Don’t Neglect Your Hourly Workers

In the latter part of the 19th century, there was a popular story told by Russell Herman Conwell, an American lawyer, clergyman and speaker, titled “Acres of Diamonds.” The story was about a man who after hearing about the value of diamonds from a traveling clergyman, wanted to find them so badly he sold his land and went off in a futile search that ended in poverty and despair.

Years later when the same priest revisited the man’s old home and the new owner showed him one of thousands of egg-shaped rocks he had found in his backyard, the clergyman told the man these rocks were actually some of the finest diamonds he had ever seen. The message is still clear today — leading organizations are discovering the top talent they are looking for often resides untapped in their own figurative backyards in the form of hourly workers. Many companies have wisely begun digging.

According to Carol Evans, president of Working Mother Media and CEO of Diversity Best Practices, the companies on the Best Companies for Hourly Workers list are leading the pack when it comes to digging for talent. The top 12 on this year’s list are Best Buy, Bon Secours Virginia Health System, Capital One Financial, Cricket Communications, Hilton Worldwide, Marriott International, PetSmart, Sodexo, Target, University of New Mexico Hospitals, University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics and Valassis Communications.

“These are companies that have between 50 percent and 95 percent hourly workers and that realized fairly early how important these team members are to their current and future success,” Evans said. “Several of these companies have found that managers who have moved up from hourly jobs are more likely to be a diverse group, understand front-line business challenges and have credibility across all of the company’s stakeholders.”

While not all companies have as large a representation of hourly workers as these organizations, almost all have some percentage of hourly employees in their workforce. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010 58.8 percent of all Americans worked in jobs where they were paid by the hour. Some of these employees work in office jobs, but others work in production environments. It is this latter group that is often excluded from company employee development efforts, which as Evans points out “is a loss for both the company and these individuals.”

Why Hourly Workers Are Left Out
There are several reasons why certain types of hourly workers may find themselves excluded from organizational development efforts. According to Evans, company programs are often designed with salaried office workers’ needs in mind, and their requirements differ from other types of hourly workers.

“If you are in a retail store or on a production floor, the company’s flexible workplace telecommuting policy doesn’t help you. You have to be on the premises to do your job,” she said.

Similarly, these types of workers often miss out on training because they cannot afford to lose pay to attend the training, and they cannot use college reimbursement programs because they do not have the upfront cash to pay for tuition.

Another basic obstacle organizations face in including certain types of hourly workers, such as production floor personnel, in their programs and events is as rudimentary as finding ways to reach them. “Our production workers don’t have email, electronic calendars or other tools that make it easier to convey event information to office workers,” said Chris Stellmacher, former chairman of the Siemens Energy Diversity Council. “This is a 24/7 shop with three shifts, so we don’t have all the production floor staff on site at any one given time.”

In light of this, many production workers are also excluded from participating as leaders or even as members of company-sponsored employee resource groups. “I often hear hourly workers tell me they would like to attend employee resource group meetings and events, ‘but my supervisor tells me I can only do so if I do it on my own time,’” said Sahar Andrade, diversity and social media strategist for Sahar Consulting LLC.

Despite these challenges, those on the Best Companies for Hourly Workers list and others prove by example and results that some companies can meet and address these challenges.

How to Include Hourly Workers

Here are a few approaches to mine this valuable segment of talent.

Extend flexible workplace benefits to production workers via cross-training; create a job-sharing pool. According to Evans, some of the top companies on the Best Companies for Hourly Workers list use this approach to create internal production job-sharing pools. This enables production workers to switch shifts as needed with other team members.

Provide paid training hours. Pay workers for a certain number of hours when they are attending training or development programs. According to Evans, these paid training and development hours are used to attend job development and personal development training, such as learning personal finance.

Issue tuition reimbursement credit cards. According to Evans, this gives employees who do not have the upfront cash to pay for college the support they need to get a higher education.

Address the lack of electronic connectivity by using on-boarding orientations. This will make production workers aware of programs and should be followed up with word-of-mouth communications or by posting information in highly trafficked common areas. Stellmacher said this has become the most effective method his group uses to reach out and connect with production workers.

Hold more than one session for key programs to include all shifts during their work time. “We had an upcoming veteran event where we planned on getting everyone together for a luncheon during the first shift,” Stellmacher said. “Luckily, because we include hourly workers and their perspectives in our meetings, we learned that most shop floor people frown on this idea because they viewed it as making them come to the company during their time off. Had we not known this, an event that was designed to bring people together and engage them could have had an undesirable outcome. Now we make sure that all our important events are held three times, so that each shift of production workers can participate without personal hardship.”

Approve production workers for a set number of hours to attend and participate in employee resource group activities and events. “Organizations that do this clearly communicate that they recognize employee resource group activities for the benefit they are to the company,” Andrade said. “Employee resource groups support retention, talent attraction, produce positive branding for their companies and a host of other important benefits that are worthy of the investment made by an organization in the form of contributing paid employee time, and should not be free contributions made by employees to the organization.”

Many of these efforts require hard or soft investments of time and money. However, Evans said smart companies see these investments as small compared with the savings achieved through reduced turnover, higher employee engagement across all work groups and higher satisfaction from customers who interface with these happier employees and the higher-quality products and services they produce.

Include Everyone for Best Results
The category of people who work for wages as opposed to a fixed salary is just as much a dimension of diversity within an organization as those categories that include gender, age, race, ethnicity and any other factor that makes people similar or different.

“It is just as wrong and foolish to exclude hourly workers as it would be to exclude women, minorities or any other dimension of diversity from full participation in company efforts to attract, engage and develop talent,” Andrade said. “Clearly, company efforts that include everyone will drive more value to the organization, its customers and its employees.”

Stellmacher said that as a result of engaging in these types of programs, “office personnel acquire a better view on how to engage this important segment of their workforce that makes the products and services sold to their customers. Conversely, production personnel get a better sense of the human political interactions in the office that drive decisions and as a result become better prepared to see and address opportunities towards mutual benefit.”

PetSmart, which is on the 2012 list of Best Companies for Hourly Workers, has shown that results can be attained through an all-inclusive approach. For example, Jan Wilkins joined the company as a dog groomer. Despite her lack of mechanical expertise, she came up with an idea for an improved aquatic filtration system that reduced pet loss and was cost-efficient. It’s now used in every PetSmart store. She also developed a training system for new groomers, which allowed the company to open 84 West Coast stores in two years. She rose from dog groomer to her current role as a regional vice president overseeing 215 stores. Having an organization that is inclusive and supportive of all its employees is a win-win for everyone.

According to the article “Capture the Free Agents,” which appeared in the October 2011 issue of HR Executive, the top business challenge of 2012 is simple: Find and manage the talent necessary to achieve company objectives. However, before running out the door looking for those rare and special diamonds the organization needs, it would be wise to start mining all the diamonds in the company’s own backyard to reap immediate and long-term rewards from inclusiveness.

Joe Santana is CEO and founder of JosephSantana Consulting, which focuses on diversity and inclusion. He can be reached at