Retaining your best staff

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Tradie HR director Leigh Olsen presents some tips to retain your best people without having to drop the standards you require of them.


A few weeks ago, a logistics client had an employee come to them at 10am saying he needed to leave at 1pm for a doctor’s appointment.

My client said, “but you haven’t followed the leave process”.  The employee replied, “if you don’t agree, I’ll go down the road as they are looking for drivers!”

My client was left dumbfounded but felt pressured to let the employee go so he would still have a staff member the next day.

What was even more annoying is that this client had gone above and beyond in setting up the right people policies, clearly stating what’s acceptable and what’s not when it comes to leave.

And yet in this situation, he felt completely held to ransom to the employee’s demand — not request.

Sadly, this is not the first example of this kind that an employer has shared with me recently. Over the past year, the pressure has been building for many of my clients as the reality of the global staff shortage sets in.

Business owners are facing daily dilemmas on how to retain their staff while trying to stay financially afloat, and avoiding compromising their business standards.

It’s a tight talent market, and some of your people know this and are taking advantage.

Let’s look at how you can uphold your standards and keep your people at the same time.

The reality of a staff shortage

Global staff shortages happen, and when they do, businesses experience a different type of pressure. Add in the twist of the pandemic, and we are facing some new unknown realities, including:

• Covid leave: The leave regarding Covid and isolation periods has resulted in business owners experiencing real issues in getting their staff back to work.

They are working really hard to entice their staff to work when they shouldn’t have to. This is happening everywhere, not just in trades.

• What policy? Some staff are “forgetting” their company’s policies around conduct and behaviour, thinking that because there is a talent shortage, they can talk to their manager however they want.

Last month, a client phoned me saying they’d just had an employee walking away from their toolbox meeting whist the on-site manager was explaining the job!

This company has a solid policy in place that this kind of behaviour is not okay, and has since used that policy to reinforce this unacceptable behaviour.

• More money into wages, less focus on poor performance: Businesses are having to pay over-the-top wages and salaries to attract talent and retain their current people. Yet, small-to-medium businesses have been hit hard in recent times, struggling to meet these financial demands.

Unfortunately, one way business owners have tried to combat this is through turning a blind eye to poor performance and behaviour, in the hope they don’t have to fork out any more money.

If this is your reality at the moment, you are not alone. But the good news is there are things you can do to get the right balance back in place.

Keeping your standards and your staff:

• Add engagement initiatives: Wrap up the year by researching some engagement initiatives. Kick-start with a quick staff survey on what really motivates them in the workplace. Ask at your next morning tea: “If we could do three things to help you engage with your job, what would they be?” Find the top three common ones and commit to doing them over a six-month period.

• Grow your people: Grab a cuppa, sit down with each employee, and ask them how they want to grow in the next year. Pull it together into a one-page development plan, showing them you’re committed to their growth and development.

Sometimes all it takes is putting them on a different project or job, one that challenges them and develops their skill set. You don’t have to give someone a promotion to grow them. Provide something that challenges them, ensuring you provide regular feedback and support.

• Upskill managers in engagement and development techniques: If you’ve got a team of middle managers or team leaders, upskill them on how to develop and engage their teams. These leaders are your key to keeping your people.

• Catch issues early with 1-2-1s: Another common trend I see amongst my clients is those that have regular 1-2-1s with their people have less people leaving.

Why? Because they know what’s happening as they have been actively listening and picking up key signs that something’s going on. From there, managers have been able to get their employee back on track quickly.

• Say no to bad behaviour:

You define your business and your team culture when you say no to things that will negatively impact it. If you don’t stand up for your policies, standards and team rules then why have them at all?

It can take courage to stand up to negative behaviour, but more often than not, when a client has taken a stand, they’ve actually ended up retaining the good staff who have been watching this play out.

These are the people you want to keep, and they appreciate it when you stick to your policies and your team culture.

This too shall pass

This is a tough time regarding staff shortages, but we hope it will soon pass.

If you need some help in retaining or managing your people at this unique time in your business, please feel free to touch base, in confidence, with Tradie HR for extra support.

Note: This article is not intended to be a replacement for legal advice.

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