Training and development are critical to creating a strong employee experience.
“It varies by individual, but one of the main reasons people leave is because they’re not getting opportunities to develop or grow,” says Kristen Reid, executive vice president of Mixtec Group, BB #:152072 based in La Crescenta, CA. “It’s not necessarily about being promoted. They want to develop a new skill set.”
Some companies pay for employees to receive education credits, whether they’re doing field work, on the packing line, or in management.
Vanessa Hall, managing partner of Performant Scout, LLC, BB #:300377 Phoenix, AZ, says companies should be attuned to workers’ desired career paths.
“Employees are allowed to voice their interests, and the company responds by allowing them to pursue and develop their careers in that direction,” she says.
This could mean sending employees to events and conferences or investing in training or one-on-one coaching.
Another top reason employees leave is not getting along with their supervisors. Training can help here as well.
“You have to train your managers to be effective managers,” says Jeff Oliver, owner of Oliver Search Consulting BB #:274674 in Fresno, CA, an executive search company, who notes manager training sometimes falls by the wayside.
Another factor increasingly critical to employee experience and retention is work-life balance.
“Work-life balance is huge,” Hall says. “We hear it time and time again in the produce industry.”
“Produce companies struggle with balance, but post-Covid, there might be more flexibility since employees got used to working from home,” says Reid.
The Employee Experience Index report, from the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute and Workhuman Research Institute, found there was a 31 percentage-point increase in employee experience when work schedules are flexible, and a 35 percentage-point bump when employees have an opportunity to recharge when they are not at work.
Work-life balance is part of a broader trend for wellness in the workplace. The Employee Expectations Report found well-being concerns in the workplace increased 17 percent globally in 2019.
Of course, balance can be notoriously difficult to achieve in a food-related industry, especially if dealing in fresh produce.
“It’s very demanding and quick paced, the product is highly perishable, you have to work Saturdays, and there are long hours, especially in peak seasons,” says Nathan Stornetta, director of client relations and executive recruiter at Produce Careers, Inc., BB #:164340 with locations in Arroyo Grande, CA, and Carmel, IN.
Produce companies are increasingly aware of the need to retain employees by creating a positive employee experience. But the high workload, unpredictability, and financial realities sometimes put these issues on a back burner.
“It’s not always easy, especially since many companies are thinly staffed, margins are low, and there are always surprises to be dealt with,” says Rex Lawrence, president of Sacramento, CA-based Joe Produce, LLC, BB #:364007 an executive recruiting service and online job center.
That said, companies are hiring dedicated HR staff.
“We’re hearing more need for higher-level strategic HR leaders who can make companies best-in-practice employers, and not just for compliance,” says Reid, noting that many companies didn’t have them in the past, “but they’re starting to now, even in the smaller companies. It’s not just about staying legal, owners are seeing HR as a strategic partner.”
With Covid-19, many produce-related companies struggled as restaurants shut down for months or went out of business entirely. The resulting recession didn’t help either and will likely have an impact on retail sales, in general, in the coming months.
Many companies have had to do more with less, a trend that will continue and possibly increase in the coming months and year.
This means it will be more crucial than ever to retain the best people and to be able to maintain a strong company culture even with remote employees. It is also important to provide value through meaningful work, an actualized work-life balance, and let workers know they have support for their desired career path.
This is a multi-part feature adapted from a story in the September/October issue of Produce Blueprints magazine.