Disco mirror ball with text, Maximizing Your EVP: Employee Value Proposition

Do you have an EVP? This is an acronym for “Employee Value Proposition.”

An Employee Value Proposition is the specific benefits your employees receive in exchange for the time, skills, talent, and experience they bring to your business. Similar to a customer-centric value proposition, it is how your employees see and value your shop as an employer.

In other words, it answers the question, “Why would anyone want to work for you?”

Here’s a hint, it is more than just the money.

Trouble Finding Employees?

Are you having trouble finding the right employees to work for you? Sadly, you are not a unicorn.

There are many reasons why you are struggling with new hires. And, by the way, it isn’t because nobody wants to work. Let’s retire that notion right now. People want to work.

They just don’t value working for you.

The unemployment rate in the US as of June 2022 is about 3.6% and 4.53% in the UK, which are both relatively low. After the great layoff during COVID, the workforce moved on to other industries, careers, and interests.

Demand in our industry for skilled and trained labor is at a peak currently. If your workers are any good at their job, they are being courted to work elsewhere. This is happening right now.

What is keeping them working for you?

What Makes A Good Company To Work For?

So, let me ask you this. What makes a good company to work for these days?

This article is about setting the guidelines for the conversations that you should be having in your shop. Want to recruit and keep better employees? Work on your Employee Value Proposition.

Let’s break this down into manageable chunks. Consider these ten points:

  • Compensation
  • Benefits – Insurance, 401(k), Vacation Days
  • Who You Hire
  • Company Culture
  • Career Training
  • Hours
  • Environmental and Psychological Conditions
  • Employee Engagement
  • Management
  • Extras

Compensation

A lot has changed in this industry over the last couple of years regarding how much employees are getting paid.

More than one shop owner has come to me with an interesting challenge.

To fill a key role, they brought in someone from another area and are paying them much more than their current staff makes. Because nothing in business exists in a vacuum, word gets out, and there is close to a mutiny with the original crew.

Oh boy.

Or, the sandwich shop down the street starts paying a few bucks more per hour than you do. You are in trouble when your staff starts to defect to make sub sandwiches.

What you pay people matters. Right now, there is global inflation. In the US and the UK, the inflation rate is 9.1%. For hourly workers, their money isn’t stretching as far as they need it to go. And as a good number of these folks live paycheck to paycheck, their wage rate is critical to them.

Are you keeping up?

As labor is the most significant expenditure for most businesses, raising prices so you can keep your labor force intact is something that should have already happened for your business. Of course, this feeds the inflation cycle, but it is necessary to remain profitable and solvent.

Some discussion questions for your shop:

  • What is the starting wage at any fast food, grocery, or department store in your area?
  • When your competition is hiring, what pay range are they posting for the advertised positions?
  • What was the total amount of labor you spent last year? Multiply that by 9.1% or even 10%. How much per impression could you increase your prices to cover that cost?
  • What type of automation or labor-saving tools are out there that could significantly impact your shop to decrease labor? This could be equipment, but software counts too.

Doing a pay audit in your area may uncover some hard-to-hear truths about where you need to be compensation-wise. People quit for many reasons.

Don’t let money be one of them if you can help it.

Benefits

Besides pay, what are you offering your employees as part of the package to work in your company? Healthcare? A 401(k) match? More earned paid days off? Bonuses?

Let’s face it, in the current labor market, the price of poker has gone up. Decent pay is table stakes. What else are you adding that will make your shop attractive?

Do you have a referral program for new sales or even new employees?

Your goal is to keep your current employees healthy and happy. What matters to them? Have you asked?

Here are some beneficial ideas to get your Employee Value Proposition conversation started:

  • Health Insurance options. Even if you can’t sign up for a program, could you offer help with an earmarked payment?
  • Paid Time Off (PTO) – is everyone at your company the same, or do you have levels based on criteria and positions?
  • Flexible and Remote Working – Can people make their own hours? What would it take? For admin, art, sales, or other positions not tied to production, could they work remotely?
  • Disability Insurance or Life Insurance. Could you help with this?
  • Retirement plans.
  • Access to financial planning and education. Can you level up your staff with knowledge?
  • Employee purchases – our industry has access to wholesale accounts for some fantastic apparel. Can your team take advantage of that?
  • Memberships – Can you negotiate free gym memberships or other perks with your customer base for your employees?
  • Snacks, food, drinks, monthly lunches. A full pantry can keep people happy.

Hiring

Who are you letting on the team? This is important.

When shops can’t find staff, they often grab the next person that walks through the door like a drowning man reaching for a life preserver. Sometimes, this has dire consequences.

Hiring should be a process just like any other in your business. If your business was a sports team, and you were in charge of recruiting players to win the championship, would you grab just anyone off the street?

Here are some thoughts on hiring these days as part of your Employee Value Proposition:

  • Offer a bonus to current employees who bring in solid candidates. When the new hire reaches their 90-day mark, they get $250 or $500.
  • Market your business to potential staff members like you would new customers. Go after them. Don’t sit and wait.
  • Have an online form on your website. Make it easy to apply. Not everyone has a resume, but you can have fields for what you want to know.
  • Use social media to spread the word. Have your current employees invite them in for an interview or talk about what it is like to work there.
  • Show off your company culture. People want to find a place to belong and a job with like-minded people.
  • Write specific job descriptions and show the pay range.
  • Talk about your training program. Even better, have someone that is recently trained talk about your training program.
  • Have you looked through your folder of past candidates recently? Is there anyone that could fill the role?

Finding people is tough. By the way, I recently heard that one shop owner had great results with an app called Workstream. Check it out.

Company Culture

What is it like to work in your shop every day? Does it feel like we’re mining for coal, or does it feel like we’re part of something special?

The difference between the two is your company culture. This makes up a significant part of your Employee Value Proposition. People want to feel like they are on the winning team and that their thoughts and activities matter.

Company culture is simply the attitudes and behaviors of your staff. This is one hundred percent leadership and management driven.

When your company tolerates bad attitudes, apathy, and other negative employee traits, it has an effect on your company culture.

On the other hand, when your company celebrates great attitudes, engagement, and other positive employee traits, that also has an effect on your company culture.

Therefore, change your employees or change your employees. Here are some tips to think about company culture:

  • Is your staff helping or assisting others downstream from them succeed? Can they make the next person’s job easier in some way?
  • Does your staff have an “ownership mentality,” or are they just clock punchers?
  • Are staff well-trained and know what is expected of them at all times?
  • Do staff members have the power to make things happen, or is there a “Mother May I” / “Check with me” scenario with managers before anyone can go to the next task?
  • Are employees engaged in problem-solving and continuous improvement?
  • Is there a learning culture where staff members are focused on improving and getting to the next level?
  • Is your company taking creative risks that are championed by staff members?

Culture matters more than you think. Employees want to belong to a place that values their effort, skill, talent, and labor. Are you demonstrating an appreciation for your employees regularly?

Career Training

Training matters too. This industry constantly evolves with new fabrics, consumables, equipment, techniques, and gizmos that drive better performance.

Are you keeping up?

Not to mention just the day-to-day need to cross-train your employees and build bench strength. If you have employees, you should be building an on-purpose, scheduled training program for every person.

Not only does a training program make your company stronger, but it demonstrates to the employee that you care about them enough to teach them new things. People enjoy learning, which should be a key part of your Employee Value Proposition.

Some thoughts on training your staff:

  • If you don’t have people with the skill that can train, sign up for classes or bring in experts with the knowledge.
  • Schedule time for training like it is an order that has to be produced.
  • Limit training sessions to 30-minute windows.
  • As part of their job descriptions, the person should demonstrate new skills acquired to advance to the next level role. Length of service should not matter for compensation increases. Instead, base it on daily performance and new skills acquired.
  • Keep track of training with a master spreadsheet or software.
  • Build a video library of “how-to” tasks for everything in your shop and make these private YouTube videos. Make QR codes for some of the videos, and post the QR code next to different things in your shop for quick refresher lessons. (Example: how to fill the dip tank or mix ink)

It is your job as a manager or leader to elevate the performance of the staff that works for you. Plan this out quarterly and set sessions up on a calendar.

Also, if something comes up unexpectedly, be sure to pull people in for a quick training session while you complete that task. Don’t wait!

Hours

Simply put, when are staff members working? Are they working five eight-hour days or four ten-hour days? First shift? Second shift? Weekends? Full or part-time?

What is the overtime considerations like in your shop? Mandatory or voluntary?

Start times matter too. 6:00 am, or 8:00 am? Does everyone in the building come in at the same time, or is it staggered? How flexible are you on the hours?

It is a lot to consider. The challenge that we have in our industry is that a good chunk of our staff has to work together as a team in the shop. They can’t stagger in whenever they want or work from home.

That being said, I have adjusted the start times for staff because of weather conditions, school classes, personal reasons, or other factors. When UPS started arriving later, we moved the receiving team’s hours to accommodate the work so they could check in everything the same day.

As part of your Employee Value Proposition here are some thoughts on hours:

  • Set standards. This is our “normal” start and end time.
  • If circumstances allow, be flexible. Sometimes temporary situations don’t fit the normal start and stop times.
  • For non-production staff members, have standards and yet be realistic. Does your sales staff really need to come into the office every day? Shouldn’t they be out there selling?
  • If you have work from home or a virtual assistant, keep track of the hours, but make it more about performance than time. Have good metrics.
  • When there are extreme weather conditions, starting or stopping at different times may keep staff happier.
  • Make sure you have “black-out” periods for vacations during your peak times and that everyone is aware of it.

When people show up matters sometimes, but sometimes not so much. I’ve had plenty of part-time college students successfully work around their class schedules.

Environmental and Psychological Conditions

This section is about safety. Both from an environmental and psychological perspective. For employees, this matters more than you think.

A trend I’m seeing more these days is for shops, regardless of the size of the building, to air condition the shop. When all the other shops in town are working in a building where the ambient temperature in the summer is 110 degrees next to the press, who wouldn’t want to work in a shop where doing the same job, the temperature is 77 degrees? I went into one shop in Louisiana in the summer and wished I had brought a jacket.

Talk about a recruiting tool.

Has that happened in your area yet? No? What if it was your shop?

The trick, of course, is how to do it without breaking the bank. Some shops are using portable air conditioning units as the military uses. Others direct the air duct to blow out over the working staff.

People want to work in clean and safe environments. When a prospective candidate gets the shop tour, are they thinking to themselves, “Wow! This place is awesome!” or are they thinking, “Holy cow, what a dump!”

You own either one of those thoughts.

Lastly, psychological safety is all about people who feel that they can speak the truth to power and not get in trouble. In the famous Johnny Paycheck song, “Take This Job and Shove It”, the person isn’t quitting his job over money. It is how he is treated as an employee by the boss.

As part of your Employee Value Proposition, consider these ideas for environmental or psychological conditions:

  • Keep the shop clean, neat, and ready to work. Remember, “It’s not what you preach; it’s what you tolerate.”
  • Be empathetic. Practice active listening. You want to hear what your crew says to you, especially about how to make something better.
  • Work to make conditions better. Do the best you can with what you can afford.
  • It isn’t “why you can’t do something”, but “what do we need so we can?”
  • What bothers you probably bothers other people. Fix it.

One of the challenges that everyone in this industry constantly has to resolve is the use of time. Frequently, the excuse as to why something didn’t happen is that “there wasn’t enough time.”

Stop saying that. There is enough time. The reason something didn’t happen was that it wasn’t a priority. If it matters, bump it up on the priority list.

Employee Engagement

On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy and satisfied do you think your employees are with their job and your company? The answer probably is “depends on the employee.”

That seems right.

When I was in college, I was introduced to the “Law of Thirds” at a leadership summit I attended. It basically states that the population can be broken down into three distinct sections in any given group or organization.

  1. The Top Tier – these are the staff members that always show up. Always give their best. They are the model you wish your entire company could build. On a scale of 1-10, they would be above 8.
  2. The Middle Tier – these are good staff members, but they occasionally have issues. They underperform or miss work. Sometimes you have to remind them to complete a task. On a scale of 1-10, they would be between 4 and 8.
  3. The Bottom Tier – these are the deadwood employees that cause almost all the problems. They are late. Insubordinate. They make mistakes. You often wonder why they were hired. On a scale of 1-10 they are 1 to 3.

The trick for leadership and management is always to keep the Top Tier happy. This is where most of the action in your business happens.

For the Middle Tier, what can you do to train or motivate these folks to act and behave like the Top Tier?

Lastly, for the Bottom Tier, these people need to either move up to the attitude and behaviors of the Middle Tier or be terminated. Get a plan together. Do not wait.

As part of your Employee Value Proposition planning, here are some tips on thinking about employee engagement:

  • Clarity with expectations. Every employee, they should know what they are doing now and what they are doing next at all times. Clarity = success.
  • Do they have what they need to do the job correctly? Each employee should already have all of the tools, equipment, supplies, and documentation to do their job at all times. They should not have to look for it, or bang on the side of something to make it work.
  • Leadership encourages best practices and motivates employees to succeed by being servant leaders. Their job is to elevate performance.
  • Success is recognized publicly as a consistent trait. People want to be seen and acknowledged. Make sure that it happens.
  • Training. As stated, time to learn and improve is part of the job. It is expected and encouraged.
  • Impact. Is there a mission beyond the work? Does the company support a cause or help others with philanthropy?
  • Work is a friendly place. Malcontents and joyless people are shown the door. You know you have a great staff when they like to hang out with each other after hours.
  • Progress is noted. Employees are encouraged to “Level Up” and actions and support are in place to make that happen.

Your company doesn’t run on autopilot. Employees are crucial to the success of any firm. The level of engagement for your team is paramount to your success.

Management

Who is steering the ship? As your business continues to grow and thrive, the leadership level needed to keep things moving has to increase with it.

It is not uncommon for a worker in a department to be promoted to the department manager. This could be in production, sales, art, receiving, or any other section of your business. They could manage one person or forty-seven. Typically, they are really good at what they do in that department, so the thinking is that they would make a great manager based on that skill.

However, skill in a particular task does not always equate to skill in leading people. This is something that has to be learned, like any other quality.

To me, managers in this business should be concerned with only a few things and this priority:

  1. Developing staff and elevating their performance.
  2. Ensuring quality.
  3. Making things happen on time.

You might ask, why is developing staff number one? It’s simple. If you have the first thing, the other two fall into place.

Yet, I’ve been to plenty of shops where the managers are always focused on quality and the schedule and never about elevating performance. They are too busy yelling.

As this article is about Employee Value Proposition, I can assure you that the quality of your management team has a lot to do with how your employees view their roles in your business. Here are some thoughts on the management role:

  • Skill – of course, you should look for managers who know the business. That is a given. But it isn’t the only thing.
  • Can teach – you need to have leaders who can show others patiently how to perform and do any task better.
  • Is an Active Listener – you don’t want managers who don’t listen. Listening is probably one of the most important skills to have as an effective leader.
  • Trustworthy – you want someone who is rock solid. Sure, you will give them the keys to the building, but you are also giving them the keys to the actual business success.
  • Lifelong Learner – great managers have an insatiable appetite for learning new things and making them work in the shop. If your manager ever says, “But this is the way we’ve always done it,” you have the wrong person working for you in that role.
  • Proactive – they think ahead. Their job is to defuse the bombs that are sitting out there next week.

Over the years, I’ve worked with and spoken to some fantastic managers and leaders in this industry. Above are the best traits of those people. If you are working on your Employee Value Proposition, look at those traits and think about how your staff sees them from their perspective.

Extras

Lastly, there always are the little extras that employees love to have that make working at a company enjoyable.

From celebrating birthdays and work anniversaries to having a disco mirror ball and dance music that goes off when a customer sends in a compliment. It just makes working there fun.

And as we aren’t robots, fun matters to employees. Especially at work, as we are usually with our work friends more than we are with our families.

Therefore, let me ask you. How are you injecting fun into your Employee Value Proposition as an on-purpose idea?

Here are some thoughts:

  • Have an employee committee that plans activities and helps construct the “fun.” Give them a budget.
  • Send home hand-written “Thank You” cards to employees. Refrigerator material matters.
  • Every night at dinner, someone will ask them, “Hey honey, how was your day?” Their response is based on what your company does with this idea.
  • Listen to employees more. They have great ideas. Use a calendar and plan things out.
  • Take employees to trade shows and classes. Bring in experts.
  • Occasionally sponsor events outside of work. Movies, bowling, picnics, ax throwing. It doesn’t matter. Just do something.
  • Celebrate wins together.

If you have read this far down into the article, good for you. This means that probably this stuff matters to you, and you want to make it better.

That’s great!

Get feedback from your staff. Individually, ask them, “If you were given one to change something about your job to make it better, what would you wish for?”

See if you can make that happen.


“By putting the employee first, the customer effectively is put first by default, and in the end, the shareholder is put first by default as well.” – Richard Branson

“Employee of the month” is a good example of how a person can be a winner and loser at the same time.” – Demetri Martin

“If you are doing what you are getting paid for, and doing it no better than the average employee, then your pay is most likely right where it should be.” – Bo Bennett


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Marshall Atkinson also shares exclusive blog content at Supacolor.com. Supacolor makes The World’s Best Heat Transfer and provides tips, inspiration, and other resources designed to empower professional garment printers.