Two Secrets To Motivate & Retain Employees

Two industry leaders used the Power Summit stage this week to share their differing, but both very successful, tactics for keeping employees happy and motivated in their workplaces. First, Marty Lott told the crowd about how Top 40 supplier SanMar (asi/84863) was able to recruit better-quality employees and dramatically improve retention when he began letting the company’s call center employees work from their homes.

The practice started several years ago, when SanMar moved its corporate headquarters 20 miles outside of Seattle. Some employees quit because they didn’t want to make the commute. And, job seekers would turn around halfway through the drive to the interview, saying they simply didn’t want to make the trek, Lott said. SanMar immediately created a work-at-home program for all employees who did not need to interact in person with other employees.

The result? Few of the company’s telecommuting employees ever take sick leave, and turnover in those departments is close to zero. Not only that, but the call center employees’ customer service reviews are skyrocketing. “When our employees are happy, our customers are happy,” Lott said. “This has really transformed our business.”

At eCompanyStore (asi/185782), Craig Callaway also had a retention problem when the firm launched in the late 1990s. Many of the company’s youngest hires had been issued stock options when the company began. When eCompanyStore executives realized the options were virtually worthless after the dot-com bust, they had to quick scramble to keep employees happy in other ways. The solution was to provide a wide variety of unique benefits, such as time off for volunteering, half-day Fridays in the summer, and cash bonuses for employees’ spouses around the holidays, as incentives.

But the biggest benefit eCompanyStore provides is mandatory three-week sabbaticals for every employee for every five years of service. “You’re not allowed to check email. You need to unplug and do something meaningful,” Callaway said. Employees use the time to visit family members (one staffer took a three-week-long jaunt to Thailand to connect with extended family), do volunteer work or just recharge their batteries.

The sabbatical offering itself is a key reason why the company boasts unusually high retention rates. “You can give people money, but that only goes so far,” Callaway said. “Give them time off, and you’re giving them something even more valuable.”