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Sunday, 14 October 2012 00:20

Summit shares best practices in employee retention

Written by  Stephanie Allen
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GRAND RAPIDS — In an ever-tightening race for talent, businesses that learn how to manage through on-the-job problems can have a leg up on the competition.

The reason: Whether an employee leaves or is let go, businesses incur costs related to employee turnover.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the average cost of replacing an $8 an hour worker is about $3,500 after all related costs were added up. That’s a cost that could be avoided in many cases, if businesses can learn how to properly handle non-traditional employees. There are plenty of personal obstacles that employees can face, which affects their performance at work.

In partnership with several West Michigan businesses, the Kent County Essential Needs Task Force and the Heart of West Michigan United Way, Michigan Works! of Kent and Allegan counties is hosting the “Eliminating Barriers Summit” on Oct. 19 to help local businesses learn ways to overcome common retention problems.

The program will feature several workshops to give employers a chance to work through real-life situations related to childcare, housing and transportation that their employees face on a regular basis, said Jane Kreha, marketing and communications coordinator at Michigan Works! for Kent and Allegan counties.

“We want to make them aware of those issues overall, but also let them know what particular resources we have in our community because there are quite a few that can help them help their employees,” Kreha said. “And a lot of employers are finding out that it’s really worth the time and effort to take care of these things before it begins to become a problem, and they lose good employees.”

One of those local resources is The SOURCE. The organization’s executive director, Randy Osmun, will open the summit with a discussion of critical issues related to employee retention.

The SOURCE is a support service that has specialized caseworkers on staff to help employees work through issues they might be having at work before a problem escalates into a situation that could potentially cost them their jobs.

“There’s a business argument that taking good care of your people actually creates more profit for your organization,” Osmun said.

During hands-on workshops, businesses will learn retention techniques that have worked for several West Michigan companies, including Butterball Farms and Cascade Engineering.

Representatives from The Rapid, the greater Grand Rapids transit authority, will lead one of the workshops discussing transportation issues pertaining to employee retention. Participants will map out bus routes in relation to their employee’s ZIP codes to visually understand challenges, and work with The Rapid to possibly alter routes.

“We’re hoping to find out what kind of transportation barriers are encountered by prospective employees, and work to provide viable solutions that will translate into sustained employment,” Bill Kirk, public outreach coordinator at The Rapid.

Other workshop topics include childcare, housing and soft skills — issues that Kreha said are hard for employers to manage. An employee might want to go to work, but circumstances just won’t allow it to happen.

Osmun has seen a change in the role of human resource departments over the past decade, which could be a cause for poor retention rates. Developing a trusting environment between the human resources department and employees is a way he said businesses could help keep well-trained, or eager employees.

“Many of the HR staff are no longer trained on how to deal with personal issues,” he said. “It’s risky to go to your HR staff if you need help.”

For some employers and HR professionals, the summit could be an important learning tool to understand that not everyone is an “ideal employee,” and that with proper techniques, they can increase productivity and satisfaction within the company.

“It’s important to realize that people come to work with messy lives that prevent them from doing the jobs that they really want to do,” Osmun said.

Planners urge employers and HR personnel to attend the free event, which runs from 8 a.m. to noon at the Applied Technology Center at Grand Rapids Community College in Grand Rapids. Workshop leaders include The Rapid and the Salvation Army Booth Family Services. Space is limited, and interested employers should register online at michiganworkska.org/summit.

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