What Matters Most

How loyal are your employees? That’s a scary question these days. You may assume that giving them a raise every year and paying for their health insurance is enough. But don’t you wonder how your benefits measure up to those at other businesses, namely, your competition?

The good news is that health insurance is still the top priority among current and prospective employees, according to a recent survey of more than 300 members of the Michigan Manufacturers Association (see full story page 18). If you offer health insurance, you’re in pretty good shape. But right up there on the list of demands are retirement plans, paid vacation time, leave time, and company-sponsored recreational and social activities. In this tight job market, employees are even being identified as purchasers!

“Providing an effective benefit program requires employers to look at themselves as the producer of a product, and make sure that product looks attractive to the purchaser–the current and potential employee,” says Edmund Ura, president of Management Resource Center, Inc. “Reviewing both media reports and a number of surveys illustrates the simple fact that the ‘best employers’ are not necessarily those that offer the highest pay. Often they are the most flexible and responsive to the needs of employees.”

So how responsive are area employers? I asked a few companies what ‘dangling carrots’ they had to offer, and was impressed with their answers.

Rehmann Robson offers a 401(k) (with a match) within the first month of employment. It also has a handy computer purchase program where employees can order computer equipment from the company in February and August.

“The company will shop, find the best price, pass along all discounts, and loan the employee half of the purchase price up to $3,000, or a maximum of $1,500, as a no-interest loan to be payroll deducted evenly across the next 26 pays (one year),” said Rehmann Robson’s Kristin Shelden.

The company also offers education reimbursement and covers continuous improvement, such as seminars, conferences, courses, etc.

Among its many perks (“there are too many to name,” said Human Resources Manager Missy Russell), Hagerty Classic Insurance in Traverse City touts casual attire, contribution toward a gym membership, and an employee health and wellness program.

They also have a “hardship pool” that unused sick time rolls into. “Employees can be nominated for use of up to one week of paid time off for any hardship that they are facing, such as illness, death in the family, etc.,” Russell said. “It’s a benefit that many employees have utilized.”

Rick Deneweth, president of Cornille Concrete (northern Michigan region), says the company’s number one benefit is its Employee Stock Purchase Program, which basically allows all employees to purchase U.S. Concrete stock at a price that’s at least 15 percent less than the current market value. It requires no holding period or length of employment for an employee to sell the stock after date of purchase at the 15 percent or larger discount, he said.

At the Bill Marsh dealership, “great health benefits with reasonable co-pays, flexible work hours, and great parties” round out their top three benefits, according to Marketing Director Mike Kent.

Some employees are thrilled to simply work from home, and John E. Velis, owner of Glen Arbor-based Big Water & Associates (Web site design, Internet marketing and consulting) can deliver. He says their virtual office set up allows many employees/contract laborers to work from home and communicate easily via e-mail.

Whether you offer flex time, bonuses, stock options, birthday presents or corporate concierge services, it’s crucial to take care of your workers. The fact is, replacing an employee costs around 1.5 times a year’s pay, according to the Wall Street Journal. And who really wants to deal with the turnover turmoil?

When it comes to what really matters most to your work force, a simple “thanks” is still a great motivator.

In a survey of financial executives, 38 percent said that–other than monetary rewards–frequent recognition of accomplishments is the best way to encourage staff members. Regular communication ranked a very close second, receiving 37 percent of the response.

Max Messmer, author of “Managing Your Career For Dummies,” offers the following tips for effective motivation:

· Acknowledge an employee’s achievements in a public forum, such as a staff meeting. This is great for the individual’s morale and is motivational to others.

· Recognition can be formal, such as starting an “Employee of the Month” program, or as simple as a face-to-face compliment or thank-you note. Learn what works best for each individual.

· Interact frequently with your staff and get to know them on a personal level. Employees are most motivated when they feel valued.

· The best managers spend more time listening than talking. Maintain an open-door policy; employees who feel comfortable communicating with supervisors are more inspired to deliver their best work.

As Matt Schmidt aptly points out in his article “It’s more than a paycheck” (page 13), annual performance reviews are simply not enough to hold onto your employees. They need constant feedback–even if it means hearing they have to work harder in certain areas. And when it comes time to conduct an official review, you might want to consider a more detailed–albeit time-consuming–method. On page 12, Kimberlee Roth outlines the “360-degree performance review” and how you can make it work in your organization.

In our human resources section (pages 12-18) We’ve also packed in articles on leadership skills, employee fraud, screening potential workers, recruiting seniors and motivating your sales staff.

We hope you find this issue useful. We look forward to seeing many of you at the regional business expos. BN