Ask Your MHEDA Board: Unprecedented Growth, Challenges
“With the industry facing unprecedented growth combined with challenges such as extended lead times, labor shortages, customer demands, supply chain disruptions and more, employee burnout has become a factor. How are you addressing this within your organization?”
Lauren Jarman, Vice President
Atlantic Forklift Services, Charlotte, North Carolina
Thomas Albero, President & CEO
Alliance Material Handling, Inc.
We are all painfully aware of the challenges with the current state of lead times and labor shortages. There certainly is an impact that is felt by the customers and employees of most industries today. Alliance Material Handling has not escaped those challenges, but works hard to keep business moving forward and to meet customer needs while maintaining a positive workforce. These obstacles can cause strain on employees if not monitored.
As we continue to find new ways to recruit top talent, we also have implemented some things to enhance our culture and ease some of the potential burnout. Alliance practices 30 core fundamentals that make up what we call “The Alliance Way.” One of the most important fundamentals that lends to this effort is Fundamental #30 – Keep it Fun. It is well documented that happy employees are more productive than unhappy ones. We have all departments joining together to plan fun activities. This can be something offsite or a simple movie with lunch in the office. The goal is relationship building and of course, to have fun!
There is also Fundamental #15 – Get Clear on Expectations. Stress comes from unclear expectations, unreasonable deadlines, or a hectic work environment. Setting clear, agreed-upon KPIs sets the tone for the employee with little to no confusion. Each of our employees has clearly defined daily/weekly KPIs so they know what to expect each day.
Fundamental #26 is also helpful – Share Information. As an employee-owned company, we try to over communicate. The unknown is often more unsettling and leads to misinformation and speculation. Sharing information and being open to feedback creates an environment of constructive discussions and problem solving. Employees who feel like a valued part of the organization are more than willing to step up and lend a hand when another department is short staffed. This in turn helps relieve stress and burnout. We have certainly not eliminated stress and burnout, but our core fundamentals help us all focus on the areas that keep employee burnout to a manageable level.
John L. Gelsimino, President
All Lift Service Co. Inc.
It is my belief that the culture of a company is more important than ever, especially with everything going on in the world today. In November 2021, we implemented the CultureWise program, which felt like it helped us hit the reset button. This program brought us all together to voice our feelings and concerns and created clarity on our now-intentional culture. We identified 26 fundamentals that we believe are the keys to our success and created the All-Lift Way. We focus on one each week, which means that each fundamental will be covered twice a year. If this sounds cheesy, I get it – I joked of this concept for at least a year prior to signing up – but it became obvious to me that this was a critical next step in our growth.
In addition, we have just completed an organizational chart and job description project that bring clarity to what everyone’s job is and who reports to whom. Having a great culture requires accountability, and without clarity at the org chart and job description level, accountability is very difficult. The energy and clarity must start at the top and be strong enough to trickle down to all levels of the organization.
We are a small company with around 65 employees, and 2022 is our 50-year anniversary. There are many things out of our control in the marketplace today. We are focusing on what we CAN control, which is coming in each day with a positive attitude, creating an environment where people want to come to work – where they feel appreciated for the job they do each day and believe they are adequately compensated for a job well done. With this type of culture or even just a strong focus on getting there, it makes it much easier to overcome any market challenges in front of us.
Ted Springer, President
Springer Equipment Company, Inc.
As companies face unprecedented growth, the daunting challenges continue to increase as time passes with even more time extensions, The Great Resignation, evolving changes with supply chains and more. Our workforce is mentally stressed, and burnout is at an all-time high. On top of it all, COVID. We’ve seen countless family tragedies during this pandemic, and although many employees have not experienced the same devastation, it has affected the “normalcy” of work life.
We’ve learned that while we cannot change the circumstances of the last few years, we can change how we address these stresses with employees. Our company policy on vacation involves a rollover and deadline, and we’ve waived that timetable, taking away the stress of burning time. Additionally, we have put an amazing Employee Assistance Program in place giving in-the-moment mental healthcare to employees and their families.
We can only keep a positive frame of mind and know that this too shall pass.
Michael Vaughan, CFO
Thompson & Johnson Equipment Co., Inc.
The current environment and the pandemic have introduced a higher level of anxiety and stress in both external and internal environments. Illness, remote schooling of our children, or caring for loved ones has increased an employee’s family focus and responsibilities.
Thompson & Johnson has always emphasized the importance of family, and as a result, employees’ stress was mitigated because they believed the company would offer them the flexibility to find balance between these new family responsibilities and work. We also have taken steps to overcommunicate to help mitigate stress created by the various and constant uncertainties that the business needs to address. Employee recognition events have been very important to demonstrate our appreciation for the significant effort put forth by employees.
From an operational standpoint, the current environment has forced us to address internal improvements and find efficiencies. As we are very active in our local Rotary groups, we tend to use the Rotary Four-Way Test in our approach to living, selling and managing. Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned? The integrity imbedded in this approach has helped us with the challenges impacting our internal and external relationships.
Darin Boik, President
Advanced Equipment Company
Burnout is more prevalent today than pre-pandemic times, and it can be detrimental to our workers’ well-being and the company’s bottom line. Our business model requires our outside salespeople to take their project from cradle to grave. Our salespeople are responsible for finding work, designing the system, and quoting the job. Then if the bid is won, they handle the subcontracting, project management, and site supervision. This is a lot to ask of them, and it limits how much a person can do in a year. It can certainly impact their work/life balance if they are having a good year, yet alone a record-breaking year as we have been seeing.
We have seen signs of employee burnout by expressions of criticism, irritability, impatience with co-workers, and absence of energy. Let’s be honest, we have also seen the occasional employee use food or alcohol to alter moods. AEC tries to keep an eye out for signs of burnout, and to combat it, we promote a healthy work/life balance with an open communication platform without fear of repercussions.
Promoting a healthy work/life balance is one way we try to prevent burnout. We offer work-from-home options and flexible scheduling to accommodate family and self-care time. We also like to host an outside fun event like Top Golf or bowling for the employee and his or her spouse/significant other. This includes covering their childcare fees while at the event. This not only promotes a better work life, but also breeds comradery with co-workers.
In addition to work/life balance, we promote open communication without fear of repercussions. This means there is an open-door policy to tell your manager how you are feeling. As a manager, even if signs of burnout are obvious, asking employees about their personal lives can lead to meaningful conversations and help employees feel that their company cares about their mental health. Increased communication allows us to gauge when an employee is feeling overwhelmed and allows us to find the help they need. This help may come from a manager or coworker stepping in to help and allowing them a break on a job site, or help may come from contracting some additional help on a specific project.
In short, we all experience burnout and hopefully less often than more. At AEC, we are proactive and look for signs of our workers feeling overwhelmed. We use our principles of promoting a good work/life balance and open communication to prevent burnout.
Greg Brown, President
W.W. Cannon, LLC
Our employees value our benefits that address their real-life concerns, such as providing company-paid chaplain counseling (Marketplace Chaplain, www.mchapusa.com), which provides services for them (24/7) and their immediate family. That becomes a safe place for them to get help with work, family or personal issues.
In addition, financial pressures have become a major challenge. Last year, we included a company-paid benefit called SmartDollar (www.ramseysolutions.com) that provides instant, on-demand training and help for financial fitness, debt reduction, savings and planning for the future. Our managers are trained to alert HR to family illnesses, births, deaths, family hardships and other issues that cause major stress so a company representative can alert our chaplains, send food, offer help and time off if necessary.
We have always encouraged our employees to take regular time off, and we send emails reminding those employees that have not taken time off each quarter who have time available to remember to get away, spend time with family and plan enjoyable activities. We have a monthly employee birthday celebration lunch for all employees celebrating a birthday that month and give a small gift to each employee. Our onboarding process is set up to help each employee know who to contact in each department, understand our processes, be thoroughly trained in their job description before going into the field or their respective job, and assigning a mentor that checks in on them regularly and reports back to HR.
Thomas R. Duck, Vice President of Sales
The way we are handling extended lead times is ordering stock units every month with hope of ordering the correct product that will fit the customer’s needs. We are also trying to exceed the customers’ expectations with maintaining current equipment for them until the stock or ordered equipment comes in as well as offering rental equipment at a discounted price. We are also converting a lot of customers to lithium-based products, which have a lesser lead time and can in the long haul reduce their cost.
The labor shortages are a different thing entirely. We are an employee-owned company and have been really advertising that fact along with increasing pay and benefits to attract talented individuals as well as doing career days at universities and technical schools, and offering incentives to retain our current team. We are also offering techs a sign-on bonus and existing techs a bonus to bring in more techs.
As far as customer demands, we are trying to simplify, expedite and automate our processes to reduce the time, cost and complications of doing business. If we can respond to the customers’ issues quickly and maintain constant communication, we have the opportunity to preserve the business continuity and reduce the risk of them going to a competitor.
Supply chain disruptions are out of everyone’s control when a ship sits waiting to get into port for weeks on end, and then there is a shortage of truckers once it gets there and unloaded. Also, the second wave of COVID has created interruptions with not being able to get the ships and containers unloaded.
We have not had an issue with employee burnout, but we have been doing activity events (Top Golf, a tent at Gasparilla, group luncheons, etc.) to keep the morale up, and it seems to be working.
Darein Gandall, CEO/Chairman of the Board
Like many of our fellow MHEDA members, we are having a strong run of business and the challenges that accompany it. In the best of times, that can be difficult, but in today’s environment, it’s far more of a challenge. The main thing is to be transparent with everyone: vendors, subcontractors, employees, and customers.
Our employee-owners were my first concern. These issues cause stress and sometimes long hours for them as they scramble to deal with the problems. The fact that many were forced to isolate or quarantine at a time when they were busy made things harder, but even prior to the pandemic, we’d worked hard at making our workforce mobile. In many cases they were able to execute work remotely in ways that may not have been possible 10 years ago. We also reorganized several work teams to balance the work and ensure that we communicated internally about the situation.
The next thing was to align with our longtime manufacturer and supplier partners. Those relationships have always been critical, but never more than they are today. We wanted to be sure we maintained our partnerships during a tough time. We knew the issues were bigger than any one vendor and wanted to be sure we communicated quickly and efficiently with them.
We schedule not only the materials, but also shipments, project managers and subcontractors to various jobsites. When lead times slip, it can trigger a cascade of issues. We worked with our subcontractors as quickly and transparently as possible to minimize the impact. But the main concern is always the customer, so we took fast and decisive action to communicate with them.
Extended lead times do hit customers, but bad news is best said quickly and factually. We changed quoting procedures and implemented an automated notification program that increased transparency. Every order gets acknowledged with the expected ship date and updated if that date changes. Every order gets an automated acknowledgement of actual ship date. This helps us communicate clearly at during all phases of an order.
We altered our quoting policies, reducing quote durations and being open about extended lead times. We didn’t want to quote what we couldn’t deliver. We were also clear about the potential for price increases.
When your customers are suffering labor shortages, they look to companies like us to help them fill the gap. Having a service group that can reduce that impact on them has been extremely helpful.
Since we have a large ecommerce presence, we dedicated extra resources to updating lead times and costs on our websites. Customers and our sales force depend on that information, so we work constantly to ensure it’s right. We also found alternatives for equipment we could no longer reliably source.
None of this is a magic bullet, but the main thing is to be honest, open, and transparent about the process. People are going through this in their daily lives, so they understand that there are spotty supply chain issues. At the end of the day, it is all about being honest, open, and keeping the lines of communication open with everyone.
Jim Hammond, President
Valley Industrial Trucks, Inc.
Employee engagement is more important than ever, and not just in terms of their job. Our employees are facing some tough choices and unique struggles at home such as childcare, rising costs of goods and services and an unstable work environment for some of their family members.
Burnout is here to stay unfortunately, with approximately 23 percent of employees today feeling it often and 44 percent feeling it sometimes, a Gallop Poll found. That’s almost 70 percent of our workforce, and it’s a real part of today’s new work environment. With the rise of the Great Resignation and other burnout-related risks, companies need to take action to help with this trend.
At VIT we have done a good job keeping our work culture positive and upbeat. Talking openly about these issues and acknowledging these items with your employees goes a long way to help them plan better. It is not always our job to solve their problems, but when you help them understand different ways to help their home situations, the return you get in the workplace is noticeable. We have helped employees manage stress and scheduled our workforce so there are minimal last-minute surprises creating more stress. We have kept goals attainable and involved everyone in the process so they can work together and minimize extra workload. We’ve also encouraged mental health and awareness and the use of the app Calm. Today’s work environment is tough enough so having an employer who understands these challenges and helps reduce them is key to success.
Tim Hoj, CEO
Great question for today’s difficult horizon. I feel like a good approach to this widespread concern in the labor and social market is for management to address it with their time and concern. I believe the staff needs to know we understand the problems, the stress and the labor shortage and then show the teams that management is working on making it better. Some of the visible ways to show this is for them to see the hiring strategies and perhaps a bonus for new hire referrals. Incentives for overtime are good. I think we need to do more to show we understand, and that includes wage increases to employees and to the client billing rates so we can cover the costs.
Jim MacGregor, Vice President, Operations
Toyota Material Handling Systems
After weathering what seemed to be an insurmountable storm the past two years, we have realized that people can work from home quite effectively and they also enjoy that flexibility. Allowing employees to continue to work remotely has been one of the most effective tools to minimize employee burnout. With no real end in sight related to the challenges outlined above, it is a focal point that all employers need to measure and preplan for additional countermeasures.
Our culture has aided us in this challenge, and most customers have been understanding to some degree about extended lead times, but creatively managing around this can put employees and the dealership at risk. Overtime requirements to maintain aging fleets is difficult especially with the impact of labor shortages at the same time.
Gerardo Padilla, CEO
SEIL Rentals SA DE CV
As a company we decided to focus on culture and goals. The entire team is aware of these factors and how they affect their particular jobs. All managers build a spider diagram to track issues on a monthly basis and to change any strategy if needed to attain their department goals.
We need to track the employee morale very closely. Human resources must be driving the company culture to keep the team engaged and motivated with all their personal and professional challenges that we certainly are going to have in 2022.
Lori Palmer, President
REB Storage Systems International
We start our prospect/client quoting process with honesty and transparency. This carries throughout the entire project execution and closeout. If you see an issue, point it out. Constantly communicate with your customer to make sure they’re aware of what’s going on with their project, and make sure they’re happy throughout the process.
When it comes to our employees, we take the same approach. We feel it’s important to check in with employees to see how they’re doing. Does it seem that they aren’t happy? Be honest and ask them. If they aren’t happy, see what makes them happy.
Remember, everyone has “stuff,” and what may not seem stressful to one person can add a lot of stress to someone else. Lockdowns, childcare, senior care, working remotely, employees getting ill and sometimes companies having to downsize were all things that employees and companies have had to navigate through over the last couple of years. Employees have had to take on not only their own roles with overtime, but they were sometimes doing the work of others.
We know it’s important to offer competitive wages with excellent benefits. Therefore, we constantly monitor compensation levels in our industry for our size of a company. We also look for opportunities to add support roles to help alleviate stress and allow people to focus on getting things done right.
If it’s something that makes sense for the company and for the employees, things can be done that don’t necessarily have to do with compensation. Surprising employees with a few hours off, lunch brought into the office, a gift card for an extra job well done, or allowing them to periodically work remotely are all things that show you’re paying attention and appreciate the work being done. Additionally, birthday and anniversary acknowledgements let your employees know you care.
Providing educational tools to help employees better themselves so they can excel in their positions is another way to show appreciation for employees. Allowing employees to further their knowledge via conferences, webinars, and other outlets not only helps employees feel they’re bettering themselves, but also adds value to your company. We find it important to continuously raise the bar in this way. Everyone needs to have goals, and they need to meet those goals to improve their confidence in their position.
You may look at things such as whether your office or warehouse is a desirable work environment or could the office use a refresh. Some new paint or equipment updating can provide a breath of fresh air and help put motivation in everyone’s day.
Not every company is able to do monetary things, but if you offer a competitive wage, competitive benefits, and let your employees know you care and you understand, your customers won’t hurt for the best service; your employees will already be servicing them the best they can.
We are in our 60th year in business and we have had employees leave, and in many cases, they ask to come back. If you are treating everyone the best you can, they won’t want to go.
That’s what makes us successful and has gotten us through challenging times.
Pete Womack, Vice President of Sales
With more than 20 million people leaving the workforce in 2021, we must be alert to what is going on with our people. The easy answer is to go to an all-inclusive in Cabo and have a few drinks and not worry about it. But we all know that isn’t the answer.
This is an issue that we must take seriously, and at Riekes we do. One of the most important things we offer is an Employee Assistance Program. This is available to all employees with no questions asked. If an employee or one of their family members is struggling, counseling, coaching and even training are all available at no charge. With the elevated stress levels out there, this has been a good program for our people.
Another benefit is that we try to accommodate life by not tracking/deducting PTO for any time under four hours. We let employees choose if they want to make up the time in flex hours or just take the time they needed. This allows our employees the ability to manage their time and take care of any small personal issue before it becomes a larger one.
In addition to self-care benefits and being flexible with schedules, we also focus on celebrations and recognition. From little things like sending a token of appreciation to every employee on Employee Appreciation Day (March 4) to sending hand-written notes on work anniversaries; we recognize accomplishments a lot more today than we ever have.
We also do more formal recognition including monthly KUDOS winners (employee of the month), annual founder awards and even annual profit sharing. We are focused on rewarding employees for their hard work. In fact, we just completed our annual reviews for all employees and at that time we recognized several individuals for an outstanding 2021. Our employees appreciate that.
They also appreciate the opportunity to come together at our year-end holiday party. We invite the entire company to join us for a banquet dinner and awards ceremony – a proud Riekes tradition.
But, probably as important as anything is we have a president in Duncan Murphy who wants his employees to have a solid work/life balance, and he understands you can only get so much done in a day. By helping our employees find balance and feel supported, we all win.