If there is anything we have learned from the chaos of the past few years, it is this: Every business is more dependent than ever on skilled, dedicated people doing the work. This hits home if you are among the many businesses struggling to fill open positions from a labor market that continues to be historically squeezed.
Hiring is a concern for many propane companies. According to Gray, Gray & Gray’s 2022 Propane Industry Survey, 72% of dealers said finding qualified workers was “very difficult” (44%) or “nearly impossible” (28%). And it wasn’t just new hires that vexed dealers: 60% said that retaining existing employees was “somewhat difficult” while 14% found retention “very difficult.”
This makes it more important than ever to take good care of your people — the most valuable assets your company has. But what does it mean to “take good care” of your people? Paying a decent wage and providing an adequate benefits package may no longer be enough to keep your employees happy and productive. You must work harder to encourage their engagement and support their long-term goals to get their best efforts and earn their loyalty.
As the chief people officer at Gray, Gray & Gray, it is my mission to help our team members realize their full potential by guiding and advising them along individual career paths that balance professional success with a sustainable work/life balance. This is not a simple task, nor are there hard and fast guidelines to follow that will satisfy the expectations of every individual. But here are several frameworks I think through to help encourage teamwork and build satisfaction among our team members.
Meet People Where They Are
We all tend to think everybody is like us, thinks like us and wants what we want. But you should never assume all employees are alike. The individuals who make up your team are each unique, have their own stories and face their own challenges every day. Therefore, you should not approach human resources (HR) issues with an inflexible agenda. Be willing to view every employee as they wish to be seen, including the language you use, dress code policies, flexible scheduling — whatever you can do (within reason) to make them feel welcome, heard and appreciated.
From a legal — and moral — perspective, it is important to be equitable in your dealings with employees. Fair and consistent treatment of employees in the workplace will build trust, improve morale, engender loyalty and help spur productivity. A commitment to fair treatment at work can also be an important tool in recruiting new employees. On the other hand, favoritism can breed animosity and resentment toward the favored individuals and the employer.
Strategies for achieving workplace fairness include clearly embracing and stating the company’s expectations of equitable treatment in the form of well-written policies, commitment to equitable practices and unbiased, consistent enforcement of rules. Creating a fair and inclusive working environment may require commitments, such as accessible workstations, gender-neutral restrooms and diverse hiring policies that demonstrate you are treating prospective and current employees fairly.
Ask What Your Employees Want
Because everyone is different, it is difficult to find “one-size-fits-all” solutions to HR problems. For example, some employees might be concerned about their ability to keep up with technology or whether they have saved enough for retirement. They may not be worried about the same things as other workers, who may be more concerned about finding affordable child care, family health insurance coverage or working overtime and missing school pickup.
Do not try to guess what people want — ask them. Then do whatever you can to address their needs and concerns with a flexible set of benefits and policies. You will have happier, more productive workers who know that you have their best interests at heart.
Be Clear & Transparent in Communications
Think about all the times you have been frustrated by not knowing something and how your reaction to a situation may have been different had you been privy to that information. If you want your employees to act like a cohesive and trusted team, you must treat them that way. You want to be able to trust them to play their parts in the organization, and they need to have confidence that you are doing the same.
Be open about the business, sharing as much information as possible about operations, finances and plans for the future. Encourage employees to do the same; nobody should be afraid to point out a problem or bring bad news to your attention.
Here’s one excellent example of good communication: Do you have a succession plan in place? Share it with your employees so they understand what will happen to the company once you retire or sell. Your openness will be appreciated and reciprocated.
Have Multiple Career Paths
Not everyone wants your job. Be sensitive to the level of interest, talent and ambition exhibited by individual employees. While some may be eager to move up the ladder and assume more responsibilities or move into management positions, others may be perfectly content with the work they do on a lower rung of the career ladder.
It is important, especially for new hires, that people understand that there is a place for them in your organization and that you are willing to support their ambitions with training and additional opportunity. This appeals to their need for acceptance, safety and security.
Bring a Little Fun to the Table
Yes, running a propane company is a day-in, day-out challenge that tests your resolve. And you want your employees to be as serious about their jobs as you are. But all work and no play are not the way to build an open and collaborative team. Your HR budget should include a range of activities to show your appreciation for the hard work your people perform and to lighten up their days.
Some proven ideas include family outings, having pizza delivered during busy season, contests and games, or surprise rewards and giveaways. You’ll be pleased by how much these efforts are welcomed.
Your role as a leader involves pushing boundaries to grow revenue and profits. But it also includes making sure the people on your team are capable, prepared and willing to support your efforts. Embracing these ideas and making them part of your company’s culture will go a long way toward ensuring that you have a cohesive and cooperative team on your side.