Keeping Your Best Employees

May 8, 2003 - 11:05

Good employees can make or break your company; find out how to keep the good ones.

Quality employees are not a luxury; they are essential to
achieve sales, customer service and financial and growth goals.

The challenge for greenhouse managers is to provide
permanent jobs that are attractive to people whom other employers are trying to
hire, as depending on temporary employees who are waiting for a better job to
come along guarantees never-ending labor headaches.

The best way to keep star employees is to convince them that
they have excellent jobs and that their greenhouse employer provides an excellent
place to work. Job design, team building and employer reputation are the key
ingredients. Greenhouse managers are the builders. Their focus should be
employees, and they should emit happiness. Why should employees be pleased to
continue working at a greenhouse managed by someone not proud of what they have
to offer?

Design Employee-friendly Jobs

Capitalize on employees' interests and the advantages they
see in producing plants. People who love plants are motivated by the
opportunity to work with plants. Some employees like customers more than
plants; others like tools and production equipment. Some enjoy repairing
equipment more than using it.

Managers first need to consider the tasks that must be
accomplished for the greenhouse to succeed. Then, they need to consider what
individuals want in their jobs. Sometimes minor changes in job design can
dramatically improve an employee's view of a job, e.g., having some input into
improving signage, more customer contact or less time watering.

Job design cannot overcome the fact that no job is perfect.
Greenhouse jobs have some disadvantages that managers need to address when
designing jobs. Each of the following job expectations often appear in employee
complaints: reasonable number of work hours per day and per week, proper
equipment in good repair, well-lighted and ventilated work areas, training,
some flexibility in scheduling work hours and regular communication with the

First, design jobs that encourage and motivate employees to
use a variety of skills. Think about why assembly line jobs are boring.
Standing in one place using only one or two skills to do the same thing over
and over is not satisfying for most people.

Second, design jobs so employees stay with a job from start
to finish. Even a simple door repair task may be more satisfying if one person
has the responsibility of doing everything, including determining what parts
are needed, buying parts, taking the door apart, replacing parts, reassembling
and testing.

Third, design jobs so employees understand the significance
of their jobs. Why is customer service important? What problems are caused
later on if shortcuts are taken with young plants? Employees should have
answers to these kinds of basic questions.

Fourth, design jobs so each employee has responsibility,
challenge, freedom and the opportunity to be creative. This requires delegation
of some authority. Delegation can be a powerful tool for improving a job.
"You can do the job however you want as long as you get results."
Such words, delegation and responsibility can have positive impacts on

Finally, make feedback a part of job design. Well-designed
jobs anticipate the need for communication. Most employees want to know what is
expected of them, how they are doing, how they can improve, what latitude they
have in changing how they do tasks, what should be discussed with a supervisor
and when the discussion should occur. Employees rarely complain about too much
communication with their supervisor. They often want more communication.

Build a Team

Saying "We are a team" is easy; actually
functioning as a team is difficult. Making employees feel important often
starts with how employers view employees. Are employees working managers or
managed workers? Having employees who function as working managers suggests
that each person in the business has ideas on how to improve the business. Even
those people incapable of understanding much about the business beyond their
own jobs may have ideas about how to do their jobs better. Useful suggestions
often stay hidden inside employees' heads when they do not feel they are an
important part of the business.

Emphasize team building. Teams are built through four
stages: forming, storming, norming and performing. In the forming stage, employees
break the ice with each other, become oriented to store goals and begin to
exchange ideas. The forming stage is particularly important when integrating
new employees with established employees. Storming is the stage of conflict,
open disagreement and the surfacing of conflicting ideas. Hidden disagreements
constrain trust and team growth. Norming follows from resolving conflicts. Team
harmony and unity arise. By this stage, team members' roles are clear. By the
performing stage, the team is functioning well. The entire team solves problems
for the good of the business.

Turnover among team members forces the team to retreat to a
previous stage of development followed by rebuilding. Sometimes the retreat is
all the way back to the forming stage. Clearly, a continuous rebuilding of the
team negatively affects longer-term employees. Thus, employee satisfaction and
employee turnover are closely related. Too often, the impact of turnover on
other employees is ignored.

Rewarding only individual efforts sends a strong signal to
employees that the business is a collection of individuals rather than a team.
An employer should avoid saying, "We are a team" and then encouraging
employees to look out first for their own interests. Start by asking how the
perennial plant team is doing or how the sowing team is doing. Then ask how
individuals within these teams are doing.

Build a reputation

One's reputation is highly personal. The good news is that
each employer "owns" his or her reputation in the community. Being known
as a good place to work immediately gives new employees pride. They speak with
enthusiasm to relatives and friends about their job and start with a positive
mindset about their jobs, coworkers, supervisors and responsibilities.

The following is a list of guidelines, strategies, policies
and practices that will help. Some of these overlap with job design and team
building already discussed.

Like, Enjoy and Appreciate Employees style='font-weight:normal'>. The manager's attitude toward employees can have a
Á great impact on the relationship. Employees easily sense the extent to
which their employer likes, enjoys and appreciates them. An employer with a
poor attitude needs to examine its impact on their business's reputation as a
good place to work.

A few bad experiences with just one or two employees can
sour one's attitude. Step back and put the bad experiences in the context of
all employees over the last few months and years. Work hard to prevent a single
employee or a few employee incidents from poisoning an attitude toward
employees in general.

Use Written Job Descriptions. Employees like to know what they have been hired to do. As
responsibilities change, they like to have an explicit understanding with their
supervisor. Employees also appreciate knowing what managers do and what their
coworkers do. Job descriptions provide an excellent foundation for performance
evaluations and discussion of training needs.

Provide Training.
Few people enjoy doing what they cannot do well. Training is an investment in
people. An employer's willingness to make this investment in employees helps
build a positive image among employees, customers and others in the community.

Show Trust. Show
trust in employees by delegating authority and responsibility to them. The
delegation helps satisfy employees' esteem needs and improves their sense of
being part of a team. A bonus from delegating is the time the manager gains
that can be applied to more important tasks.

Catch People Doing Things Right style='font-weight:normal'>. Performance appraisals that emphasize the positive
will help build the reputation of the employer. Focusing on the negative by
catching people doing things wrong and then correcting them causes employees to
fear, or at least dread, performance appraisals. Emphasizing the negative
creates an air of assumed guilt rather than the desired air of competence and

Develop Pride.
Building widespread pride in the greenhouse is a long-term effort. Getting
recognition, such as customers' success stories and articles in the local
media, can help. Employee recognition outside the organization and public shows
of appreciation also help. Providing employees with attractive hats, shirts and
jackets, with their name and the company logo, that they can wear outside of
work sends a message that employees are glad to be part of your business.

Celebrate Successes.
Teams are expected to work together to accomplish goals. They should also
celebrate together when the goals are accomplished. Celebrations express the
employer's appreciation.

Communicate Clearly and Often. Staff meetings, a daily break period including supervisors and
employees, a message board, two-way radios, clear instructions, opportunities
to ask questions, regular performance appraisals and joint planning are just a
few examples of how managers can facilitate communication. An employee
complaint of too much communication is rare. A complaint of not enough
communication is common.

Compensate Fairly.
The fairness of compensation -- a very important matter -- depends on both
external equity and internal equity. Greenhouse employers and their employees
measure external equity by comparing their pay with what employees could be
earning elsewhere in the community, given their abilities and experience.
Internal equity measurers how one employee's compensation compares to that of
others within the business who are doing work with similar value to the
organization. Paying only on the basis of how long a person has worked at the
company can cause the most valuable employees to earn less than a long-term
average worker.

Provide Exceptional Monetary Benefits style='font-weight:normal'>. Total compensation includes both cash wages and
monetary benefits such as health insurance, paid vacation, paid sick leave,
retirement programs, housing and utilities, uniforms, overtime pay and pay
differentials, e.g., holidays and weekends. A store's reputation can be
considerably enhanced by offering benefits employees consider exceptional. A
cafeteria of benefits allows employees to make choices based on their needs and
preferences. Offering choices need not increase the employer's cost for

Provide Extraordinary Informal Benefits style='font-weight:normal'>. Informal rewards either have no out-of-pocket cost
or are low cost in terms of the employee's total compensation. Some examples
are: birthday cards sent to employees' children; supervisor attending all
weddings, baptisms and birthday parties to which invited by an employee; taking
a course in the language spoken by non-English-speaking employees; personally
greeting each employee each day; seeking out an employee just to say thank you;
offering an "employee of the year" award with the recipient chosen by
other employees; and giving an especially deserving employee tickets to a sold
out sporting event or concert. Only the employer's creativity limits the potential.

Promote from Within.
Promoting from within recognizes an employee's contributions and shows the
employer's confidence in the employee. It also sends a signal to other
employees that they have career advancement opportunities without changing

Become Family friendly.
Child rearing, finding reliable childcare and emergencies caused by illness are
examples of family factors that cause employee frustrations. These same factors
can cause tardiness and absenteeism.

Making your business family friendly means anticipating
these family-caused frustrations and pressures and helping employees deal with
their family responsibilities. Some ideas to consider: providing child care at
or near the greenhouse, offering emergency child care, providing a list of
child care providers in the community, allowing flexible hours and job sharing
and offering health insurance with family coverage. Family-friendly measures
increase the cost of labor, but they also help attract and keep qualified

In Summary

Remember that corporate success goes hand in hand with
employee success. Employee turnover, unqualified employees, employees satisfied
to just get by, labor shortages and self-focused employees are chronic
frustrations for all managers. Making your greenhouse an appealing place to
work helps overcome these frustrations and builds a high-quality labor force.

The three interrelated guidelines discussed in this article
can help: 1) design jobs with employees in mind, 2) build a team and make
employees an important part of that team and 3) build a reputation as an
outstanding employer. Immense benefits await greenhouses able to use these

About The Author

Bernie Erven is professor of agricultural economics and extension specialist at Ohio State University. His extension and outreach program focuses on labor management topics such as hiring, training, motivation, compensation and performance evaluation. He may be reached by E-mail at

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