CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
June 26, 2019
Career Ladder
Career Ladder

Is your grass the greenest? 10 ways to keep employees happy

As the forces of globalism and the proliferation of technology relentlessly level the proverbial playing field, it's safe to say that the men and women who manage your supply chain are everything.

Employees matter. In fact, as the forces of globalism and the proliferation of technology relentlessly level the proverbial playing field, it's safe to say that the men and women who manage your supply chain are everything.

Think about it. Your competitors have access to the same resources you do. That means many choices exist for both your customers and for your employees. If you're not seeking ways to nurture employees and meet their needs, they will seek "greener pastures"—and your customers will follow them over the fence.

Make no mistake: When employees start searching for new jobs, it's a bona fide disaster. After all, your employees are the face of your organization. They build strong relationships with customers and vendors, they know the ins and outs of your supply chain operation, and they train new hires and indoctrinate them into the company culture. On top of that, when you lose great employees, you also lose the benefit of access to their institutional memory.

Every time a great employee leaves, moreover, you have to pay for hiring and training his or her replacement— a cost that studies have shown could range from 70 to 200 percent of that person's annual salary.

To retain top supply chain talent in today's competitive market, the best approach is to make your pasture the greenest. That means becoming what I call a "vibrant entrepreneurial organization": a company with a culture that allows employees' sense of ownership to flourish. In the short run, it means making your company a place employees truly want to be. That doesn't always require a lot of cash, though; when salaries are commensurate with the marketplace, other factors take priority. Good people stay where they are challenged, where they have the opportunity to develop and contribute, and where their employers take care of the meaningful things that make their lives easier.

Although there are many things you can do to keep employees happy, here are 10 costeffective steps to consider taking right now.

1. Don't misrepresent your culture. What do you say to potential new hires about your company? Is it an accurate representation of how your organization works? Do you tell them about exciting opportunities only to hold them back from those assignments until they have more experience?

When new employees find out how things are really done, not only will they resent you, they'll likely find somewhere else to work. One insurance company learned this lesson the hard way after taking on 12 promising new hires whose values matched its own corporate goals. After only two years, all 12 of the new hires had left, and all cited the same reason: Management talked about values but didn't actually uphold them.

Every company should be honest about its work environment. If your corporate culture isn't quite what you'd like it to be, tell new hires about the type of company you are striving to become, how you are going to get there, and how they can help you achieve those goals. They'll find that kind of honesty refreshing, and it will help them get off to a great start.

2. Give employees opportunities to grow. Bored employees are neither happy nor productive. To keep your employees engaged and satisfied, present them with challenging assignments and provide them with opportunities to grow and develop both professionally and personally.

A great way to do that is by providing opportunities for them to improve existing skills or learn a new skill they can use in their jobs. Full or partial tuition reimbursement and in-house education are two possible approaches. If your funding options are limited, you can always help employees use their special skills and talents on the job. You can also encourage them to move around within the company. In other words, let your employees graze in other parts of your company's pasture!

3. Get creative with benefits. You don't have to provide employees with onsite medical care and stateof-the-art fitness centers. Most companies, in fact, can't afford to do that. But do recognize that employees care about what benefits you offer beyond those that are considered to be standard. Employees can get these "normal" benefits almost anywhere. It's up to you to be creative and figure out which company-paid benefits will mean the most to them.

Some options include providing access to drycleaning services, treating all of your employees to lunch once a week, or providing them with on-site educational programs delivered by local experts or company vendors in a variety of fields. Or take a cue from Qualcomm. In addition to offering an amazing health care package, the company caters dinner for employees who work late—a relatively inexpensive perk that is sure to please hungry, hardworking employees.

4. Help employees to achieve work/life balance. In today's high-tech world, it's easy to set employees up so that they can work from home. But here's the problem: Too many companies do this and then expect employees to be "on call" around the clock. If you give this impression, you're disrupting their work/life balance. Employees in today's workforce saw their parents give their lives to companies while missing soccer games, recitals, and family dinners. This generation is unwilling to let that happen to them.

Keep in mind, too, that as your employees progress in life, their needs will change. For example, after having a child, an employee may want to travel less often. And remember that as your "baby boomer" employees get older, so do their parents. Be understanding when they need to take time off to handle the health problems of Mom or Dad. By understanding employees' changing needs, you will build loyalty and help employees bring stability to their personal lives, which means that when they are at work, they can focus on getting the job done.

5. Create the kind of environment where people can do their best work. Is your work environment restrictive and stifling, or is it liberating and innovative? By allowing your employees to develop and implement their own ideas, you'll help keep them passionate about their work. Google is a leader in this regard. To show its appreciation for innovation, the company allows its engineers to spend 20 percent of their time on independent projects.

You should also make sure your employees have the basic resources they need. Do they have the equipment and software required to work efficiently? Nothing frustrates employees more than not having the tools they need to get the job done.

6. Insist that your employees take vacations. Several studies have shown that employees who take vacations are less stressed, lead a healthier lifestyle, and are at lower risk of having heart disease. All of that means lower health care costs for you. Furthermore, employees who get away from the office are less likely to suffer burnout, a problem that harms productivity levels.

And when employees are enjoying their time off, don't call them with problems that can wait until they return. Always encourage them to leave their laptops and work-related papers at the office. If they are able to completely disengage, they will come back with renewed spirit, which will help them reach their company goals.

7. Give praise where praise is due. If employees do a great job, let them know that their contributions have been noticed. And then let their coworkers and their customers know, too! Recognizing a job well done will mean the world to your employees.

One good way to call attention to outstanding performers on a regular basis is to create an employeerecognition program. You might give managers the authority to reward people on the spot—say, with a gift certificate or a small cash bonus, right then and there. One engineering consultancy even allows employees to reward one another with $50 bonuses. Recipients not only enjoy the rewards, they also see that what they're doing truly matters to their peers.

8. Conduct "stay" interviews regularly. Great employees like to hear about what they can do to make the company even better. Regular "stay" interviews with current employees provide an opportunity for leaders to compliment high performers on their great work. They also spark dialogue that can inspire employees to do more to help take the company to the next level of excellence.

Use these interviews to gauge how well you are meeting your employees' needs. Be open and honest with them and always seek out their suggestions on what you and the company can do to improve.

9. Recognize that great employees thrive under great leaders. Your employees won't leave you for that greener pasture unless you drive them to it. Responsibility starts and stops with their leaders. In fact, it's often been said that employees don't quit their job, they quit their managers.

Employees of great leaders will go to the ends of the earth to do a good job for them.

The flip side of that axiom is that employees working under poor leadership will simply go away. The lesson to be learned? Pay attention to your front-line managers. Keep a close eye on their relationships with employees and get rid of bad managers when necessary. If your employees see that you care about who you enlist as a leader, they'll feel more secure.

10. Create an environment of trust between employer and employee. As a leader, do you treat everyone with respect, regardless of position? Do you behave ethically and hold others accountable for their actions? When you have to take tough action, like terminating someone, do you follow proper procedure and treat the person with dignity? If employees see you treating someone else poorly, their level of trust diminishes and they don't care as much about doing a good job for you.

Always remember that trust is a two-way street. Your employees need to feel that you trust them as well.

To prove this, companies such as Chaparral Steel and Nucor Steel have opted to get rid of time clocks, and Best Buy has increased productivity at its headquarters by allowing some employees to set their own hours rather than work the typical 9 to 5 shift. Because employees in these companies feel trusted and appreciated, they show their gratitude by doing a great job.

The right thing to do
Striving to keep employees happy and engaged is not just a nice thing to do. It's the right thing to do if you want to create a successful business. Furthermore, there's a lot more involved than trying to retain people for retention's sake and to avoid the high cost of recruitment.

Fully engaged and satisfied employees are creative, productive, motivated, and brimming with good ideas. Follow the guidelines outlined here, and not only will your supply chain pros stay with you, they'll also be fully committed to their jobs and to your company's success.

Joanne G. Sujansky, Ph.D., CSP, is founder of Keygroup, a consulting firm that works with leaders to increase productivity and keep talent in their workplaces. For more information, visit

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