Chipotle, Waste Management, and others gear hiring around reaching a milestone they say are critical to employee retention.
By Chip Cutter
In the quest to retain workers, companies are sharpening their focus on a very specific common goal: 90 days.
Hold on to an employee for three months, executives and human-resources specialists say, and that person is more likely to remain employed longer-term, which they define as anywhere from a year on in today’s high-turnover environment. That has led manufacturing companies, restaurants, hotel operators and others to roll out special bonuses, stepped-up training and new programs to prevent new hires from quitting in their first three months on the job.
Heating and air-conditioning company Carrier Global Corp. CARR -0.77%▼ began pairing new hires with a more experienced “buddy” in its manufacturing facilities after discovering most attrition happened before an employee hit the three-month mark, said Chief Executive David Gitlin. Executives at Minneapolis video software company Qumu Corp., QUMU 16.87%▲ have retooled training and onboarding processes partly around the goal of reducing what the company calls “quick quits,” or departures within three months, said Mercy Noah, Qumu’s vice president of human resources.
Some franchisees for McDonald’s Corp., Wendy’s Co. and others advertise new-hire bonuses of hundreds of dollars, many payable after 90 days; CVS Health Corp. gives warehouse workers at some of its facilities a $1,000 bonus if they stay on the job for three months.
A McDonald's restaurant in Pennsylvania tries to attract workers by advertising free meals. Some franchisees also advertise bonuses payable after 90 days. | PHOTO: BEN HASTY/MEDIANEWS GROUP/GETTY IMAGES
“If you see someone hit the three-month mark, the reality is, they’re going to be here for at least a year,” said Marissa Andrada, chief people officer at Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. Chipotle has focused on consistent scheduling and giving new hires a clear explanation of company operations and benefits, she said. The tactics are designed to help employees be comfortable in its restaurants and motivated to stay, she said.
This summer’s labor market is among the tightest in decades, and finding enough workers, let alone desirable workers, remains so difficult that companies are increasingly motivated to retain new hires. Three months has traditionally been considered enough time for employees to begin to prove themselves, veteran human-resources executives say. Many companies also still enforce 90-day probationary periods, with some withholding benefits like health insurance in the meantime.
Just as it can take weeks of consistent effort to develop an exercise habit that sticks, employers have found that 90 days is typically enough time for workers to get into a steady routine of a new job. This can be particularly important for hourly employees in higher-turnover industries like hospitality or manufacturing, executives say, where workers have plenty of options.
The unemployment rate stood at 3.6% last month. Employees have benefited from a labor market that has given them the ability to more easily change jobs for higher pay. Workers are flexing their power in other ways, too. Employees at an Apple Inc. store in Maryland voted earlier this month to unionize, creating the first Apple retail union in the U.S., adding to unionization drives at companies such as Starbucks Corp.
After TAT Limco human resources director, Patrick Whalen, helped design a 90-day plan, the company lost just one of 45 hires in a quarter. | PHOTO: SEPTEMBER DAWN BOTTOMS FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
A TAT Limco machine forms aluminum into 'fin' for assembly of thermal heat exchangers. A welder welds manifolds onto a heat exchanger. | PHOTOS: SEPTEMBER DAWN BOTTOMS FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Patrick Whalen, director of human resources and organizational development at the aerospace manufacturing company TAT Limco in Tulsa, Okla., watched late last year as a number of the company’s welders, assemblers and others left for jobs that, in some cases, paid only a dollar or two more an hour. Some workers, he said, barely stuck around for a month. Frustrated, Mr. Whalen began making a case inside the company that it needed to rethink its approach to bringing on new employees. He wanted a 90-day plan.
“It seems to be a magic window,” he said.
After he explained that every new hire who left early cost the company thousands of dollars in training expenses, time and lost revenue, Mr. Whalen said managers agreed to a change. In January, the company instituted a new 90-day onboarding process.
TAT Limco hired an onboarding coordinator to oversee every new employee’s entry into the company. Managers now contact employees before their first day, part of an effort to provide more contact points with new hires so they don’t get lured to a rival. Supervisors set weekly expectations for new employees to guide them in their first three months, giving staffers structured goals and time to get up to speed.
Turnover, at 37% in January, has fallen by more than half, to 16% today, Mr. Whalen said. Newer employees are also sticking around. In the first three months of the year, the company lost one of 45 employees it hired. “If we lose somebody within the first month or two months or three months, it’s very rare,” Mr. Whalen said.
There are signs the labor market is cooling, particularly among salaried workers. Companies including Tesla Inc. and Netflix Inc. have announced plans to cut staff, and some employers have rescinded job offers to new hires. Yet for hourly jobs across a broad range of sectors, demand for workers remains historically high.
Workers say they often know within weeks if a job will be a fit. Aliyah Abbott, a 23-year-old rising senior at Temple University, said she left a marketing internship in Philadelphia recently after about a month. Though Ms. Abbott said she had never before quit a role and hesitated to leave the internship before it ended this summer, she thought the position turned out to be different than initially presented to her. It paid less than she thought she had been promised, with some compensation based on a commission structure, she said.
Aliyah Abbott, 23, quit her marketing internship after a month, realizing quickly it was not a fit. | PHOTO: HANNAH YOON FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
“By the third or fourth week, you’re kind of like, ‘Is this right for me?’” she said. She quickly found a new job working as a marketing coordinator. “The bigger picture with jobs is just trial and error sometimes,” she said.
Much of the success of a job in the first three months also comes down to an employee’s connection with a company, executives say. At the San Francisco software company Intercom, new hires at all levels are asked to embark on what the company calls a listening tour to understand the company’s operations and meet with as many colleagues as possible.
For lower-level staffers, that might last two weeks; for executives, it could stretch to six.
“The first 90 days is almost like an extended interview process by the employee of the company,” said L. David Kingsley, Intercom’s chief people officer. “Those are the critical moments where someone is truly deciding.”
Some companies, like workplace software provider Envoy, have hired staffers in recent months who will check in with hiring managers and new employees to see how the experience is going for all sides. “That first 90 days are when you have people that either say, ‘This was the best thing I ever did,’ or ‘I made a mistake because it’s not what I thought it was going to be,’” said Annette Reavis, Envoy’s chief people officer.
Waste Management, the trash-and-recycling hauler, studied its employee turnover data to figure out how to keep new staffers as they learn their roles. | PHOTO: DAVID PAUL MORRIS/BLOOMBERG NEWS
Waste Management Inc. plans to roll out a tool that will allow managers to get real-time feedback from their teams; workers will be able to leave comments anonymously. The tool will be available to both new workers in their first months on the job and veteran employees. “You’re going to get tidbits from your folks,” said John Morris, Waste Management’s chief operating officer. “It’s going to be, ‘Hey, this is what my group is telling me what’s on their minds.’”
The trash-and-recycling hauler studied its employee turnover data and found the first 120 days to be particularly critical for keeping new staffers as they learn their roles. The company pairs new hires with more experienced staffers and sends some workers to in-person training in Arizona and Florida.
Many factors play into retaining a new worker, Mr. Morris said, including educational benefits and pay. But the company wants to make sure its managers are also equipped to respond to issues in a variety of channels, one reason for the new tool.
“We all get a ton of feedback. But if it’s 800 pages, nobody’s going to read it,” Mr. Morris said. “So how do you give these frontline leaders tidbits, nuggets, actionable things that they can do?”
Jennifer Sick, a 29-year-old based in Richfield, Ohio, took a position in late February as a sales representative at Group Management Services Inc., a provider of payroll, outsourcing and other services to small businesses. The company has a 90-day probationary period, with clearly outlined goals, the first Ms. Sick experienced in her career.
At a minimum, Ms. Sick said managers required her to make 300 cold calls a week and to visit two small businesses; if she wanted to achieve a bonus at 90 days, she could make 375 calls a week, and visit four businesses. Managers checked in repeatedly to see if she needed anything, she said.
“It was a constant communication of, ‘How are you feeling? How are you doing?’” she said.
She completed day 90 on a Friday in early June, and received the bonus for making additional calls and visits. By the following Monday, she also had the keys to a company-issued Hyundai sedan and gas card, another perk for moving past her probationary period.
“I worked really hard in my 90 days because I just saw my future at this company,” she said.