What Effective Management is All About: A Guide for Managers of Hourly Employees


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Hourly employees sometimes feel as if they’re invisible.

They aren’t salaried. They don’t have the “serious” benefits. They might not be full-time. Their schedules are unpredictable. They don’t even know most of the other employees because their shifts are all over the place.

How do you effectively manage a group of employees–people who make your entire business possible–if you aren’t really seeing them? Do you understand your hourly employees well enough to manage them in a way that encourages productivity and loyalty?

If you’re struggling with attitudes, productivity, or what’s turned into a revolving door of hiring for the same positions over and over, it’s time to rethink how you manage your hourly employees.

Understand what motivates hourly employees.

Hourly employees have different goals and motivations than salaried employees.

Generally, salaried employees are looking to stick around, and want a steady work that they can continue in towards promotions, raises, and a long-term career. There are cases where hourly employees want the same thing, hoping for promotions and using the hourly job to get their foot in the door. But, in most cases, the goals between the two are different. Consider these facts about hourly employees:

  • Almost 40% of hourly workers are under age 25.
  • Over 80% work within five miles of their home.
  • Almost 75% prefer to work 30 hours or less each week.
  • Most apply for three jobs at once when looking for work.
  • Being hired quickly is the most important thing for 37% of hourly job seekers.
  • For 33%, good pay matters the most.

Consider what these facts tell you about a large number of hourly employees:

  • Geographic location matters. They want the convenience of working near where they live because…
  • The job is supplemental. They don’t want fulltime work, meaning something else in life is getting more of their attention right now.
  • They are looking at the bottom line. They need a job with good pay, and they want it as soon as possible. The job is often a means to an end, not a career.
  • Top pay isn’t everything. Only a third of hourly employees are fixated on getting good pay. If you can meet other requirements, they will still be interested in the job.

Only when you know what motivates your employees will you be able to manage them. Because the motivations between a salaried and hourly employee are often different, so are the incentives.

Use incentives based on those motivations.

Employee incentives are used to promote consistency, longevity, and productivity. They are effective, and they don’t need to break the bank.

Incentives and benefits for hourly employees are sometimes similar to salaried employees, depending on your business. You may offer some form of health insurance, for example. But look at that list of what motivates hourly employees. Could you offer an employee a job at a location that’s closer to their home as soon as it’s available? Are you good about working with their schedule to make sure the job fits their life well? Are you burning out employees emotionally or physically by giving them more work than they originally were hired to do? Being aware of hourly employee concerns means you can tailor incentives around them.

Incentives that take those motivations into consideration are about finding and keeping employees. There are also incentives that work to create specific types of behavior. For example, safety.

You might be concerned about a work culture of safety for your hourly employees. To incentivize safety and drive safe behavior, you have regular required safety training that helps your employees habitualize safe work flows. You might not want to reward based on “X days without an accident” in case that causes employees to not report accidents, but you could offer an incentive (gift card, bonus) for employees who have ideas for improving safety that you implement, or for employees who attend and participate fully in safety training.

Other employee behavior you might incentivize is employee wellness, good customer relations, or ethics.

Train hourly employees in needed peripheral skills.

Try managing untrained employees and see what kind of week you have.

Salaried employees tend to get regular training, and often have a higher level of education or background of experience that brought them to the salaried job in the first place. Hourly employees often get the short end of the stick when it comes to training.

Let’s say you’ve hired a cash register clerk. Giving him training only on how to run the cash register is going to lead to problems. You need to train him in what might be considered “peripheral” skills.

Peripheral skills are the skills needed to do the job, not just run hardware or perform a task. For example, that cash register clerk should also be trained on how to communicate with customers (e.g. make eye contact) and how to deal with conflict or unhappy customers. He’ll also need a good understanding of the products he is supposed to be selling in case customers have questions. He’s not just running a register, he’s getting actual facetime with your customers. He needs to know how to handle it.

Train your hourly employees to do their whole job, not just how to run equipment or wipe down tables. They’ll require less management intervention if they know how to handle situations on their own.

Give hourly employees some power.

Effective management means not being a micromanager. However, if you keep your hourly employees powerless, you’ll be forced to do just that.

For example, if you give your employees some ability to offer coupons, on the spot discounts, or other simple fixes for customer complaints and problems, they don’t have to constantly call a manager over whenever a sales transaction or customer interaction doesn’t go smoothly. If, however, you insist they call the manager over for every little thing, it’s wearing on both the employee and the customer.

While you might not hand over your bank account numbers or keys to the shop, you can give hourly employees enough power to solve low-level problems on their own. This gives them a level of confidence (which makes the work experience positive) because you’re entrusting and authorizing them to take action without constantly needing your permission.

Work with employees when it comes to their schedule.

Scheduling should be a conversation, not a dictatorship.

If you are inflexible and domineering with an hourly employee’s schedule, they’ll probably start looking for another job right away. Remember, having a flexible schedule is one of the hallmarks of an hourly employee, particularly if they don’t want fulltime work and are only interested in the job as long as it fits into a life where they are also busy with something else.

Students, retirees, freelancers–these are all people who might use an hourly job to pick up extra income as long as it doesn’t interfere with something they consider more important.

So, in regards to scheduling:

  • Do you know what schedule your employee prefers? You should know from when you hired them, but regularly check in with each employee to be sure things are working out.
  • Is the schedule predictable? Many employees appreciate having a predictable schedule so that they can make other plans in life. This has become enough of an issue that some cities are passing laws requiring employers to work with predictable schedules as the norm, penalizing them for sudden changes in hours.
  • Are you sure the employee wants or doesn’t want a change in total hours? Any change from the hours agreed upon during hiring should be discussed with the employee before putting the change into motion.
  • Is there a noticeable conflict with an employee over the schedule? It may not be an employee “gone bad” but simply one whose life has changed and doesn’t fit the previous schedule. Have a conversation and figure out what the source of the problem is. If it’s as simple as adjusting the schedule, try to do it in order to save yourself replacement hiring.

Flexibility in scheduling is crucial when it comes to hourly employees. Their hours are a huge part of why they choose a job and if scheduling becomes a hassle in the slightest, they are likely to start looking elsewhere for a job.

Consider pairing employees together with mentorship in mind.

If you have an experienced employee and a new hire, pairing them together makes sense.

It helps with the training, for one thing, but it also gets the new hourly employee connected with the rest of the team. The experience of one rubs off on the other. It makes the experienced hourly employee feel needed, and it gives the new hire good footing. And, as far as management is concerned, it not only takes a bit off your shoulders, but also helps empower both employees as they learn and work together without management interference.

Put them together in shifts, even beyond the time period you consider “training” just to keep the forward momentum going. Talk to the experienced employee to see how things are going.

Let’s face it: as a manager, you might not know all the intricacies of every job like the person who works that job daily. They are probably a better trainer.

Build a cohesive team.

Hourly employees need to feel like they’re part of a team, just like salaried employees. The thing is, since they often don’t work as many hours or are on different shifts, hourly employees tend to feel disjointed.

Pairing and mentoring, as previously mentioned, helps. So do meetings, holiday or group activities, and motivational or incentivized contests that go across shifts. These are simple ways to build a team even when you have a mix of hourly and salaried employees and a mix of shifts and schedules.

When employees feel like they are part of something bigger, they are less like “independant” workers and will be easier to manage.

Motivate regularly. Monitor performance.

Motivation and measurement go hand-in-hand.

The easiest way to figure out what motivates an employee is to ask them. The most accurate way to figure out if the motivation works is to measure performance.

Send out surveys. Ask in group meetings. Have conversations. Have a suggestion box. Bring the idea of incentives and motivation up during employee reviews, during which you’ll also discuss the employee’s performance.

Depending on your business and industry, how you measure performance may vary. Getting medieval about it may not be the best approach, though, since hourly employees sometimes have a flight risk factor.

When it comes to motivating and monitoring hourly employees, keep the idea of a “path of least resistance” in mind, particularly if your business tends to have regular turnover and your hourly employees are only around a year or two. The more of a hassle you make the incentives and the more domineering or intrusive you make performance reviews, the easier it is for an hourly employee to just go somewhere else where they aren’t hassled.

This is especially true for those not working full time hours, where it’s clear the job is supplemental to something else that’s more important. If the theory that we all only have a limited amount of emotional or mental energy for each day is true, hourly employees whose jobs are not the main focus of their life are certainly not going to waste it on the job. They’ll find a job with less hassle.

How you motivate and how you monitor should be for the same end result: good behavior and performance.

Get your hiring right the first time.

The road to effective management is hiring the right person in the first place. Serious hiring mistakes are all too common when it comes to hourly workers.

Mel Kleiman, president of Humetrics, has a good point when it comes to the place you find great hourly employees: stop looking for people who are looking for work, and find people who are looking for better jobs. You attract the already-employed by:

  • Encouraging and incentivizing current employees to recommend hires through word of mouth or direct referral.
  • Differentiate your business from other similar ones through benefits and incentives.
  • List the top ten reasons someone would want to work for you. If you can’t find ten reasons, you have your work cut out for improvement.

It’s also important to act quickly or you’ll miss scooping up excellent employees. Remember, they’re applying for many jobs at once in order to get one as quickly as possible. Dawdle, and you’ll miss some great hires.

Along with great hiring is the ability to keep your employees. The easiest hourly employees to lose are your best employees for the simple reason that their work ethic and drive will necessarily push them to better pastures.

Be a good manager.

This entire article is about how to be an effective manager, but the most effective manager is one who is a good manager. A good manager is someone who:

  • Leads by example and never asks hourly employees to do any work he or she wouldn’t do.
  • Has training in how to work with a variety of personalities and experience levels.
  • Is able to keep the work interesting with just enough challenge that employees aren’t bored but aren’t overwhelmed.
  • Protects employees from abusive situations involving customers, vendors, or other employees.
  • Is fair and follows the rules for everyone, showing no special favor.
  • Gets to know hourly employees as real people and treats them as such.

Effective management of hourly employees is to treat them with the same respect and attention as you might a salaried employee. They are not the disposable or invisible workforce.

What Effective Management is All About: A Guide for Managers of Hourly Employees