Considerations for Post-Pandemic Employee Retention

April 22, 2020
In this episode of the Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce podcast, Amanda Del Buono talks with Joe McMurry about how manufacturers can improve their employee retention strategies.

Editor's Note: This podcast episode was recorded at the beginning of 2020, prior to the coronavirus outbreak. So please know that the comments about the unemployment rates have changed since this was recorded. 

In this podcast episode, Amanda Del Buono interviews Joe McMurry, peer group solutions consultant for the Purdue Manufacturing Extension Partnership, about how manufacturers can reduce turnover by improving their employee retention strategies. Listen to the podcast in our player below. 


Amanda Del Buono: Welcome back to another episode of "Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce." As always, I'm Amanda Del Buono. It's not news that manufacturers are having a difficult time bringing in new people. But once they're in the door, manufacturers need to put just as much effort into keeping them there. Today, we're going to be talking workforce retention with Joe McMurry, peer group solutions consultant for the Purdue Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

Joe, thanks for joining me today.

Joe: Thanks, Amanda. It's great to be here.

Amanda: So, I just wanted to kind of start out simply by asking, what is employee retention? Why should it be important to our manufacturers today? Does everybody need to have the Google reputation of, kind of, a free for all in their companies to be able to keep people, or what are we looking at today?

Joe: So, employee retention is basically creating an environment where your employees want to stay with your company. And manufacturers, in particular, are struggling with this right now, in part because unemployment numbers are so low, and there's a lot of jobs available. And so, a lot of manufacturers are really struggling to keep full staff and to get them to show up every day. That's another issue that's going on, so attendance as well. Why is it important? Well, of course, if we don't have a full complement of people on a given day, then we struggle to meet customer demand. And a lot of manufacturers are struggling with this, just not having enough people to meet all the demand that they have.

Another thing, of course, is that if we have turnover, we tend to drive up our costs. Hiring an employee is much more expensive than keeping the ones we have. In order to bring them aboard, to retrain, or to train brand new employees versus continue the training with the employees that we have just is much more costly to manufacturers. So, employee retention is a very, very important thing for manufacturers today. Do you have to have Google's reputation to do it? Absolutely not. I have a saying when we talk about retention is, "Are we giving our employees a seat at the break table?" And that sounds like a funny saying, but a lot of times, our retention issues happen in the first few weeks or months of employment. And so, one of the things that I really urge manufacturers to do is be able to create an environment where the employees feel like they belong and are part of the team very, very quickly.

Amanda: That's really interesting. I didn't realize that people can fall out so quickly that you really have to catch them as soon as they're in there in order to keep them, that's fascinating. And it sounds like it's really tied to your culture, and having a culture that makes everybody feel like a part of the team, and they're making a difference.

Joe: Right. So, the way I like to say it, and the reason I use this comment, are we giving them a seat at the break table, is oftentimes when employees come in, they go through a training process, and then they're released to the line. And some companies do this in a very short period of time, other companies a little longer, but usually within the first week, they're particularly are manufacturing employees that are out on the shop floor are introduced to the line very quickly. And the question is, what happens at the first break time? And so, I like to say I will give them a seat at the break table because the reality is, oftentimes, everybody disperses for break and the new employee doesn't, they're lost, they're not sure where to go. Or if they do know where to go, they don't feel like they are welcome at a given break table.

I use an example, it's kind of like when we went to high school and our first day as a freshman in high school, at least that was my experience, you know, go in and you're looking around to see where to sit. And upperclassmen are know, if they see you walking towards their table, they're kind of shaking their heads, "No, no, no, freshman, don't sit here," that kind of idea.

And so, I like to encourage employers to assign a buddy, if you will, assign somebody that is willing to say to the new employee, "Hey, we're getting ready to go to break, do you want to come with us?" And in essence, give him a seat at the break table. Give them an opportunity to sit down with them, get to know them, talk about interests, etc.

And so, if we get our culture such that we are doing that, then the retention numbers increase significantly in that first 30 to 60 days. It is usually...most of the data shows that it's that first 30 to 60 days where we have quite a bit of turnover still in our manufacturing environment. And oftentimes, I believe it's because the employees just don't feel like they belong as quickly as we really need them to.

Get the rest of the transcript at What you need to know to retain employees

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