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Help Your Employees Stay Engaged, And Stay!

What's the best way for consumer tech businesses and retailers to invest in and retain employees?

(Photo credit: Sora Shimazaki from Pexels)

Employers are wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth trying to grok the Great Resignation.

“If you are thinking, ‘Oh good, the pandemic is over and now things can return to normal,’ you had better think again,” advises Ted Green, president of The Stratecon Group, a tech business consulting company. “Employees cited low pay, unappreciative/disrespectful management, and dead-end jobs with no reasonable path for advancement,” Green continued. “And the continuing labor shortage puts business owners/managers in competition for candidates – and candidates are more demanding than ever before.”

So how do you keep the Great Resignation from consuming your consumer tech company? To paraphrase that great political truth: it’s the training, stupid.

“There’s a lot of talk about the Great Resignation and about the idea of the magic pill. Amongst many being presented is that you need to invest in your employees,” notes David Lewis, CEO of the Norwalk, CT-based HR consulting and training firm OperationsInc. “And what better way to do that than to provide [your employees] with training that’s designed to improve their skills, improve their capabilities.”

In the age of Covid, in-person training, certainly the favored and most effective type of training, has obviously been a challenge. Virtual training for employees, distracted by everything else around them and suffering from Zoom Fatigue, has proved to be not nearly as effective. While in-person training is slowly returning, along with certification sessions held at conferences such as CEDIA, training is critical to keep your employees from hittin’ the bricks.

“We’re constantly training ’cause in our industry nothing stays the same,” agrees David Young, founder and president of The Sound Room in Chesterfield, MO. “People who are motivated like the fact that we train them and we offer them some upwards mobility.”

Image credit: CatalystAV

Training, Plus

There’s a danger in spending money on employee training, of course – you make a serious financial investment in an employee…and they leave for greener pastures.

But the answer isn’t “don’t spend.”

“If somebody wants to ask me, ‘well, what if you spend all this money on employee and they leave,'” Young poses. “My answer has always been, ‘what if I don’t and they stay?'”

So, if you’re going to invest in training, how do you retain your now more valuable employees? “You need to have a plan for how you’re going to take the person who now has these added capabilities and turn that into something that makes them more likely to stick around and be a part of your organization’s future,” Lewis explains.

“I have to show them a plan, show them what you’re going to do to improve their skills,” Young concurs, “which in turn improves their worth, not only to themselves but to us.”

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Tell Me What It Means To Me

One practical “sticky” strategy is offering your staffers not necessarily promotions but more challenges. According to recent MIT Sloan Management Review research, “[w]hen employees talk positively about lateral opportunities — new jobs offering fresh challenges without a promotion — they are less likely to quit… Offering lateral job opportunities for employees, for example, is 2.5 times more predictive of retention than compensation.”

“Most employees will tell you: OK, well, if you’re gonna give me training, and let’s say it’s training for me to be a better manager or to be a manager at all, you’ve got to give them the opportunity to manage and lead,” Lewis concurs. “A lot of companies miss this. It’s like teaching somebody how to ride a bike and then taking the bike away.”

More basically, “let employees know you appreciate their efforts, show them respect, and take time to give them a sense of purpose,” says Green. “Show empathy and come up with solutions to adjust their schedule so they can better blend their home life with their work life.”

More specifically, the MIT Sloan research indicates employee desire for scheduling stability, finding that a predictable schedule is six times more powerful in predicting front-line employee retention than having a flexible schedule.

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It’s the Culture, Stupid

In addition to training and appreciation, what makes an employee more likely to either stick around or leave is your company culture. According to the MIT Sloan research, a toxic corporate culture, which includes failure to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, along with workers feeling disrespected, “is by far the strongest predictor of industry-adjusted attrition and is 10 times more important than compensation in predicting turnover.” The study suggests company-organized social events, including happy hours, team-building excursions, potluck dinners, and other activities outside the workplace play a key role in a healthy corporate culture.

“We’ll do like company events and employee recognition events and different things outside of work that help the culture of the company,” Young confirms. “They feel like they belong to more of a tribe as opposed to just some unknown number in a big company. People like to belong to something meaningful, and we try and provide that meaningful experience, that feels like they’re doing something meaningful and something that they’re passionate about. Certainly in the consumer electronics you know there’s a lot of passion.”

Of course, the state of your corporate culture pre-Covid is not necessarily what it is now. “Every company who sent all their employees home in March of 2020 because of Covid are now reconvening in some iteration, but not exactly the same way that they were running things prior to COVID, are having to re-establish or redefine what their culture is,” Lewis advises.

It’s The Economy, Stupid

Of course, money plays an important part in keeping your staff satisfied. “I would review your company’s pay structure,” Green councils. “Longtime employees locked into incremental annual increases may discover that in today’s market, they are underpaid. Offer bonuses and rate increases in accordance with the current market.”

Pay equity is especially important in the tech business. “Technicians are a hot commodity and they’re hard to find,” Young observes, “and sometimes they’re going to a commercial firm that can pay them quite a bit more.”

Training, appreciation, corporate culture, and fairer compensation “will pay off in the long run if you can hang on to your experienced, productive employees,” Green asserts, “rather than trying to onboard an inexperienced newbie that you will have to train for weeks to get to a productive point. It’s just good business.”

See also: Another View: How To Avoid Payment Roadblocks In The Shopper Journey