Employees who love their jobs perform better and stay with their companies longer. However, according to Gallup, only 15% of employees worldwide are truly engaged in their current roles. Put another way, this year, 52% of U.S. workers plan to hunt for a new job, and of those, 54% landed their current job less than a year ago, Adtaxi reports.

That speaks to a larger trend of smart business owners creating cultures that appeal to workers’ needs, like a work-life balance or flex time. But first, you need to find, train and retain the right employees.

“The most difficult aspect of hiring and training employees is finding the right match for the employee and your company,” says Linda Gadwood, owner of Omaha, NE-based LogoLinda LLC.. “From the company side, [that means finding] someone who’ll show up and be fully engaged with my business. From the employee side, [they’re looking for] a company that allows them to use their talents.”

We asked four industry business owners and experts to weigh in on six key areas for finding and retaining the best employees.

1. Put out the call for the best job candidates.

You need to match the right people to positions where they’ll excel. That begins with creating comprehensive job descriptions. Then, it’s about carefully interviewing candidates to learn if they have the chops and personality to fill that position and fit in with your company culture.

Lots of decorators and distributors have used Indeed.com successfully to begin the recruiting process. “I placed a free ad on Indeed.com and received 42 responses within just four days,” says Rosemarie Fralick, president of Whitney Point, NY-based Advanced Graphics Wear & Promotions. She’s also used newspaper ads, referrals from other employees and even a post on a grocery store bulletin board to help build a list of potential candidates.

It’s key to find out what methods work best in your locale. “The Nextdoor app recently helped us fill a part-time position [for an embroidery operator,” says Gadwood, who has five employees.

Post job ads on social networks, too. “The bottom line is to be very clear in your expectations for the position and experience level you need,” says Joyce Jagger, The Embroidery Coach at TheEmbroideryCoach.com, who coaches and trains embroidery business owners.

Besides requiring a high school diploma or GED, Fralick, who currently has five employees, knows how to spot the right candidates. “Finding someone with the exact same skills is usually rare, so I look for related skills,” she says. “For example, I’ve found [that] people who sew [can also become]  good embroiderers.” 

2. Rock the interview process.

Depending on the position, Jagger asks: “Can you stay focused on the job or task for a period of time? Can you recognize problems and solve them? Do you have any limitations that prevent you from performing the job duties?” She also looks for red flags. “If a candidate keeps interrupting or they talk too much, they’re not a good match,” she says. “A know-it-all attitude isn’t for me. However, if they listen, respond and ask questions, we’re headed in the right direction.”

Savvy interviewers also ask questions to find out whats a job candidate’s long-term aspirations might be. That includes where they see themselvese in a year, three years or five years. “My goal is to get them to talk about themselves, so I learn about their life goals and overall attitude,” Fralick says. “It’s amazing what people will say.”

For Gadwood, employees who take responsibility win out. “We all make mistakes, but we require employees to own the problem from the beginning,” she says. “If they’re interested in the blame game, it won’t work in our shop.”

She also uses outside companies to conduct background screenings and additional structured telephone interviews, which help her determine a candidate’s suitability.

During the interview conversation, it’s also important to show candidates the opportunities your company offers. If joining your team allows them to learn new skills and advance within your shop, talented people are more likely to accept your offer and stay long-term.

Ultimately, home in on each hire’s strengths and weaknesses, and assign job duties based on their strong points. “Make sure your new employee’s work aligns with your overall business goals,” says Chad-Eric Montgomery aka “Chad Rico”, founder of Oakland, CA-based Gold & Gems. a clothing line, film production and music company with 10 contract employees. “Also, hire people who are comfortable with change.”

3. Train new employees so they know what you expect.

Fralick has training plans in place for each of her shop’s job roles. These plans include all the steps they have to master, along with written directions. “We use checklists so employees clearly move through their training,” she says. “They feel a sense of accomplishment, but they also can’t say at a later date, that they didn’t receive training.” Fralick keeps these records in each employee’s file, and gives them a copy of their training manual to keep at their workstations after the formal training period. “You can refer to these tools when you’re doing performance reviews,” she says.

Although Fralick hires for specific processes, she also makes sure to cross-train her employees. “For example, the employee who engraves our awards products is also our backup embroiderer and can help trim as well,” she says.

Jagger recommends writing scripts for new employees who’ll work with your customers. “Have them role play and interact in real scenarios,” she says. “They’ll learn how you expect them to represent your firm.”

4. Motivate and reward great employees.

When she owned her embroidery shop, Jagger used to swing by McDonald’s and pick up hot fudge sundaes for her 32 employees. Now she gives her team of two Amazon gift cards.  “No matter what you give, they need to know you care about them personally and you’re grateful for what they do,” she says.

The first step? “Figure out what your people like,” Montgomery says. “This could entail surveying or simply engaging in conversation with your employees.” That’s right on the money: Employees who feel their rewards meet their needs are seven times more likely to be engaged with work compared to employees who don’t feel that way, Alight Solutions reports.

As a general best practice, create a great work environment. That could include free coffee or a pool table in the break room. You could hold a monthly pizza lunch to celebrate employees’ birthdays. Or, reimburse employees for gym memberships. “Let people know they make a difference,” Gadwood says. “The phrase ‘good job’ never wears out.”

Creating some type of rewards system for jobs well done is non-negotiable. “I don’t think there’s any better reward than cash—an unexpected bonus,” Gadwood says. Gift cards are also huge. A recent study by the Retail Gift Card Association said that 91% of people who received a gift card as an incentive liked it. You can also give employees the opportunity to personalize them by choosing from a list of popular brands.

Especially for your sales team, offer experiential rewards for hitting their quotas, such as a spa day, golf lessons or a subscription service. “You can hold monthly sales contest and reward the top sellers with the gift of the month,” Jagger says. These gifts could include cash, tablets, smart watches, an embroidered jacket or even the opportunity to attend paid training.

5. Offer benefits employees want most.

While many employees show that health benefits and retirement funds are important benefits, not all businesses can provide those. There are other ways to incentivize great employees. According to Randstad, these are the top reasons people leave a job: insufficient pay (44%), limited career paths (43%), lack of challenging work (30%), work-life balance (28%) and lack of recognition (27%).

To promote ongoing training and advancement opportunities, for example, Gadwood uses Jagger’s online Embroidery Training Resource Center as a continual resource for her employees. “The videos on that training website help a new hire learn about best practices,” she says. “As they advance, they learn all aspects of running the machine and they get exposed to the language of embroidery.”

Requiring employees to stick to a strict 9-to-5 schedule, or asking them to come in early or stay late on a regular basis, is a motivation killer. Consider that employees who have a good work-life balance are 10% more likely to stay at their companies than those who don’t, according to TINYpulse. “The biggest thing I offer is flex time,” Fralick says. “I’m understanding when they have family obligations. That can be hard when production levels are high. But in the end, I’m the one rewarded, as they come in and work twice as hard to make up the time.”

Paid-time off and holidays are a huge must for many employees, too. Other benefits include maternity and paternity leave. “Our full-time employees receive paid vacation, paid personal time and their birthday off, plus all the major holidays,” Fralick says. “The amount of paid vacation time increases the longer an employee is with us.”

6. Act, when an employee isn’t your right match.

Not all employees will work out in the long run. That’s why you need to have some policies in place for each new hire. First up, provide them with job training. “Your basic process should be that they’re on a 30-day trial period that you can extend to 90 days,” Jagger says. “Every three to six months, do a review and a skills assessment. You can consider a raise if they’re doing well.”

Fralick works closely with new hires during the first three months. “We want them to be successful in their new position,” she says. “If they can’t grasp the job duties in that time frame, we separate.”

For more seasoned employees, if Fralick notices an issue like high absenteeism, chronic lateness or a drop in productivity, she gives a verbal warning. “If the behavior persists, we give three written warnings that the employee signs and is placed in their file,” she says. “After the third warning, we let them go.”

Finally, and this should be obvious, but you need to give your employees quarterly and yearly goals to hit. This is especially important for your salespeople, so they know what success looks like in your business. The goals you set should be measurable and achievable, of course.

Ultimately, finding, training and keeping great employees is personal and unique to every business. The bottom line? Staying in tune with your employees’ motivations, strengths and weaknesses, will help you get the best results from them, and more importantly, give them a reason to stay.

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