Q4 2023

Onboarding: The Retention Solution (Part 1)

Leverage best practices to attract and retain great talent

By Kenya McCullum, Special to Fabricare

There’s no doubt about it: High turnover can be a business killer. Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the cleaning industry included 86,070 workers in 2022, sometimes there are simply not enough employees to keep a company going strong. For smaller cleaners that need every single hand on deck they can get, they simply cannot afford to lose a single person.

This can lead to costly hiring mistakes. In fact, in 2022 alone, companies around the U.S. lost $1 trillion in voluntary employee turnover. Considering most workers leave a job on their own accord, it’s imperative for companies to implement strategies to keep their talent happy, engaged, and retained.

Onboarding: The Key to Successful Retention

Cleaning companies can’t afford to take a passive approach to retention. One of the most powerful ways to ensure employees stay is to step up your onboarding game.

“Onboarding plays a significant role in retention. To me, it’s akin to putting your car on the right highway toward the destination,” said training consultant Marc Benjamin Ratner, who has been in the cleaning industry for 15 years and spent 10 of them as Mulberrys Garment Care’s vice president in various locations around the U.S.

During his years in the industry, Ratner has found one crucial way to get on this highway of success and stay the course by looking for specific criteria when hiring.

“Look for certain qualities above others, such as positivity or enthusiasm. You want someone with passion, someone who cares deeply, someone who has an openness to learn and a desire to be a major contributor towards growth and success, and someone who is a great communicator,” he explained. “Those qualities really are things to look for and seek out in the recruitment efforts.”

Also, companies should keep a watchful eye out for qualities they want to avoid, such as a lack of interest in the work.

“The biggest red flag I’ve seen in my experience is a lack of eagerness to understand how things work,” said Ratner. “Without a desire to learn how the process or systems work, and how they’ll be a part of that team effort, there is going to be a noticeable disconnection between the employee and the company.”

Connecting With New Hires Through Training

Hiring is not the only time employers may experience a noticeable disconnection. Ratner says providing effective training that teaches new hires how they’ll function within an organization, and the role they’ll play in its success, goes a long way toward building the long-term connection you want with employees. Otherwise, new hires may experience noticeable disengagement early on if they don’t feel their role is important—and they won’t have any hesitation about leaving it.

“A robust or effective training program comes down to a comprehensive understanding of the position that the team member is responsible for, but also what the company stands for and represents in terms of their values and their culture,” he said. “If we’re training a store manager at a new store or even an existing store, the most important thing we can do in the training program is help that person understand the role and the responsibilities they have in the store, and to the people they manage, to understand how that work affects the company.”

But teaching employees the impact of their work, and demonstrating how much you appreciate their efforts, shouldn’t end with the initial training process. To increase retention, it’s a good idea to incorporate mentorship into your business operations, so employees can continuously learn and grow as you reinforce your commitment to them.

“I think mentorship is an absolute essential in supervision or performance management. Establishing regular and ongoing communication with your employees is a win-win,” said Ratner. “The win for the team member is that they have an open and ongoing dialogue with their supervisor to share ideas and express concerns. It’s a win for the employer because by making themselves available in a consistent way, they can address any needs or concerns with that employee proactively, as well as create opportunities to collaborate on the ideas they have.”

When it comes to employee retention, and the role onboarding plays in it, cleaning company leaders have plenty of ideas. We spoke to some DLI members about their retention strategies and from hiring to training to ongoing support, they shared their best practices for attracting the right candidates, getting employees up to speed on company practices and procedures, and keeping them engaged.

The Agency Touch

Wedding Gown Preservation experiences very little turnover. This is no small feat, especially in a talent environment where employee job hopping has increasingly become the norm. So how does the company manage such an incredible accomplishment?

According to owner Michael Schapiro, it all boils down to the unique approach he takes to hiring.

“I would say our secret sauce is not in the onboarding and training. I would say there probably are companies that do that better than we do,” he said. “Probably where we are very good is in recruiting new employees. That’s where we would stand out.”

This means, instead of recruiting potential hires directly, the company uses two staffing agencies that find candidates based on the criteria Schapiro needs—including the level of longevity in candidates’ work history. First, the agencies will review resumes and forward them to Schapiro so he can choose who they bring in for an interview. After that first round of interviews, the best candidates are recommended to Schapiro so he can also speak to them.

When the right candidates are chosen, they go through a 10-week trial period where they’re initially placed on the agencies’ payroll. This allows Schapiro and the potential hires to both determine if they will be the right fit. In most cases, Wedding Gown Preservation will part ways with candidates before the 10-weeks are over. When candidates do make it through this employee audition, Schapiro meets with them before making a final decision to determine if they truly should move forward with the relationship.

“At that meeting, what we’re trying to do is determine, number one, if this is someone we want to hire onto our payroll and have forever. Two, is this person happy and would like to come on to our payroll,” he said. “It gives us a time to reflect as sometimes you’ll get someone and they’ve been there a week or two weeks, and all of a sudden, it becomes 10 years. They’re not great, but they’re there. Using a staffing agency forces us at the longest length, 10 weeks, to make a hard decision.”

If this hard decision is made favorably, the prospective candidate is then hired by Wedding Gown Preservation full-time and placed on the company’s payroll. According to Schapiro, this process has gone a long way toward keeping the retention rate high and unemployment rate low.

“Part of the reason we have low turnover would be that before someone hits our payroll, they’ve already done a period of time with a staffing agency and it’s someone that we truly feel we want to hire and keep in our company for as long as possible,” he noted. “The highest turnover of any company is new employees, so we basically have sidestepped all that high turnover period for a fee, but that lowers our unemployment rate. Currently we have the lowest unemployment rate available in New York State and that’s because of such low turnover.”

If you’re interested in taking this hiring approach, Schapiro suggests making sure any agency you partner with understands your business—much the same way you want a potential employee to become familiar with what you do.

“Number one, have them in and give them a tour so they understand your business. You have to find an agency that fits your niche. The two agencies we work with hire a lot of assembly type of positions, while some agencies just focus on office,” Schapiro advised. “I would say you want to work with several agencies, but try to not work with too many where you don’t become an important customer to them. You want to be an important customer to one or two agencies, and the markups vary greatly and are negotiable.”

The Long Game

Jason Loeb said his company, Sudsies Dry Cleaners, in Miami, Florida, is primarily driven by one abiding principle: “We are in the people business.” Since this philosophy has been embedded in the company culture since it began 25 years ago, Loeb handles hiring with the same level of care employees are expected to handle customers’ garments.

“We have a very long training process before someone works in customer service. There’s an onboarding process,” he said. “First of all, it starts with our hiring. We don’t hire people we ever need. Our philosophy is we are always hiring. We’re always hiring and we’re always training. We’re always hiring because you never know what’s going to happen. We never hire out of necessity. We always hire because we find the right people.”

In fact, to ensure the company does hire the right people, candidates are expected to participate in multiple interviews before a decision is made—a process that in and of itself helps weed out the wrong ones.

“We don’t let people just come in our door,” Loeb said. “Some really buy in and some really don’t like it. The ones that don’t, we want them to move on; they would not work for us.”

When a candidate does work for Sudsies, they undergo a continuous training process, so in addition to the intensive initial training employees are required to complete, they participate in continuing education. This includes watching monthly videos to increase employees’ knowledge and sharpen their skills. All of this culminates in a well-informed workforce ready to provide service worthy of the company’s emphasis on being in the people business.

“Everybody watches an in-house video of the life of a customer, because if you’re somebody in the back who’s cleaning the facility, if you’re a mechanic, if you have an operational manager, or a finishing presser or a spotter, they need to know those pair of pants they’re cleaning and finishing belong to somebody and it may be the most important day of their life,” Loeb said.

Part 2 of this article will appear in the Q1 2024 issue. 

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