It’s A New Year
By Mary-Frances Klimek
Out with the old and in with the new. 2021 and even 2020 were rough years for many of us and we are ready to put those years behind us and move forward to easier, happier and more enjoyable times. This is our chance to reset and start over with new projects, plans, hopes and dreams and for many, new or additional responsibilities and new employees.
It is certainly not news that the past couple of years have been rough for most in the wastewater world. COVID-19, with its variants, vaccines and illnesses continues to take a toll on our personal and professional lives. Some are more restrictive of themselves and expect others to do the same and when this is not the case, conflicts and hurt feelings arise as does availability and willingness of employees to cover additional hours and tasks that are not normally within their jurisdiction.
We all have had coworkers leave for what they view as greener pastures. I don’t know if it is the same for you, but I know that many of us are struggling with both hiring and retention. Some of you may have started a new positon or at least considered making a move.
How do we stop the exodus and get back to the way things used to be? Understand I believe that change can be good, but by “how things used to be” I mean the days when employees were here to stay if not forever, at least for a long time. Realize that some employees will leave and that to some extent an employer is training the employee for the next position at the next place, but this cannot be the norm.
Many of us do not have the authority or ability to address the two main reasons employees cite for leaving, namely money and benefits, but we are able to make some changes that employees want.
Start by involving employees in the process. What do they want and what has value to them? Even without asking, I can give you some of their answers.
Flexibility – Can you offer staggered start and end times? What about weeks that are four ten hour days? Is remote work an option, even if only for a short time, say when the repair guy is coming or the kids have a day off?
Frequent Communication – Make sure conversations don’t only happen on day one and when there is a problem. Get to know the people you work with. Ask them about their families, their weekend and what they would like to learn or do while at work. You may have a member of you lab staff that would do a great job keeping an eye on the microbiology of your plant, but if you never ask, you will never know.
Be Accessible – This is different than communication, but the two often go hand in hand. Answer emails in a timely manner, stop in the lunch room, leave your office door open when you are able and follow-up with employees regarding their interests.
Opportunities to Learn and Become Involved – Forward information about classes, webinars and presentations. Invite employees to CSWEA meetings and conferences and once they are comfortable, offer opportunities to take part in presentations or serve on committees. Show employees where they can find upcoming events on the CSWEA calendar (http://cswea.org/wisconsin/events/upcoming-events/) and be open to making it possible for them to attend. There are interesting events coming up and too often employees miss out because they don’t know that the Operations Seminar is February 1st and 2nd, the Government Affairs Seminar is February 17th, the Education Seminar in April 12th and the Annual Meeting is May 17th through the 19th. There are both virtual and in-person events, so hopefully something for everyone’s interests and each employer’s policies.
Follow-Up on the ideas that employees gave you when you asked them what non-monetary benefits were important to them. There is nothing more frustrating to an employee than to feel that their input was ignored.
Be empathetic and understanding. No single one of these will solve retention issues and the suggestions here are certainly not the only ones. Managers, supervisors and HR staff need to realize that the public and private sector are now competing for the best employees. There is not winner or loser; we all simply need to do what is best for our employees.
Happy New Year!!