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Manufacture Success: Employee Retention in the Retail Lumber Industry

The pandemic has resulted in the biggest workforce culture shift in decades. One of the industries most affected is the lumber industry. The Great Resignation has rippled through the retail lumber sector, causing many employees to leave their jobs, never to return. What is the underlying issue? How can an employer improve employee retention during the Great Resignation?


Why Employees Leave

Employees leave for a number of reasons in any economy. They get a more lucrative job offer. They decide to go back to school and leave the industry. They have a life-changing event, like getting married, having a baby, retiring or moving out of the area. Some may just have grown tired of their job and want something more fulfilling or exciting. The pandemic increased the number of people who left their jobs for all of these reasons. More people decided to retire; more chose or were forced to work from home; and more decided that they wanted something different post-pandemic.

In the lumber industry, the pandemic drove retail lumber prices to an all-time high in May 2021. People stuck at home had more time for DIY projects, and demand soared at a time when supply and distribution systems were challenged. Many retail lumber employees worked long hours and overtime while their neighbors were at home collecting unemployment because the businesses they worked were closed. In other parts of the country, high lumber prices meant that employers had to cut employees. Once out of work, those employees found other ways to make money, both at home and in other industries.

The events of the last two years have put stress on lumber employees, enough to make them leave their jobs in droves. Retaining those employees who remain has never been more important. Below are a few suggestions on how you can make your workplace somewhere that employees want to stay.

How to retain employees

Employee retention incorporates a variety of factors. Just a few retention strategies you can try include:

Recruiting & Onboarding

Keeping good employees starts before they are even hired. Your first interactions with a recruit set the groundwork for potentially years of interaction. How do you present your company when you are interviewing a prospective employee? Do you discuss pay and benefits upfront? Do you clearly outline the job duties and responsibilities? Clearly stating what an employee can expect in the job helps prevent any misunderstandings once they are hired.

When it comes to training, do you simply have a new hire work with an existing employee, or do you have a set training protocol, complete with videos? Do you have an employee designated as your training coordinator to ensure every new employee gets the same information? In one pre-pandemic study, a lack of good training was cited by 25 percent of employees who quit their jobs. The study, funded by IBM, stated that “Employees who do not feel they can achieve their career goals at their current organization are 12 times more likely to consider leaving than employees who do feel they can achieve their career goals.”

Setting Goals

Setting goals and helping employees know that they are valued by your company is also important to employee retention. Employees should know what is expected of them and what they can hope to achieve by reaching set milestones. Upward mobility is also important. Employees want to know that they will be able to advance in the company if they put in the time.

Competitive Pay & Benefits

Pay, and to a lesser degree benefits, is the most important thing when attracting and keeping good employees. After all, no matter how much an employee enjoys his or her job, if they can’t pay their bills, they aren’t going to be happy in the long run. Minimum wage increases have created a mess when it comes to how small businesses handle compensation. The extra money they are forced to pay entry-level employees has to come from somewhere. With lumber prices already skyrocketing, few lumber retailers have felt comfortable raising prices. That means the extra has to come from profits and other employee pay, not an ideal situation. As a lumber retailer, you might offset the lack of raises for mid and higher-level employees by offering additional benefits that will offer your company a tax deduction, things like a 401(k) plan or eye care.

Other business owners are raising pay to keep employees. In 2015, Seattle-based Gravity Payments raised the minimum salary for all company employees to $70,000. Most of those employees are still with the company today. Think about how much you’ve spent on recruiting, hiring and training new employees over the past seven years. Maybe a higher wage is the right idea?

Workplace Culture

No one wants to work somewhere that’s tense or even hostile. However, a work atmosphere that’s too easygoing can promote bad customer service. Finding that perfect balance between the two is essential to keeping your good employees. Do this by giving your employees a say in major company decisions, listening to their suggestions and concerns and empowering your employees to make decisions in their areas.

A good work/home life balance is also essential, and employees are increasingly looking for a job that allows flexibility to do things like attend a child’s ballgame or take time off on a sunny day. One recent study found that half of employees surveyed said that a good work-home balance was why they stayed at their job. That was the top response, above things like doing interesting or challenging work (35%) and receiving good compensation and benefits (30%).

Health & Safety

Health and safety concerns can also cause employees to leave a company. Is your lumberyard unsafe? Are some of your employees ignoring OSHA standards and company safety rules? Make sure that your business is one in which employees feel safe.

Keeping quality employees has never been more challenging in the lumber industry. Help retain your good employees by creating a positive work environment, offering competitive or better compensation and benefits, making sure your workplace is safe, and offering a good work-life balance for employees.

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About The Author

Elton Mayfield

Elton's career spans media, production, digital and building industry expertise. His diverse experience makes him nimble, innovative, and curious – always pushing the envelope to create extraordinary work that delivers real results for our clients.

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