Engagement Is Important for Hourly Workers, Too

Salary vs. hourly shouldn’t translate into career-minded vs. marking time

By Susan Milligan Jul 9, 2015
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Hourly employees, by their very definition, may convey a sense of impermanence, with their compensation tied directly to the amount of time they work in a given week or day. But with nearly 60 percent of the workforce being paid by the hour, how can managers develop relationships that will foster a sense of loyalty and commitment to the company?

“For some managers, it can be difficult to develop relationships with hourly employees, and there can be a bit of an unwritten two-tier system between [full-time] managers and hourly employees,” said Louie Shapiro, director of human resources at Hotel Nikko in San Francisco, where Shapiro works with 350 employees. “Among the reasons this happens are that these two work groups may have different things in common and be at different places in life—for some hourly employees, their work is a job and for some managers, their work is a career. These can be two very different perspectives.”

And that can spell trouble for employers and managers as well as for hourly workers, specialists say. If management doesn’t develop an environment where hourly workers feel part of the team—even if they are not on the same compensation level as salaried employees—“the employee has to look for another job, and the employer has to do more recruiting,” said Joshua Ostrega, the chief operating officer and founder of WorkJam, a Montreal-based employee relationship management firm. Not only do companies face increased costs from hiring and training replacement workers, but “If the employer is constantly dealing with turnover and retention issues, the customer experience suffers,” he said.

The key to avoiding this is engagement, said Marc Husain, the vice president of Raleigh, N.C.-based VMS PeopleFluent, a human capital management technology company. It’s important to make hourly workers feel connected to the company. That means using e-mail, LinkedIn and other social media platforms to stay in touch with employees, especially seasonal workers the company hopes will return when needed. “If you don’t have the pieces in place to value that workforce, you will be starting all over again,” Husain said.

Experts offered the following advice:

  • Start by creating a culture of inclusion. That doesn’t mean treating everyone the same, said Jim Link, chief HR officer at the Atlanta-based staffing company Randstad, but it does mean treating everyone fairly. Hourly employees, just like salaried ones, ought to understand that their work contributes to the success of the company, Link said, and “success, regardless of pay classification, needs to be part of the culture.”

  • Make hourly workers feel their contributions matter and are noticed. Jayson Saba, vice president of strategy and industry relations at the Bloomington, Minn.-based HR services firm Ceridian, recalled his earlier employment as an hourly worker, when a manager gave him a $20 gift card for being the “customer service employee of the quarter.” The manager also gave him a note written by a customer praising Saba’s performance. The recognition “made me work a little harder,” Saba said. Holding parties and other worker-bonding events will also make hourly employees feel part of the team, Husain added.

  • Get to know your hourly employees. Learn their likes and dislikes, family situations, and career goals, Shapiro recommended. “These factors are important to know since they help create a bond and provide helpful background information about team members that can lead to a more positive working relationship across the board."

  • Be flexible on scheduling and involve employees in the process. Some companies have moved to “just in time” scheduling, under which workers are called—sometimes at the last minute—when needed, Ostrega note, but that can foster resentment. Instead, engage employees in schedule management so they can trade shifts, drop shifts or pick up more hours when it works for both management and workers, he advised.

  • Keep in touch. Remember that e-mails, postcards, social media updates all make hourly employees feel they are noticed and valued.

  • Make hourly employees feel they have a future at the company. Good hourly workers may end up being great long-term, salaried employees, so find out who has in-house career aspirations and help them achieve that. “If you show there’s a path to promotion at the company, you’ll get more out of them,” Saba said. Rewarding good employees for referring new recruits is also a good incentive, observed Husain.

And remember that fostering loyalty among hourly employees can help managers build successful careers as well. Last year, workers at supermarket chain Market Basket in Massachusetts walked off the job to demand the return of fired executive Arthur T. Demoulas because they said he had always put his employees and customers first. Demoulas got his post back, Saba noted.

Susan Milligan is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.
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