mushroom coffee

My Gramma never had a car. When we needed to food shop, we walked about a mile to the local grocery store called Dominick’s. She had a shopping cart that we pushed down Belmont Avenue like a bunch of homeless women. When we checked out at the register, she haggled over double coupons and sale prices. She would micro-manage the way people bagged her groceries. Then we trekked back home down Belmont Avenue, and I carried what didn’t fit in the cart.

Working at a grocery store and waiting on people like my grandmother is tough. And I know things are tight in the labor market when my local grocery store holds job fairs on a weekly basis and tells people, “If you have any sliver of a work ethic, we will hire you.”

With the labor market being so tight, how do you improve retention and avoid hiring new people in the first place?

1. Reconfigure your total rewards package. While some people work for happiness and camaraderie, employees are capitalists. Money isn’t the only thing in the world, but it’s not nothing. If your margins are tight, and if you employ an hourly workforce, you can consider incentives and bonuses to entice your workers into staying.

2. Think about work as a game. We hear about gamification on the internet. Consummate HR professionals know that gamification principles are used to incent, reward and retain high-performing sales teams. Use those principles across your enterprise. What’s the objective beyond the task at hand? What’s the point beyond bagging groceries and greeting people with a smile? Give people a code to crack, and they’ll crack it.

3. Live your values. For years, HR people have talked about “zero-tolerance” environments. It’s funny how we have no tolerance for the big ones—sexism, racism, ageism, able-ism—and yet our leadership teams still skew white, male and over 40 but under 65. While you want to retain the linchpins in your company, sometimes you don’t know your linchpins. Analyze your workforce, understand your influencers, and don’t put up with illegal and counterproductive behaviors.

4. Transparency is overrated. Adults are adults: responsible, accountable, but also passionate and nervous about their self-interests. You can retain your workforce by being open, having mature conversations about important topics, but also staying one step ahead of emotional reactions. Don’t be condescending, but don’t be irresponsible with important information.

5. Lighten up. Are you the CIA? Are you fighting ISIS on multiple fronts? No? Okay, let’s get some perspective. Yes, the stakes are high in life. But I’m an early 90s kind of woman, and nobody wants to work for a character like Ren, an emotionally unstable chihuahua. That’s exhausting.

It’s tough to get good people on your payroll. Once they start, don’t blow it. Think creatively, and put yourself in the shoes of your workforce. What’s your biggest gripe? Why would you look for a job? Be selfish for a second. Fix your biggest problem as a human resources professional, and you’ll probably be one step closer to retaining someone awesome who also had that problem, too.

Why does everyone hate HR? Join the movement to fix that. Download the new e-book, “I Am HR.”


  1. Number 5. Urgency is relative, and most of us don’t work saving lives. Maybe we should.

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