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Tips to Attract, Retain and Engage Staff: HR Best Practices in Turbulent Times [webinar re-cap]

By Diane Amato

Published April 27, 2022 • 7 Min Read

According to the live poll introduced during the recent webinar “HR Practices in Turbulent Times,” 78 per cent of attendees have experienced staffing issues in the past year. While there have been numerous articles and podcasts discussing the “Great Resignation” and significant speculation about what’s driving it, the reality is that labour shortages continue to seriously impact Canadian business owners’ ability to move their companies forward.

Business owner Leslie Bradford Scott shares her first-hand experiences and strategies dealing with staffing challenges throughout the pandemic, and ADP’s David Penney shares research and commercial insights, all of which can help owners attract, retain and engage talent.

Get creative to attract talent

When the pandemic first hit in March 2020, Walton Wood Farm orders were cancelled and/or stopped almost immediately. Leslie Bradford Scott made the difficult decision to lay all her employees off to get them in line for benefits, not knowing what was going to happen next. But as the pandemic continued into a whole new normal, orders started rolling back in, which meant she needed to hire — and fast.

Her story is not unique, as Canadian business owners across the country faced difficulties hiring back and attracting staff who suddenly had other priorities.

Following are tactics Scott and Penney suggest for attracting new talent:

  • Make a list of key qualities. “Hiring is not a cookie-cutter process,” explains Scott, particularly for a small business with a strong entrepreneurial spirit. “I had to identify the qualities, skills and talents that were the most important so I could find the right people,” she says. “Then I made the hiring process really simple in the first round by vetting for those qualities.”

  • Understand a candidate’s motivation. “Everybody’s currency is not money. Some people are motivated by money, but those were not the people I wanted,” she says. “I wanted people who were motivated by being at home, not commuting to work, or having someone looking over their shoulder all day.”

  • Avoid hiring “quick fixes.” As David Penney explains, Statistics Canada shows a job vacancy rate of more than 5 per cent across the country. And many companies are coping with the shortages with increased wages, signing bonuses, dangling benefits, more vacation days and more sick days. “But the keyword is ‘coping,’” he says — these are not permanent fixes. “Quick fixes do not address the root cause of why employees do three things: Why they join a company, why they leave a company and why they stay with a company.” While labour shortages may be affecting owners today, hiring right takes time.

  • Diversify your recruitment pool. Penney recommends sourcing people of different ages and engaging people at various stages of their careers. Scott, for instance, is looking for interns through her local university and engaging youth through internships to help solve recruitment challenges.

In-depth: 7 Ways to Attract and Hire Employees in a Tight Labour Market

Retain staff with effective onboarding

According to Glassdoor, a positive onboarding experience greatly helps retention. As Penney explains, “If your employee has a negative onboarding experience, that increases the likelihood that the employee may leave.” The concept is backed by research from LinkedIn, which shows that the right onboarding helps with not only retention but also performance.

When it comes to a good onboarding experience, Penney and Scott suggest four things:

  • Set and align expectations. “All else being equal, nothing will matter more for the success of your new hire than your alignment on what they’re expected to contribute and accomplish in the role.” Penney encourages owners to cover off on things such as a new employee’s start time, where the breakroom is located, who they call if they’re going to be sick or absent, etc. Scott echoes the sentiment about setting expectations. For Walton Wood Farm, culture is critical to the business, so the expectation around culture is clearly laid out in the onboarding deck. “It was very important to have an onboarding deck that clearly says this is who we are, this is who we think you are, and this is why we hired you,” she says.

  • Think about the shift between learning and doing. Scott says that she makes it very clear to new hires that it takes approximately a year to integrate into the company and fully learn their job. “I tell them, let yourself off the hook. This is not a 30-day process.” She also tells new hires that she doesn’t care how many mistakes they make, just that they learn from them. “I make it clear that we’re an environment where you can fail and learn from that failure.”

  • Follow-up. “Make sure you have regular check-ins with your new employee — provide feedback on what they’re doing well and any opportunities to learn and improve. Also, make sure you’re available to answer their questions,” says Penney.

  • Provide a welcoming environment. Penney suggests partnering your new employee with someone from the team who you would like them to emulate. “Also, make sure that the new employee has a name tag, their uniform or computer is ready for when they start and think about the little things such as where they hang their coat.”

Engaging employees

Once employees are hired and properly onboarded, it is important to keep them engaged. Here are four strategies to ensure employees are involved and connected with your business.

  • Offer flexibility. “For the first time in history, it’s less about money — it’s more about work/life balance,” says Penney. While he concedes nobody wants to be underpaid, employees want flexibility in the way they do their jobs. “People want to be able to put something in the crockpot and throw in a load of laundry,” adds Scott. Employees don’t want to feel someone is breathing down their neck — if they are getting their work done, they want the freedom to take care of other things.

  • Be clear about your values. According to a recent Gallup poll shared by Penney, four out of five employees say that employer values are extremely important to them.

  • Offer career development opportunities. “Most employees want to grow with your business,” says Penney. “They want to contribute and feel valued and make a difference with you. So, give them that opportunity.” Adding more responsibilities when an employee is ready is a great place to start.

    Scott reiterates the importance of this approach and offers everyone at Walton Wood Farm a chance to become involved in product development. For instance, employees can suggest a new product to launch. Within a short time, Scott will have the test artwork done and invite the rest of the staff to collaborate on the finer details. “I want the team to feel they have a stake in the business, a say in the direction the company goes, and what we offer our customers,” she says.

    Offering formal learning and development opportunities is also key, and one of the most important work policies for employees. “According to LinkedIn, over 90 per cent of employees would be more loyal and stay if their company invested in them and their learning and development,” Penney explains.

  • Recognize your best performers. Penney suggests owners put either formal or informal recognition practices in place. For instance, it could be a monthly employee recognition program, or simply a token of appreciation. “Maybe it’s the chance to use the boss’s parking spot for a day,” suggests Penney. “Or maybe bringing lunch in for the entire team.”

Attracting, retaining and engaging employees is more challenging than ever. The tips offered in this webinar can help owners create environments that are welcoming, engaging, flexible and inspiring. And employees who feel valued and connected to their company may be more likely not only to stay but also to do their best for your business every day.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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