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Employee Engagement Strategies for the Hourly Workforce

Employee Engagement Strategies for the Hourly Workforce

When discussing employee engagement, many conversations focus on salaried, professional populations and the experiences they have in the workplace. However, these conversations often fail to adequately address the unique experiences and needs of hourly and other frontline employees.

In practice, this means that many organizational engagement strategies fail to accommodate a sizable segment of their workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics December 2022 employment report, 223,000 non-farm jobs were added within the United States, with the largest gains in the areas of leisure and hospitality (67K jobs), healthcare (55K), and construction (28K).  Employers in these fields depend heavily on the productivity of their hourly workforces.

Earlier this month, Forbes published an article that looked at how CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart all plan to reduce pharmacy hours of operation due to labor shortages and staffing challenges. To deal with situations like this, organizations need a strong understanding of how they can attract, engage, enable, and retain their hourly workforces.

To explore the unique challenges and opportunities associated with engaging hourly employees, Perceptyx’s Bradley Wilson, Ph.D.  led a webinar featuring leaders from several customer organizations working to create a positive employee experience, including maintaining high levels of engagement for their hourly workers:

Following are some of the highlights of their discussion, which you can watch in full here.

Hourly Workforce Trends, 2020 to the Present

Shanna Daugherty, Ahold Delhaize:  “Many trends come and go. There are different ways you can approach strategy related to listening. For example, do you do a census survey once, or do you do a census two or three times a year? Do you use pulse, do you use lifecycle? Do you even do an annual survey? I keep getting asked those questions in our organization because people want to know if we’re doing the right thing. I come back to asking the question, ‘Is what we're doing right for our organization?’ Because there are a lot of great things out there that you can do and you can overwhelm yourself pretty quickly. I always try to focus on what's the right thing for our organization.”

Eric Blackmore, Retail Business Services: “A couple of things we've seen are an increased desire to work wherever associates prefer to work, whether that's remotely or at an office, as well as a desire for instant benefits that take effect immediately, without having to wait for an eligibility period. We've responded to these trends through our ‘omni-work policy,’ which enables associates and their managers to determine how much time associates spend in the office versus at home, depending on their roles and responsibilities. When and where possible, we've also decreased or eliminated waiting periods for benefits. We have found that associates want to join an organization where there's a strong culture and they feel as though they belong. We've taken active steps to improve inclusion within our company and really emphasize culture, belonging, and appreciation. We added more questions related to this to our 2022 annual engagement survey in order to measure our associates’ perspectives on how we’re doing.”

Kristin Chase, Universal Parks and Resorts: “What we're starting to see post-COVID is that our team members are asking us to be transparent and let them know what's going on, whether it be about what are we doing from a political or social perspective, as well as how we're approaching being inclusive and things around the wardrobe that they wear, the uniform they show up in, the guidelines that we suggest for how we approach grooming, and things of that nature. Are there considerations being made for being inclusive and bringing your whole self to work? How transparent are we about information sharing? They want to know. They have their phones out all the time just like we do, so that instantaneous sharing of information is an expectation now from our team members. They also want to know what's going on from a strategic perspective. Day-to-day concerns matter a great deal, too. ‘Do I have a parking place where I can easily park and walk into work? By the way, it's really hot in Florida, so is the AC working?’ These physical issues have been an area of focus for us.”

Kristin Henderson, J.D. Irving: “We really are seeing a big focus across all of our groups in the area of mental health and wellness. We're having a lot of discussions, improving our connection with our people, and offering a lot more in that space because COVID was hard and I think people are still struggling to come out of that. Organizationally, we’ve been working to try to see how we can address those issues.”

Finding and Retaining the Best Talent for the Hourly Workforce

Gracelyn Kaine, J.D. Irving: “Like some other businesses, we're certainly dealing with a higher turnover rate since the pandemic and experiencing some difficulty in attracting new employees. However, our retail division has really shown its employees that they're listening, and that commitment is demonstrated in our engagement results. They've taken the action plans developed by employees and worked to show them the results. Because of that, they've got happier employees — people who want to come to work and make a difference.”

Kristin Chase, Universal Parks and Resorts: “From a retention and turnover perspective, we've kept our eye on this 90-day point, which is when we've started to notice some specific areas, such as our food and beverage, our attractions team, and some other groups — that’s the time when people decide to stay or leave. We've now implemented an hourly-level onboarding survey that helps us understand and really look at what's going on there so we can determine what's happening in those first 90 days. What we found is that people are leaving because the work doesn’t match their expectations. ‘I came in and I thought I was going to work at Wizarding World of Harry Potter and it was going to be amazing, and now I'm busing tables and it's hot. This isn't what I expected.’  This can diminish enthusiasm and leave people not feeling valued, which is something we are addressing. Feeling valued has always been one of our top drivers for employee engagement, along with trust and confidence in leadership and company direction. What feeling valued means is typically most connected to recognition, which could be monetary for some, but more often it’s the intangible recognition connected to making an impact toward an overall team or business goal that shows you are part of something bigger. Feeling a sense of purpose and belonging goes above and beyond what money can provide.”

Kristin Henderson, J.D. Irving: “Turnover has only been a challenge in a couple of our groups; however, that turnover is often related to issues like supply chain delays. If my truck is in the shop, I'm not earning as much money because I'm not driving. I’m not driving because I can't get parts for my truck. I can go work for someone else who has a truck that's not in the shop. We've seen some of that, particularly in the trucking company and our truck service company because supply chains have backed up and caused a lot of issues. We deal with that through communication and transparency, always trying to ensure people know what we're doing and how we're trying to support them and make changes.”

Employee Engagement Is a Priority for the Hourly Workforce

Kristin Henderson, J.D. Irving: “Because we have such a dispersed workforce, including people who are literally by themselves for 40 hours a week, we've had to rely on technology to help support this. We use apps, we use tablets, and we do a lot through social media. It's been quite remarkable to see the adoption over the last four years of some of those platforms to which there was initial resistance. Our managers now do a lot of video conversations. They have spent a lot of time getting on the road and meeting one-on-one. We hold our managers accountable via scorecards maintained throughout our organization, and check-ins and meetings with their people are key management metrics.”

Gracelyn Kaine, J.D. Irving: “We’ve placed a focus on leaders. A lot of our leaders go through our leadership training in order to increase their effectiveness. We want them to become better communicators and listeners because that will help them be more engaged with their employees.”

Eric Blackmore, Retail Business Services: “We support and encourage leadership effectiveness by educating our managers, providing opportunities for them to develop their leadership skills. We also are constantly actively seeking associate input company-wide. We prioritize our company's open-door policy and philosophy across all the departments by regularly conducting listening sessions with associates, having appreciation days, and working to build a community of care within the entire organization. We launched a recognition app that makes it easy for anybody in the organization to recognize anybody else. Saying thank you goes a long way and recognizing accomplishments, birthdays, and work anniversaries builds the culture.”

Kristin Chase, Universal Parks and Resorts: “Keeping feedback going consistently throughout the year and ensuring a meaningful performance review can be challenging with transitioning leaders.  We built flexibility into our performance management system and forms to allow choice by leaders as to who is the most appropriate leader to complete and discuss the evaluation with team members. We also specifically measure ‘leader availability’ and ‘following up on suggestions' to ensure that there is a strong feedback loop and regular connection and visibility points. We are continuously evaluating roadblocks and barriers such as administrative work and other responsibilities that keep our leaders from connecting as much as they could with team members.”

Action Planning in Response to Hourly Worker Feedback

Kristin Henderson, J.D. Irving: “We start with big focus groups, then we develop teams within each business and each unit and each department actually comes up with their plan and leads it. If someone needs some development on how to lead people or lead a process, we'll get them to serve as the leader and project manage it through the end. It gives us great buy-in. If needed, we'll give the leader some training. We might put them through some process or project management training so they understand the steps they need to take. Change management is so much easier when the people are involved in their action plans.”

Eric Blackmore, Retail Business Services: “We keep our philosophy simple. We find two to three elements within the results that we want to focus on. These don't have to be the lowest-scoring items. They're typically those things that are most important to growing our company's culture. Then we wrap those elements up in our company goals for the coming year so that they're top of mind and cascaded throughout the organization. This way, everyone is contributing to the success of the action item and feels as though they're helping that cause.”

The Impact of Inflation on Hourly Employees

Kristin Chase, Universal Parks and Resorts: “We are looking at options for affordable employee housing, but it is definitely a challenge. Our wages are continuously being reviewed and adjusted as appropriate, and some harder-to-hire specialized groups such as ride technicians, entertainment, and paramedics have recently been a focus for adjustments.  Overall, we are investing in a full review of the employee value proposition and what's most important to our team members now as we know expectations and needs have changed.”

Eric Blackmore, Retail Business Services: “We conduct regular market analyses to ensure our compensation is competitive within the markets in which we operate. Our philosophy is to focus on building strong, long-term compensation structures rather than making adjustments based on short-term, fluid economic factors. In one of our most important departments, we recently invested in our hourly associates, increasing the starting wage to be more comparable to similar roles in other companies.”

Employee Listening Across the Organization

Shanna Daugherty, Ahold Delhaize: “Organization structure influences greatly how we design our global survey.  Globally, we focus on a core set of questions that all brands are required to use. These typically center on things we report externally as well as those items that help us to better conduct analysis.  Brands then have the ability to select from additional opt-in questions to allow them to customize as needed to understand the experience their associates are having.  We have been able to shift to a fully-attributed survey across over 400,000 associates. That transition has increased the quality of the data we are receiving, allowing us to better understand segments of our population.  We are also looking to move to single sign-on [SSO] to create an easier user experience and increase data confidence.”

Kristin Chase, Universal Parks and Resorts: “We have a core global survey with a very small set of park-specific questions, most of which are for our Japan park.  We often get asked about analyzing data for front of house versus back of house, but interestingly there is a core set of recognition, value, communication, and leader connection concepts that are meaningful to ask about no matter what role you are in.  We are looking at pulse surveying a bit more frequently on areas being acted upon that may be selected by division leaders.  For administration, we have traditionally arranged a location to complete the survey to provide convenience and a ‘special event’ sense of amenities, rather than being cramped in a small break room to complete. We have invested in adding mobile tablets into the operations for greater device accessibility. We offer paid time to complete the survey on the clock.”

Gracelyn Kaine, J.D. Irving: “We have a standard survey approach for onboarding, annual, and exit surveys. The employee survey is part of our culture here at JDI and it is very important to ensure the voice of every employee is heard. We take time to review our results by slicing the data by hourly or staff, age, years of service, and various other demographics to ensure we understand our employees. Whether it is sending our HR teams into the mills, handing out iPads, or working in remote locations, our teams go through extraordinary means to gather the input of our employees so that we understand what matters to them most.”            

Perceptyx Can Help You Understand the Needs of Your Hourly Workforce

Whether your organization consists of hourly employees, salaried employees, or a mixture of both, Perceptyx’s people insight platform and professional expertise can help you understand the evolving needs of the people who are responsible for your business outcomes. For more information on how your organization can partner with Perceptyx, schedule a meeting with a member of our team.

To listen to the webinar in full, click here.

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