the 5 firsts of hourly employee retention

With the labor pool shrinking sources of new hourly recruits are drying up.

First impressions are lasting. Newly hired, hourly employees are not. Before they’ve been on the job just six months, more than 50% are gone. Some were probably not a good fit for the job in the first place, but some productive, dependable, hard-to-replace employees bolt as well. And contrary to what they may tell you, they didn’t really leave for more money.

“More money” is just a polite way of saying they were unhappy and went looking elsewhere for what we all want from our jobs—a sense of accomplishment, some personal recognition and the “can do” teamwork environment that makes us look forward to getting out of bed in the morning.

So what happens between the newhire’s enthusiastic acceptance of a joboffer and the day they leave? In a nutshell, the employee’s supervisor spendsmost of each day firefighting—dealingwith difficult employees and the problems they create. The dependable, self-directed people are left to fend for themselves, often because they can. It’s the“squeaky wheel” syndrome and there’s only so much oil to go around.

This wasn’t much of a concern yearsago when hourly employees were considered replaceable cogs in a perpetualwheel, but the labor pool is shrinkingand sources of new hourly recruits aredrying up. Now, more than ever,employee retention is crucial to customer satisfaction and bottom lineresults.

The good news is that keeping goodpeople on board doesn’t require a lot oftime. It does require small doses of quality time that make the most of those lasting first impressions:

1. The First Hour on the Job
Use the first hour to make the bestfirst impression possible. This is not thetime for completing paperwork or goingover safety rules. This is the time tomake introductions and to make theperson feel welcome and comfortable.It’s the time to explain why the job isimportant and how job performancewill affect customers and co-workersalike. This is the time to encourage theperson to ask questions and to givethem the answers they need to feelthey’ll fit in. Ask if they have any concerns or worries and then do whateverit takes to relieve them. Take the time toshare a little of the company’s history sothe new person feels like part of thefamily.

2. End of the First Day
Your new employee is reeling from aday filled with the unfamiliar—a newenvironment, new people, new policiesand procedures, and new responsibilities. This is the time for the supervisorto spend the last 15 minutes of that firstday debriefing, answering questions andensuring the new hire leaves with a positive impression. Once home, theemployee will inevitably be asked:“How was your day?” Your goal is forthe answer to be: “Great! It seems like agreat place to work.” It would be evenmore effective if the supervisor could dothis once more before the end of the firstweek.

3. End of the First Week
At the end of the first week, the manager or a representative from HumanResources needs to get with the newemployee to find out how the weekwent. This meeting is also an opportunetime to:

  • • Find out why they left their last job and why they took the job with your organization. This informal market research also helps reinforce in their minds that they made the right “buying decision.”
  • • Ask for new employee referrals by saying, “There must have been some other great people over at the company you just left. Of all those you worked with over there, who would you like to see working with you over here?” Find out why they think that person would be good and what they think it would take to get them to change jobs. Having an employee referral reward program in place gives you more leverage.

4. First Paycheck
Even though most companies usedirect deposit, the majority of first paychecks don’t get deposited that way andif we mess up any paycheck this is usually the one. If possible, make an end runaround this potential problem and pre-sent the first paycheck to the newemployee in person. If this isn’t possible,present the direct deposit slip to the newemployee in one of these two ways:

  • If the new employee has been great, this is the time to tell him or her what a pleasure it has been to have them on board (be specific about what they have accomplished) and tell them they have really earned their check. Thank you doesn’t cut it. Be specific.
  • If the person has not lived up to expectations, now is the time to tell them that you wanted to personally hand them their first paycheck, but you feel they have only earned 75% of it and the specific reasons why. This is an easy conversation the first pay period, but gets more difficult the longer they are with you.

5. First Year Anniversary
If you ask any group of 100 peoplewhat day they started work for theiremployer, 96% can tell you. That mustmean the day is an important one tomost people. One of the other keys tokeeping great employees is to createtimes of fun and camaraderie. Look forreasons to celebrate. One of the obviousones is an employment anniversary.Some companies or departments haveone celebration each month thatincludes birthdays and employmentanniversaries.

In others, both anniversaries andbirthdays are acknowledged by a cardand small gift—a gift certificate, an afternoon off, movie passes, etc. It’s not soimportant what specifically is done, it’sthe acknowledgement and encouragement that count.

First impressions really are lasting,but too many employers still hold to theold-world view that it is up to theiremployees to impress them, and that stillholds true. But it would be to youradvantage if it were a reciprocal agreement. Get out in front of the curve andtake these five first opportunities toimpress every new hourly employeewith the respect, acknowledgement, andappreciation that keeps them motivatedand on your team.

Mel Kleiman is a consultant, author, and Certified Speaking Professionalon strategies for hiring and retaining the best hourly employees. He is thepresident of Humetrics, a developer of systems, training, processes, andtools for recruiting, selection, and retention of the best hourly workforce.Mel’s books include the best-selling Hire Tough Manage Easy and 267 HireTough Interview Questions. You can reach Mel at (800) 218-0930,, or