4 Staffing, Hiring and Employee Retention Best Practices for Print and Promo Businesses
In November 2021, a record 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs. For the past several months, the U.S. has been hovering around 10 million unfilled job openings. The pandemic has turned the labor market upside down.
If you’re in the print and promo industry, there’s a good chance you’ve seen this up close. Maybe you’ve had colleagues move on to different companies or industries (or maybe you’ve changed companies yourself). Maybe you’ve struggled to hire that new account manager or marketing associate you need. Maybe you’re dealing with ongoing business disruptions as short-staffed suppliers try to keep up with the supply chain chaos. Whatever the case, it’s clear that labor is one of the industry’s top challenges moving forward.
“Right now, we’re seeing that hiring and talent retention has become a priority for most promo distributors and suppliers,” says Patrick McHargue, director of talent for PromoPlacement, an industry recruiting firm based in St. Louis. “Things bottomed out in 2020, but executive teams throughout our industry started adding to their teams in spring of 2021. Today, things have escalated even further, with the C-suite getting involved in fairly low-level hiring in many organizations. They’ve noticed that the supply chain crunch was actually precipitated by a talent crunch, and are acting aggressively to support planned growth.”
But if acquiring and retaining top talent is more critical than ever, it’s also more difficult. With so many job openings, employees now have most of the leverage. And even before the pandemic, the print and promo industry, as a whole, faced an uphill battle in attracting talent, especially younger workers. Industry companies need to step up their game if they want to keep valuable employees and bring in new ones.
To help them do that, we talked to industry experts, analyzed strategies from top companies and compiled recruiting, hiring and retention tips from the pros. Read on for four of those tips. Want more actionable, easy-to-implement ideas and resources for solving staffing challenges? Download our free guide, The Print and Promo Staffing Handbook, available here.
1. Competitive Salary and Benefits
Pay is not the only thing that matters to employees. Far from it. But even as workers (especially younger ones) increasingly prioritize things like company culture and flexible schedules, survey after survey finds that competitive salary and benefits remain the most important factors in attracting and retaining talent.
The definition of “competitive” varies by role and geographical area, but it generally means equal to or above other employers in the market. And compensation doesn’t just include base pay — it can also include things like incentive pay (bonuses, profit sharing, etc.), paid time off, health benefits, 401k, paid family leave and more. A hiring company may not be able to provide all of those things, but each one increases the chances of attracting top talent.
Employee compensation works best when there’s intentional strategy behind it. Even smaller companies that may not hire as often should have in place a hiring plan that outlines the type of talent they want to attract, the performance outcomes compensation is designed to drive, a realistic budget for total employee compensation, defined pay ranges for different roles or experience levels, and more. This plan can be adjusted based on circumstances, but it sets a baseline for fair and equitable compensation while providing a roadmap for companies when they need to hire.
Companies should also conduct regular market research to ensure that compensation remains competitive as outside factors change. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has salary survey data for various industries and positions available for free, as do sites like ZipRecruiter and Glassdoor. There are also paid options such as Payscale and Salary.com that may provide access to better, more up-to-date or more easily accessible data.
2. Work From Home
There are some downsides to remote work. It gives employers less oversight of their employees and makes it more difficult (though not impossible) to develop company culture or build camaraderie among co-workers. Obviously, it’s also not possible for all positions — production or warehouse staff, for example, must be on site to do their jobs.
But for employers willing and able to offer work-from-home or hybrid-work options, there are some major benefits. Remote work eliminates geographical limits, dramatically expanding the prospect pool — a critical factor in a highly competitive labor market where turnover is high. It’s also a powerful tool to attract and retain talent. Work-from-home is now an expectation for many job-searchers, and it can be the deciding factor for prospects considering positions or offers that are otherwise similar but require in-office work.
“‘Is this remote?’” is the No. 1 question candidates are asking today,” says McHargue. “People at all levels within our industry are opting to work-from-home. The added flexibility and work-life balance is key. Two years ago, the promo industry was way behind on WFH. The pandemic forced the hand of pretty much every company out there, and remote work is now critical to most of our clients.”
In business, a start-up mentality is generally considered a good thing. Companies — even established ones — characterize themselves that way to show that they’re efficient, nimble and innovative; prospects list it on their résumés to show that they’re hungry, that they love the grind. What goes unsaid, here, is that most start-ups fail. So while a start-up mentality might be good for attracting and retaining employees, a start-up balance sheet may not be.
In other words, stability is enormously important to today’s employees, especially those who were burned by layoffs or furloughs during the pandemic. “Prove to candidates that your business is going to make it,” says McHargue. “A lot of great people were let go by shaky companies over the last two to three years. Candidates are much more concerned about the financial well-being of hiring firms.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean employers need to open their books to every prospect. But a better picture of an employer’s financial position — recent growth statistics, long-term revenue goals, an overview of top accounts, etc. — can go a long way toward assuring prospects and current employees that a company is a safe, stable long-term option.
Stability extends beyond finances, too. If you have many long-tenured employees, tell prospects about them or, better yet, have them talk to prospects during the interview process. Give an overview of your company’s top achievements, and show how a prospect or employee fits into future successes. Prioritize clear, regular communication and establish consistent processes so employees understand how and why decisions are made. And so on.
4. Growth Opportunities
If employees want stability in their employer, they want mobility in their career path. That means opportunities for growth in salary, title and job responsibilities, but also opportunities for professional growth. Here’s an astonishing statistic: According to a 2019 study from LinkedIn, 94% of employees said they’d stay at a company longer if that company invested in helping them learn.
As with compensation and benefits, it helps to have a plan for growth opportunities mapped out in advance. If you’re interviewing candidates for a job, expect them to ask the question during the interview, and be ready to share a growth path for the role. Examples of current employees who started in that role and moved up are always helpful, as are specifics — generic “yes, you’ll have plenty of room for growth” answers won’t get the job done if that candidate is fielding competitive offers.
For current employees, ask about their career goals and give them access to professional development resources. If you can’t offer those resources internally, you can instead cover the costs of outside learning courses (PPAI’s certification programs, for example) and encourage employees to dedicate some amount of on-the-clock time to professional development.
“The pandemic caused many promotional product professionals to pause and take a good hard look at where they had been and where they were going,” says McHargue. “Firms that can offer identifiable career paths can hire anyone they want.”
Want more staffing best practices, tips for attracting job candidates and sealing the deal to bring them on board, and ways to keep current employees happy and performing at a high level? Find all that — plus a listing of additional staffing resources, from job boards to recruiting firms and more — in The Print and Promo Staffing Handbook. Download it here, for free, today.