Focus on HR

By Hedley Lawson
Hiring employees is just a start to creating an exceptional lab. The equally challenging task is engaging and keeping them. High employee turnover costs lab owners in time and productivity. Try these tactics to retain and engage your critical lab assets as you begin 2009.

• Review and consider offering a more competitive benefits package that fits your employees’ needs. Providing health insurance, life insurance and a retirement-savings plan is essential in retaining employees. But other benefits, such as flextime and having floating as opposed to fixed holidays, go a long way to show employees you are willing to accommodate their outside lives.

• Provide some small perks. Free fruit, coffee or even bagels on Fridays and dry-cleaning pickup and delivery may seem insignificant to you, but if they help employees better manage their lives, they’ll appreciate it and may be more likely to increase their engagement and productivity.

• Use contests and incentives to help keep employees motivated and feeling engaged. Done right, these kinds of programs can keep employees focused, excited and more engaged in their jobs.

• Conduct “stay” interviews. In addition to performing exit interviews to learn why employees are leaving, consider asking employees why they stay. Ask questions such as: Why did you come to work here? Why have you stayed? What keeps you engaged and enthusiastic about your work? How can we be better managers? What would you change or improve in our lab? Then use that information to strengthen your employee-retention strategies.

• Promote from within whenever possible. And give employees a clear path of advancement. Employees will become frustrated and may stop trying if they see no clear future for themselves with your lab.

• Foster employee development. This could be training to learn a new job skill or tuition reimbursement to help further your employee’s education, development and growth.

• Create and promote open communication. Hold regular meetings in which employees can offer ideas and ask questions. Have an open-door policy that encourages employees to speak frankly with their managers without fear of repercussion.

• Get managers involved. Require your managers to spend time coaching employees, helping good performers move to new positions and minimizing poor performance.

• Communicate your lab’s mission and business plan. Feeling connected to your lab’s goals is one way to keep employees engaged to your company.

• Offer financial rewards. Consider offering performance-oriented financial awards for employees who meet performance goals and stay for a predetermined time period. Also, provide meaningful annual raises. Nothing dashes employee enthusiasm more than an average raise that exceptional performers and average performers get equally. If you can afford it, give more to your top performers. Or, if you do not want to be fixed with large permanent increases, create a bonus structure where employees can earn an annual bonus if they meet pre-specified performance goals.

It may seem basic, but often in small to medium sized labs, employees have a wide breadth of responsibilities. If they do not know exactly what their jobs entail and what you need from them, they cannot perform up to standard, and morale can begin to dip.

If your lab is nearing 50 employees, consider hiring a human-resources manager either full-time or with other responsibilities to oversee and streamline your employee structure and processes. Putting one person in charge of managing employee benefits, pay, reviews and related tasks provides an organizational framework for you and makes sure employees are fully engaged. HR managers are also more up to date on employment laws and trends. They can set up various programs and best practices you may not have known existed. And, in doing so, they can contribute to making your lab a great place to work and a great lab with which customers can do business.

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Labtalk May/June 2018