Solid support for employees boosts morale, cuts turnover

When was the last time you bought a lottery ticket? It was a few years ago for me. For no special reason, I felt a surge of luck that day and went for it. It was a good call — I won $50.

If you won $50 today, what would you buy? Dinner for two or a new pair of shoes? A power tool or books for school? How about something really basic — a tank of gas. Yup, that’s what it’s come to. With the meteoric leap in fuel costs, consumers are making $50 trade-offs they hadn’t dreamed of considering before.

Some people are getting mad and doing something about it; like Doug Adams, the owner of EFC International. EFC provides specialty metal, plastic and electrical component parts to the OEM and distribution marketplace. You may have read about Adams’ pump payout for employees in a Soundings Trade Only blog. But wait, there’s more. It’s not just gas money that’s involved here; it’s also a rich helping of solid management principles and supportive leadership style.

Adams was frustrated that gas prices were going through the roof, and he didn’t want to risk losing highly valued employees who had to drive long distances to work. His formula helps employees buy gas with a monthly payout that calculates days worked and actual round-trip miles from their home to the office. These values are then factored with base figures of 20 miles to the gallon and $2.50 for a gallon of gas. A comparison is made to local average gas prices per month to determine the gas payout each person receives.

Play with the numbers and you’ll find an employee who drives 40 miles round-trip to work each day, pays an average gas price of $3.50 per gallon and works 20 days per month, will receive an extra $40 to help cover gas expenses for that month ($1 per gallon difference multiplied by two gallons per day at 20 miles per gallon times 20 days). Each month can change depending on days worked and the local average monthly gas price.

This $40 example is enough to shout about, but there’s more you’ll want to hear.

I asked Adams what his pump payout program has done for morale. Any guesses?

Adams told me morale was already pretty strong, but now it’s off the charts. The program is fair and applies to everyone relative to miles driven — including carpooling employees who share the benefit. Great managers and leaders often evoke a supportive demeanor and open communication style. Both these elements are alive and well in this scenario and provide super building blocks for robust and energetic work environments.

Let’s run through a few other positive management practices that are part of the program at EFC:
There’s interaction and discussion between management and employees on a regular basis — that’s a biggie. No secrets. Information is shared and everyone is kept up to date through a weekly newsletter, regular access to the boss and lots of group lunches.

This upbeat exchange has its roots in another basic principle for great management: taking the time to hire right. With the right people in the right roles, it often is easier to resolve issues quickly and fairly. Employees tend to be happier from the start when they are hired into jobs they enjoy and have the skills and tools to perform well. Of course, this produces another benefit to management — low turnover. The company is 25 years old, has 92 employees, and many of the workers at EFC are longtime employees with a fair number having worked for the company since its inception.

What are the top three things that make this leadership style successful? Adams told me it’s this: 1) Hire high-quality people who are out-of-the-box thinkers; 2) Care about people and provide a mutually supportive atmosphere; and 3) Respect everyone — be honest with them and keep them informed.
Since this is a manufacturing company; what do you get when you assemble all these parts? You produce a productive, open and fun work environment. Most individuals would rather work with people who care about each other and have fun at the same time. The payback is huge.

You have happier employees and lower turnover, with other “bubbling-over” benefits that often include higher work quality, increased productivity, low absenteeism and fewer errors and rework, and that translates into better cost control. Throw in the adage that the highly satisfied customer is the product of the highly satisfied employee, and you’re onto something.

Now for the icing on the cake: compensation, recognition and rewards — all positive management principles. Great places to work usually embrace a sense of community and shared goals, along with appreciation and compensation for employee efforts. There may not be a perfect place to work, but favorable compensation plans always are in play at companies highly rated in the “I want to work there” category.

At EFC, when employees reach selected anniversaries with the company, Adams provides them with extra pay and extra time off so they can take a “required” vacation with their families. Holidays are regularly celebrated with group lunches, and team spirit is always in the background with side programs of various flavors. The latest was their version of “The Biggest Loser,” a program employees started to encourage each other to lose weight. In this case, both workers and management kicked into the pot with winner-take-all to the person shedding the most pounds. Other recognition gestures go to everyone in the company with a small, twice-a-year corporate amenity. This gift always carries a corporate logo (shared pride) and might be a rolling cooler in the spring or an umbrella in the fall.

Are you practicing these types of positive management principles in your organization? If not, it’s well past time to start. Adams told me his fuel reimbursement program began May 1, and he’ll continue it for at least one year. A lot of folks have heard about his pump payout idea and have adopted it or are considering a similar approach. His program has been featured in news items from Maine to Texas and points in between, including St. Louis, Chicago and Atlanta, where his facilities are located.

Everybody likes a good story that demonstrates great management going the extra mile. If you win $50 playing the lottery, you might buy a food processor like I did a few years ago or today you may simply grimace and buy a tank of gas. When talking about employees at EFC, they have the benefit of a top-notch boss who is making the painful price of gas a little easier to manage.

They don’t have to have a lottery ticket to help cover the high cost of fuel, and I’ll bet that makes them feel pretty lucky.

Mary Elston has spent more than 20 years in management in the transportation, consulting and technology industries. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and author of the book, “Master Your Middle Management Universe, How to Succeed with Moga Moga Management Using 3 Easy Steps.” Contact her at: mary@masteryoursuccess.com

This article originally appeared in the August 2008 issue.


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