Employees First!

Posted by Poppy Behrens on Sep 1, 2018 12:00:00 AM

Creating Cultures And Environments That Attract And Retain Top Talent

Like the circle of life, the American workforce is constantly changing. New hires eventually grow into managers, and sooner or later CEOs hand over their reins to another executive. It’s a generational cycle within the labor force that’s currently attracting a good deal of attention as the largest generation (for now) in the U.S. reaches retirement age.

In fact, the Office for National Statistics estimates that approximately 10,000 baby boomers retire each day in the United States. Conversely, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, making up 35 percent of the American workforce. What’s more, an article on Forbes.com states that millennials presently hold about 20 percent of all leadership roles—a percentage that will only continue to climb as more baby boomers retire.

What Matters
With the generations shifting roles, the environments in which we work will continue to change as well. Nowadays, employees are seeking more than just a paycheck from their place of employment. As a matter of fact, recent studies and surveys of the current workforce show that employees are looking for employers who can provide flexibility and balance. And one Gallup poll, called the “State of the American Workplace Report”, suggests that “the benefits and perks that employees truly care about are those that offer them greater flexibility, autonomy, and the ability to lead a better life”.

Indeed, work/life balance is becoming increasingly important, especially to the younger portion of the workforce—many of whom are settling down, starting families, and raising children. That Gallup poll goes on to say that present-day employees “place an importance on having a life—not just a job”. The “State of the American Workplace Report” also revealed that employee engagement increases when employees are given the freedom to work remotely instead of always working in an office setting.

Mindful Missions To coincide with this newer employment mindset, some companies are beginning to rethink their missions and core values. Oftentimes, these revamped mission statements put a company’s employees at the forefront, treating them as valuable investments.

This is the case for at least two of the companies within the self-storage industry: SpareFoot and storEDGE. These companies both sought to create workplaces that would attract and retain talented personnel.

“The culture is a result and not a cause,” explains Dan Miller, owner of Kansas City-based storEDGE. “We decided to create a great place to work and to hire great people. Life is short; you spend a third of your life working, so we feel strongly that people need to love coming to work, which leads to better products, better customer satisfaction, and better employee relationships.”

Chuck Gordon, founder and CEO of Austin-based SpareFoot, had the same guiding principal when he formed his company; his vision was to create a place where people would enjoy going to work—a place where employees are treated with respect, rewarded for good work, and encouraged to grow.

Both companies treat their employees as their greatest assets. And Miller and Gordon agree that every employee—regardless of their position—must be on board with the company’s mission to make it work.

“It starts at the top,” says Miller. “The owner has to believe that employees and culture are the key ingredients to profit and success.”

Kayla Gibbens, human resources manager for storEDGE, adds, “It’s so important to prioritize and invest in making the right hiring decisions. The people make the culture, so once you know what kind of people you want, don’t settle.”

In addition, Gordon, who enjoys maintaining a light-hearted and fun environment at SpareFoot, notes that, in order for a company’s culture to flourish, its executives must clearly communicate its mission and core values to the entire organization. SpareFoot’s mission and values are emphasized during the vetting process, the training process, and over the course of employment. Employee handbooks and staff meetings are two places where employees are reminded of the company’s core values and mission.

“A great and truly successful culture is one that has the same vision,” Miller says. “Many times, the management team has one perception of the culture and the employees another. You can’t truly have a great culture until the vision is real, so ask the employees and see how that aligns with the management.”

Unique Environments
Similar to Google, which boasts some of the country’s most impressive employee benefits and amenities, such as paid maternity/paternity leaves, game rooms, free meals, gyms, massage therapists, and plenty of opportunities for personal and professional growth through various classes, both SpareFoot and storEDGE have unique workspaces that foster collaboration and camaraderie amongst its employees.

For starters, SpareFoot utilizes an open seating arrangement, with no cubicles and only a handful of offices that are reserved for human resources and finances. “All executives sit out in the open like everyone else,” says Gordon. There are also “free, open” workspaces that enable employees to work away from their desks. He describes SpareFoot’s headquarters as “warm and collaborative”. Other areas that create inviting atmospheres include courtyards, picnic areas, and kitchens with all the tools necessary to prepare a meal.

Speaking of which, both storEDGE and SpareFoot offer plenty of fuel for their hardworking employees. storEDGE provides an in-house coffee bar, unlimited snacks, and catered lunches, and SpareFoot has its own personal chef on staff to whip up free lunches for its team.

The two companies have found numerous ways to allow employees to take breaks from work as well. For instance, storEDGE has pinball machines, flexible work hours, and bring-your-dog-to-work days. SpareFoot employees can enjoy ping pong and foosball as well as a “no-policy vacation policy” and off-site companywide events such as happy hours and its recent day-long karaoke outing.  

Moreover, in regard to the unique workspace at SpareFoot, Gordon mentions that his employees are very productive. “We haven’t had any issues with employee abuse,” he says, adding that no one has taken advantage of any of the company’s policies, nor are they distracted by the fun, easygoing atmosphere.

Bountiful Benefits
As Gibbens notes, “You need the right environment, benefits, and vision to attract the right people.” So, what kinds of incentives are companies offering? From basic to mind-blowing, companies have thought of numerous ways to reward and reimburse their employees for their hard work and dedication. Here are some to consider:

  • Health, dental, vision, and life insurance
  • 401(k) and retirement programs
  • Paid sick time
  • Paid vacation time
  • Paid holidays/birthdays
  • Paid maternity/paternity leave
  • Paid bereavement leave
  • Flexible work schedules
  • Telecommuting options
  • Various bonus programs
  • Paid training/schooling
  • Work anniversary gifts
  • On-site exercise spaces or free gym memberships – Brute Storage offers an on-site yoga studio.
  • Custom workspace options – MakeSpace allows its employees to build their own workstations.
  • Environmentally-friendly reimbursement programs – SpareFoot pays its employees for utilizing public transportation and/or bicycles to get to work.
  • Dress-down days
  • Companywide parties/outings/events/sports teams
  • Friendly employee competitions
  • Catered meetings/meals
  • Free logo merchandise
  • Employee recognition programs
  • Charitable giving – Many employees, especially millennials, want to work for companies that “give back”. They also enjoy volunteering to add “purpose” to their lives. Therefore, collaborations with charities and non-profit organizations that enable them to make a difference are rewarding.     

Dollars And Sense
Of course, none of the amenities and benefits mentioned throughout this article are free to implement. However, Miller emphasizes that it’s money well spent. “Industry leading benefits programs, food, drinks, entertainment, furniture—it all adds up,” he says. “But, in the long run, and when compared to our industry’s technology competitors, we expect our employees to outperform in terms of technology innovation, customer satisfaction, and productivity … When you look at payroll being over 50 percent of the costs to run our business, why wouldn’t you spend a majority of your life figuring out how to make that a better outcome?”

Just remember to take the time to ask your employees what matters most to them before you put a new perk in place. There is no sense in spending money on an idea that they can’t get behind or stuff they won’t use. And above all: Make the experience one in which your employees will feel they that their input was valued, as everyone should be contributing to the success of your company’s culture.

Erica Shatzer is the editor of Mini-Storage Messenger, Self-Storage Now!, and Self-Storage Canada.