Processors pull out all the stops to recruit and retain the top employees in their fields.
In the business world, companies that realize success is all about the people are typically the ones with the greatest long-term success. Those companies that treat their people well typically earn a reputation as a good employer that looks out for its employees as part of a measurement of success.
In the meat and poultry industries, job turnover, particularly on the plant floor, can be a momentum killer. Attracting top employees who take pride in their work and retaining happy, hardworking employees becomes a crucial piece of the puzzle for processors that want to build success. Processors that cannot retain employees or attract top candidates find themselves spending more time trying to fill positions and train employees than focusing on improving their operations.
Glenn J. Person, president of AGRI-associates, Inc., a 36-year-old international agricultural recruiting firm, says special benefits that go above and beyond the traditional benefits offered by businesses can go a long way toward attracting employees and job candidates.
“It can be pretty important,” he explains. “If [a company has] some special-benefits programs that exist with the company, we are usually told about those, because they want it to be known. It’s a positive about them, so they want us to mention it to potential employees, and we do.
“But it’s interesting, because beyond the usual health-coverage and retirement plans, there are some really different incentives out there in the industry, and it’s hard to believe what they are.”
Person says that he has seen companies offer such things as health-club memberships, on-site day-care programs, gasoline cards during the recent gas-price spike, and even on-site personal automobile oil changes and Happy Hours on Fridays.
“We ran into one where they give employees $2,000 a year for continuing education, so that’s kind of a nice deal and a real incentive for employees to get involved in that,” he adds.
Cargill Meat Solutions offers continuing education through Learning Centers in several of its plants, in conjunction with a local community college. The Learning Center is a classroom, library, and computer workroom all in one, located conveniently in the administration building on the plant premises, explains Mark Klein, director of communications for Cargill Meat Solutions, a subsidiary of Cargill.
“Having the instruction available at the plant makes it easier for employees to take advantage of the course offerings or other things with the facilities,” he says. “They can get off work, attend class, and then go home, or come to the plant, take a class, and then start their shift. It makes it easier for them.”
Klein believes the Learning Centers make Cargill a more attractive place to employees, and says that the centers were an extension of efforts in the early 1990s to improve the common areas, such as the cafeterias and locker rooms, for employees.
“We’ve also been redesigning locker rooms, so that when you go into work in the morning, they look nice and [are] not just a bunch of old, gray lockers,” Klein adds. “Similarly with the cafeterias, … the space is not cramped [and] a number of them have television screens with CNN on, so when you’re taking a break, having your lunch or dinner, it’s comfortable.”
Klein believes these initiatives have helped reduce turnover since their inception, and explains that the face of the company in the community also is at stake.
“Yes, I do want to be working for a company that is paying its bills and covering its paychecks,” he says. “But I think that we have to offer more than that, and we also have to make sure that we’re part of the communities in which we’re operating, because that’s ultimately where we draw all our labor supply from.”
Cargill’s Learning Centers improve the quality of life for its employees, which, in turn, helps them happily contribute to community events, such as a recent Hurricane Katrina relief drive. Klein says donations continued to come frequently from employees long after the catastrophe.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff going on at the plant, and it’s a way for us to feel more part of the community,” he concludes.
Premium Standard Farms does its part in both improving the quality of life for employees and contributiing to the community through its Employer Assisted Homeownership (EAH) Program. Since the program’s inception in November of 2002, 40 Milan, MO, plant employees and their families have taken advantage of the benefit, which assists with down payments and closing costs in the purchase of the employee’s first home in Sullivan County — the home county of the Milan facility.
Jason Helton, manager of communications and community development for Premium Standard Farms, explains that the focus of the EAH Program currently targets the Milan facility, because of the plant’s role in the community and the mportance of improving the employees’ quality of life there. The company plans to develop the program further at the Milan plant and let it grow from there.
Yet, the benefit isn’t a one-time gift, Helton explains. Employees gain more by staying at the Milan plant, since the program features a loan that is entirely forgiven after five years of employment at the plant.
“Really, the program stemmed from the need to retain our high-quality employees,” he says. “We took it a little beyond simple retention and attraction. [We asked], ‘What would make someone come to Premium Standard Farms and then also stay in our company?’”
The housing program, in conjunction with other community-oriented activities, helped reduce turnover, Helton explains. But the open-door policy within the walls of the facility helps employees feel important. “We just help to foster that culture with open communication, and we invest in our folks,” he adds. “We know they work hard, and this is a way that everybody wins.”
Furthermore, the community benefits. “Real-estate agents have benefited, banks and lenders have benefited, and even hardware stores have benefited,” Helton concludes. “So it’s another way to positively impact the community economically.”
Special-benefits programs have helped Cargill and Premium Standard Farms retain their employees and likely have made them more attractive to potential employees who are looking for something more from their employers in terms of benefits. Both Klein and Helton agree that, with the right kind of company culture and the right people to run the programs, any company could incorporate these types of programs to improve their employees’ quality of life.
Person adds that these types of programs help to level the playing field in terms of employee recruiting, making smaller companies look as attractive as some of the larger companies on the hunt. Still, he warns companies not to lose sight of offering fantastic jobs behind the special-benefits programs.
“Really, it comes down to the bottom line: It’s what the company does and whether that suits them best. So, I think the benefit program is important, but I don’t know if that’s going to make a decision one way or the other. It might, if the offers are on equal terms.”
At that point, a special benefit or perk of the job might just put your facility over the top with the best-quality employees. NP