart rolls out new employee scheduling app

But managing a complex schedule doesn’t have to fall solely on employers. In fact, including your employees in that process can have a positive impact on morale and retention. New platforms that allow workers to swap shifts directly with each other — without involving a manager — give hourly employees some autonomy over their time at work — something shown to boost retention even more than a pay raise.

Find meaning (even in the small stuff). Research is clear: People who feel they have a purpose at work are more productive at their jobs and stay with them longer. And that goes double for millennials and Gen Z, who want to know they’re working for more than just a paycheck.

It might not be obvious from the outset, but showing hourly workers how their jobs make the world a better place can be a powerful tool for retention. It worked for 1-800-Got-Junk, whose commitment to the environment through recycling household items won kudos from its bought-in staff.

For employers who struggle to connect those dots, something as simple as adding a collection box for the foodbank in your break room or regularly coordinating your team for volunteer efforts can work wonders in instilling a greater sense of purpose among your team.

See also: 7 employers with great volunteer benefits

Modernize your payroll. We live in an instant world, but you wouldn’t know that by the way most workers are paid. Compared to our on-demand, digital existence, the traditional two-week pay cycle can seem hopelessly outdated. Not only does this hurt hourly workers who often struggle financially between paychecks — especially during the holiday season — it hurts employers competing for talent.

A survey of more than 1,000 people by the Centre for Generational Kinetics showed the majority of millennial and Gen Z workers would prefer to be paid daily or weekly. Further, more than 75% of Gen Z workers and more than 50% of millennials said they’d be more interested in applying for jobs that offered an instant-pay option.

See also: Beware the hidden threat inside on-demand pay apps

Companies like Uber and Lyft are already updating the pay paradigm, and winning workers, with same-day pay options for drivers. Online platforms now enable any employer to offer that same convenience, in a way that’s easy to implement and cost-effective. But there’s one important caveat here: to work as a retention tool, on-demand pay needs to be free for employees. Charging people fees to access their own money just makes workers feel like they’re being nickeled and dimed.

Culture counts (even when you’re on the clock). Strong company culture is a major contributor to engagement and belonging — a huge predictor of retention. But it’s too often ignored by hourly employers, as evidenced by the fact that hourly workers consistently rate their company culture to be worse than that of salaried workers.

Particularly in the service sector, where the focus is so directed at customer experience, it’s important for employers to spend time making sure employees feel just as valued. For example, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants clinched the No. 6 spot on Fortune’s list of the 100 best employers with culture-building policies like allowing employees to bring pets to work and recognizing good grades among employees’ kids.

With the U.S. job market predicted to remain tight for the foreseeable future, competition for talent will continue to be a big hurdle for hourly employers. But a few small changes can yield big returns in retention and recruitment — without breaking the bank.

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