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Be Purposeful with Human Resources
Human resource practices shouldn’t be done haphazardly. Paying attention to human resources will help a company grow and avoid common pitfalls.
By DeAnna Stephens Baker
Date Posted: 12/1/2013
Human resource (HR) practices are one of the most impactful parts of managing a company because they quite literally affect every single worker. Despite this reality, many pallet companies either see HR as an afterthought or don’t think about it at all.
But paying attention to the different aspects of HR is important to the health of a company and its ability to grow. Even if a company does not have a dedicated human resources director, there are some things that can be done and some that should be avoided to improve its HR practices.
Finding New Employees
Many pallet companies have found that finding reliable employees that perform quality work is becoming one of the hardest HR challenges.
“Even though the industry has experienced strong moves toward automation, the pallet industry remains labor intensive,” said Darrell Roberson, vice president and co-owner of United Pallet Services, Inc. in Modesto, Cali. “It is becoming increasingly hard to find a work force to fill the demands of the physical nature of our business.”
A practice that can contribute to this is not having clear and detailed job descriptions for open positions. Frank Hyatt, the director of human resources for Millwood Inc. said that he finds it is common for wood products companies not to be specific enough about the demands of a position in job ads and descriptions or in the interview process.
Finding new employees is hard, but finding new employees that can work well with the team while producing a quality product is even harder. Precision Pallet, LLC in Pantego, N.C. has found that the best way to hire workers that will fit well with its team is to hire based on referrals from current good employees, according to Everett Hershey, the owner of Precision Pallet.
Some companies have problems with spending time and money training new workers only to find out that they do not have proper work eligibility documentation. The best way to avoid this problem is to participate in the E-Verify program. E-Verify is a free, web-based service run by the Department of Homeland Security that lets participating employers quickly verify the work eligibility of new hires. It compares information from an employee’s Form I-9 to data from U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records. This information helps confirm employment eligibility and provides results within a few seconds.
“We voluntarily participate in the E-Verify program,” said Roberson. “It is very frustrating to invest all the training in a new employee only to be notified at a later date the employee needs to address documentation concerns.”
While using E-Verify does require a little bit of time to input information into the system, that process is far less costly than finding documentation problems after the worker has begun training. More information on E-Verify is available at http://www.uscis.gov/e-verify.
It is important to note that E-Verify cannot be used to pre-screen employees. It can only be used once a company offers an employee a job although it can be used before training or actually putting the employee to work in your company.
Once hired, new workers still have to be trained and assimilated into the company’s culture. Workers that are not properly trained can have trouble completing tasks properly or overlook important safety steps that they are not aware of. Precision Pallet has a multi-step orientation process that ensures new hires are trained in all the essentials and have time to become comfortable with their tasks before working independently, according to Hershey. For the first couple days, they work directly with the floor manager who goes over safety practices and procedures for their work duties, issues personal protection equipment (PPE), and guarantees that the quality of their work is where it needs to be. After working with the floor manager, new hires are placed with an experienced co-worker that they work closely with for a few weeks or until they have a good grasp of their duties and safety measures. This hands-on approach helps make sure new workers understand what they are supposed to do as well as how to avoid dangerous situations.
Ensuring clear communication between workers and management is a struggle for companies of all sizes. When workers are not native-English speakers, a language barrier can inhibit clear communication even more. Companies with large numbers of non-English speakers should consider hiring a supervisor that is multilingual or some other person who can act as a translator. Precision Pallet has found it useful to have a floor manager who speaks some Spanish as it has a number of non-English speaking Hispanic workers.
But even in a single-language workplace, it takes work to guarantee that workers are receiving all the information they need and are comfortable coming to management with concerns. A big part of open communication is being accessible to workers. Workers need to know that they can approach management about any issues. Hyatt said he considers this to be the most important part of his job at Millwood.
“We strive to be a resource for our people and assist them in their efforts to be successful,” said Hyatt. “When handling sensitive and personal issues - promptness, compassion and attempting to do what is best for the team member as well as the company is foremost in our mind.”
Good communication requires more than making information available. Although there are many notices that are required to be posted in the work place by law, just posting information is usually not a good way to ensure that workers receive and understand it.
“One of the most ineffective ways we found is to post a communication on a bulletin board with the expectation team members will read and understand the communication,” said Hyatt. “We believe the best way to communicate information is using a one-on-one or a group session meeting format, whichever is most appropriate.”
Although many people dread them, meetings can be used to open and encourage communication between management and workers.
“Safety meetings are a good time to show your employees you care about their health and well-being,” said Roberson. “It is also a good time to open discussion about any work related issues.”
One of the biggest mistakes that many pallet and other small businesses make is not maintaining an employee handbook. An employee handbook is one of the most important communication tools between a company and employees, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA). Having a handbook guarantees that each employee receives the same information about workplace rules and policies, lets them know what to expect, and gives employers legal protection in case any problems arise. Once a handbook has been created, it is important to review it every year to make sure that everything in it complies with new or revised employment and labor laws at the state and federal level. Companies also grow and change and policies may need to be revised to apply to a workforce or conditions that are different than they were just a few years before.
Employee Development and Evaluations
Employee development does not have to be limited to job-related skills. More and more companies are providing assistance with training outside workers’ scope of work as well as personal improvement or development. A good example of this is a program being launched by Millwood Inc. this coming year called “Millwood Cares.” It “will assist with employees’ professional, personal and spiritual growth and reflects on our commitment to each of them,” said Hyatt. The program will include: financial training, educational assistance funds, and community charity as well as health and fitness programs.
Within the workplace, keeping track of how each employee is performing and the quality of their work allows management to see if problems are developing or if an employee is not progressing as they should.
At Millwood, management tracks safety, quality and performance on a daily basis, according to Hyatt. A new employee is given a review after 90 days, nine months and at one year. Reviews are then given annually. To be fully effective, employees should be given feedback on their performance on a regular basis, especially when first hired. After all, if a worker is not told what they are doing wrong the person cannot correct it.
In order to track the quality of each employee’s work, Precision Pallet uses a different color coded marker to mark pallets that come off of each production line. This allows management to trace each pallet back to the individuals that produced it.
Compensation and benefits are the aspect of human resources that many employees are most concerned with. Finding the balance between paying enough to keep good employees to ensure quality work and managing costs is a struggle that every company faces. The pallet industry is a mix of companies that pay by the piece and companies that pay by the hour. The balance that Precision Pallet has found to work is to pay by the piece, but to be vigilant with quality control, according to Hershey. Floor managers watch for shoddy work and if sub-par pallets are found, the workers that built them rework them at minimum wage.
Tying compensation to performance is a common practice that many companies have found to be useful in ensuring good quality work. Many companies, including Millwood, consider not just volume output, but safety records and product quality when making decisions on pay increases.
“We directly connect compensation with our performance reviews,” said Hyatt. “Safety, quality and performance have equal value toward compensation adjustment considerations.”
No matter how small a company is, human resources need to be managed strategically to get the most efficient performance and keep good workers on board. Effective human resource practices can give a company an ongoing competitive advantage and enabling employees to be successful and productive will help not only them, but the company as well.
2013 Human Resources Survey Released
The Pallet Enterprise staff recently published its 2013 Human Resources Survey Report based on responses from both manufacturers and recyclers around the country. This is the most detailed wage and HR analysis done in the industry, and is a good resource for HR managers.
This is a service that the Pallet Enterprise provides to the industry, and it covers wages, benefits, health care concerns, screening procedures, OSHA experiences, top workplace challenges, etc.
Companies that participated recently received the final report via email. If you did not participate, you can purchase a copy of the report by paying $100. To order a copy, call 804-550-0323 and ask for Melissa Rzasa.