Workforce Sustainability: Viewing Employees Through a Fresh Lens

Executive Viewpoint
eddie murphy

I hear it often: “When it comes to employee retention, we’re all having the same issues. We’ve all struggled to attract and keep talent.”

Many of us have gone through cultural rebranding. We’ve put in the time to define ourselves through sensible and measurable core competencies, and we have leadership that has bought into those values and manages to them on a daily basis. Maybe we’ve even created a solid onboarding program to ensure incoming talent feels the culture from day one. And yet, we just can’t seem to hire the people we’re looking for.

I’ve been wondering: Is it because we’re still approaching the whole idea of human resources the way we always have, considering our people as just a resource?

As this issue of MHI Solutions explores sustainability, I’ve been thinking a lot about how that might apply to those who work with us. What if we saw employees through the lens of workforce sustainability? In this view, they’re not just expendable resources to be used up and discarded. They’re valued long-term, supported and encouraged to reach their full potential, and not just at their jobs.

SpaceGuard Products—a leading manufacturer of wire mesh partitions and area guarding products—is a second-generation business. I started working at the company in 2008 as vice president of sales and purchased the company from my father in 2012. Things have continually changed over time, and we continue to adapt.

Here at our company, it used to take a year of work to earn any vacation. We’ve changed that. Now, when I hear people in the industry say they can’t retain people or that they have absentee issues, I’m curious first about their vacation policy. Are they setting people up for success or failure, right off the bat? Our employees now start building up vacation from their first day.

We’ve also recognized the need for flexibility in work scheduling. It’s easy to say that’s just about working from home, assuming you have the technology and systems in place to support that. But what happens when you’re a manufacturer? Like many of our peers, we manufacture products every day, and that requires humans to be onsite. So, what have we done? We have changed work schedules, and incorporated flexibility that still allows the product to be made. We have to remember that humans aren’t robots and they have lives outside of work. Beyond cross-training, then, can we do things to mix up people’s daily tasks so their work isn’t monotonous? Can they perform other value-added duties that help break up their days?

To take things a step further, can we be more empathetic to our people in general, and their lives outside of their jobs? Everyone, from the top to the bottom of an organization, wants to feel utilized and empowered, and to believe they’re making a difference. As leaders, we need to accept the fact that people want to do their best and not feel second-guessed. What are we doing on a daily basis to manage these valuable human resources? Are we all just worried about our own jobs and tasks to be performed, or are we focused on empowerment at work and how that drives success?

No matter how big an organization is, it’s common for people to feel stuck in their jobs, or that they don’t really have the opportunity for advancement. So, if we’re committed to sustaining our human resources on a daily basis, how are we building career plans within their current roles? Do they have multiple goals that allow them to advance their pay or level of responsibility? Do they have a chance to earn their empowerment?

In my first few years as CEO, I was focused on redeveloping products, growing different aspects of the business and figuring out what I really wanted to prioritize. I was always passionate about the people. But we were much smaller back then, and I had a fairly close connection to everyone in the organization. Growth brings a new perspective. You can lose that connection pretty quickly as you add layers of leadership and management to help support business expansion. Along the way, I’ve become more passionate about that human component, and I’ve educated myself. I’ve learned what my peers are doing and what they’re not. I’m always looking for best practices and successes.

One of those best practices, a piece of the workforce sustainability concept I’m really proud of at SpaceGuard Products, is recognition. Workers need more than just flexibility. At the end of the day, everyone also needs to be recognized. It doesn’t have to be a big production or cost a lot. It just has to be a part of the culture.

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