Labor shortages, combined with impacts from COVID-19 outbreaks, continue to dampen the labor market. The most significant disruptions have been focused in the sectors of leisure and hospitality, professional, wholesale, construction and transportation/warehousing industries.
The shifts in the labor market are inspiring Sysco to explore new ways of working and think differently about how to better retain our associates and broaden the labor pool for roles such as drivers. Even before the pandemic, the transportation sector was experiencing a shortage of drivers—a critical role in our business—and the pandemic has only exacerbated this situation.
In response, we’ve developed a driver academy to train high-performing talent within Sysco who want to advance their career. It’s a unique program in our industry designed to train our drivers to be successful in Sysco’s ways of working and also to obtain a commercial driver’s license. The academy is already training new cohorts of drivers. Every new driver will eventually attend this program, greatly enhancing the onboarding experience and increasing our ability to retain these valuable associates over time.
At Sysco, we’ve experienced three key takeaways as a result of the Great Resignation: drive transformation across the organization, strengthen our company culture and provide leadership development opportunities.
One benefit resulting from the crisis is the need and drive to accelerate transformation. If everything was business as usual, it would take years to pilot new ways of working. Because of COVID-19 and the labor shortages, we’re moving at a faster pace to drive change, such investing in AI and new equipment to help make some of our more physically taxing roles easier to do.
We’ve also been asking how we open up other parts of the labor pool. Our drivers are industrial athletes. They move thousands of pounds of product each day. We’ve got a team of engineers working to redesign this job so that it will appeal to more men and women.
We’re also working to ensure that people understand why we created our purpose statement—connecting the world to share food and care for one another—and how our strategic initiatives are linked to that purpose. A 2019 study from Deloitte revealed that purpose-driven companies grow three times faster on average than their peers, and employees are 11 times more likely to stay with a purpose-oriented organization.
Our goal is to better align our associates around why this work matters and why Sysco matters.
We’ve formalized programs for building leadership capabilities to answer the need for more agile leaders who can lead through a crisis. One example is a program for all our frontline leaders on how to communicate to employees and how to differentiate performance.
I talk a lot about being intentional, about how you lead and how people experience you. We often say that culture is created continuously, and it’s created in the room that you’re in as a leader.
We’re going through a transformation from a decentralized, fragmented organization to a center-led organization. That takes different muscles and capabilities. When you’re taking people through such significant change, we must build change capability across the organization.
To be a Sysco leader means being very comfortable with change. We want our leaders to have an insatiable desire for change because the marketplace is moving fast, and we’ve got to accelerate our work.
With all the disruption happening in a crisis, it’s important to double-down on wellness and mental health. One example is that last summer, we decided to implement a no-meetings week to release some of the pressure. We’ve done that a few times now. We’ve said we’ve got to keep our ear to the ground, know how our folks are doing and take steps to release the pressure.
Chief People Officer
Vice Media Group
One of the ways we’re framing this moment of workplace transformation at Vice Media Group is as a reset. We’re aiming to create the right frameworks for this new way of working. This is going to take us a while, and we know that we’re going to be fluid as things shift. We’ve demonstrated tremendous agility and resilience in the last year, so how do we continue to build agility and resiliency across our workforce and business processes? Because people are more than burned out. I’ve been calling it “burned crispy.”
In many ways, our employees want the same things they’ve always wanted, which is managers who are competent, confident and compassionate, and leaders who will lead. We’ve always wanted this, but employees didn’t necessarily think they had the wherewithal to ask for these things in the past. Now we have Gen Zers—in our audience and workforce—who are asking for all the things at work that we always should have had. But the other side of that coin is that I get asked for things sometimes that go too far, and I have to say, “Whoa, let me remind you of the business that we are in and the constraints that we face.”
As we all think of ways to better retain people, I don’t buy into the idea that it’s only about money. It’s also about reminding people of our purpose, and why we work at Vice. We know that part of the Great Resignation is driven by people leaving for wellness reasons, and they are also leaving because they feel disconnected. They’re looking for a better sense of purpose and connection to their work.
I’m spending a lot of my energy on making sure that the folks who are here and the folks that we’re trying to attract to the organization are crystal clear on why they want to be at Vice and what working at Vice can mean for them in terms of their goals in life.
We also have a younger workforce, so that means we have a lot of parents with babies and small children, which makes it increasingly difficult to manage their lives right now. Our employees have distinct and unique needs, and the challenge is to provide for all of them. Our job is to create guardrails that allow for flexibility so that people feel like their experience is bespoke. That’s the challenge and the big focus of what we are trying to drive.
A lot of employees are feeling that they have more leverage now. I’m walking into these negotiations with the expectation that people are looking elsewhere and that they will sometimes ask for more than we can give them. My job is to provide clarity on our guidelines and our decision-making criteria because teams move fastest when there’s a clear road ahead.
My job is to clear the road for employees. My job is not to tell them what to do or how to do it. It’s to help them build solutions and to clear obstacles for them to do their job. That’s the kind of workplace people want because it helps create autonomy and purpose.
I think employees and workplaces can co-create the future of work, with employees demanding bold solutions and bringing new ideas, and corporations and organizations listening to them and creating new approaches. It’s about finding places where the two can meet. By the same token, employees should be respectful and appreciate the hard work that goes into doing all this.
Vice President of Human Resources
Schulte Building Systems
We’ve been tracking our turnover over the years, and we had been doing great until this last year. We were hit hardest in our ranks of entry-level production folks who typically have not been in the workforce more than five years. Our biggest turnover came at one of our plants in Alabama, which has seen so much growth. That makes it extremely competitive for entry-level positions.
This has been always true, but it’s particularly important that you have a well-trained management team, that you treat people like they want to be treated and that you have a great benefits program. There has been a lot of talk lately of providing flexibility in work, but it is very challenging to get flexibility in a manufacturing job. The answer is that you have to pay people what the jobs are worth, and it’s so important that you keep your eyes and ears open for knowing what is fair compensation based on a person’s education, experience and what that job is worth.
Some companies may have said in the past, “Just get the cheapest person you can.” But you don’t want to do that. You want to get a person and pay them fair compensation for that position because then they will stay with you and build a career with you. Most of our leaders were promoted from within. It’s important to give those opportunities to people and create pathways. I’m finding that the younger generations want to be able to see the pathway to bigger and better positions. They are realists. But we also have to be realists in setting expectations. We had someone ask for training recently that had nothing to do with his job or his trajectory, and we had to tell him no, that it didn’t make sense for our organization.
In terms of hiring, we have found a lot of success with the employee referral program that we established in October 2021. That has been a great morale booster. People are referring their friends and family, and they’re getting money for that. We’ve used it for high-level jobs as well as production jobs, so it’s been across the board.
We are operating on the assumption that these changes are permanent. I think work has changed. I think people have changed. People’s values, and what’s important in life, have changed in many ways. All of this is happening as the future of manufacturing is evolving, too. Any company that’s in our type of industry should be looking for better ways to build and produce things. There’s going to be more need for programmers and machine operators. The trades are going to be important and finding people who are excited about working in the trades is crucial.
My son’s a plumber. He decided in August 2020 to quit his job as an optician to become a plumber. I was worried. “We’re in the middle of this pandemic and you’re changing your whole career,” I said to him. It was the smartest thing he’s ever done. He told me, “I just like working with my hands and fixing things for people. Making eyeglasses was great, but there wasn’t a future in it for me.” He’s doubled his pay, and he’s doing fantastic.
The trades are not going away, and I think people are now starting to appreciate those jobs again. They often pay better and have great benefits that people might have been overlooking in the past.