How to Find and Recruit the Best Hourly Employees

Editor’s Note: This week, TLNT is counting down the most popular posts of 2010. This is No. 6 in our Top 25. We’ll continue to do this through New Year’s Eve. Our regular content will return on Monday January 3, 2011.

By Mel Kleiman

If you’re having a difficult time attracting enough quality front-line workers and retaining them long enough to realize a return on their investment, you’re hardly alone. Hourly employee turnover rates historically run from 70–120 percent per year in most industries.

As an employer or hiring manager, you may wrongly assume that there is nothing you can do to control or mitigate the enormous drain on profitability caused by turnover. This chapter will provide suggestions on how you can reduce turnover by recruiting and hiring the best hourly workers.

The best employees don’t just walk in and ask for a job — usually because they’re already working. If you want the best, you have to know what you need, where to look, and how to recruit them.

Attracting and retaining the best hourly workers requires understanding the demographics of today’s hourly workforce. If you are just targeting young people, you are overlooking responsible adults who are seeking hourly work. If you are just recruiting for full-time positions, you are overlooking a large population of workers who prefer part-time employment. If the statistics below surprise you, you don’t know today’s hourly labor pool.

  • 39 percent of hourly employees are under 25 years old.
  • 33 percent are 25–44 years old, and a full 28 percent are 45 or older.
  • More than 80 percent work within a 5-mile radius of their homes.
  • Over half (56 percent) consider their jobs a full-time career.
  • The vast majority (74 percent) prefer to work 30 or fewer hours a week.
  • Most apply for three jobs at once, making employer responsiveness critical in recruiting. The most important factors to these job seekers are: (1) Being hired quickly (37 percent); (2) pay (33 percent); and (3) being close to home (17 percent).

The following suggestions comprise a step-by-step system for hiring the best employees to revitalize any hourly employee recruiting program, reduce turnover, and improve profits.

Explore alternatives to hiring

First ask yourself if there are alternatives to hiring. In most cases, employers start recruiting because a position is vacant or growth dictates an increase in the number of positions. Perhaps you can restructure the job or even eliminate it. Other possible alternatives:

  • Seek alternatives to permanent, full-time workers: Perhaps other employees can perform this job. Assign all or parts of it to existing employees, use temporary employees, and look at job sharing and cross-training as possible alternatives to hir- ing a permanent, full-time worker.
  • Automate processes: The introduction of new technology sometimes allows you to change the nature of hourly jobs. For example, scanners at grocery stores eliminated the need for cashiers to know prices. Do your research to see if technology is available that would automate parts of the process.
  • Change the business process: Jobs can be redesigned or eliminated by changing the business process involved. For example, many quick-serve restaurants now offer self-serve beverage stands because it is cheaper to offer free refills than to hire the extra help required to operate behind-the-counter beverage dispensers.

Create a solid job description

Recruiting hourly employees is easier and more efficient when you have a job description that specifies the key attributes the ideal jobholder will possess.

Looking for an employee without knowing exactly what you need is like going grocery shopping without a list: You spend more time and money than you should, you don’t get everything that you need (while simultaneously splurging on things that you don’t really need), and you usually have to go back and do it again.

The job description helps you avoid getting more or less than you need and wasting time and money on unqualified applicants. It is also a useful legal document. A written job description that lists the mental and physical capacities required, and why the job exists, is the best defense against claims of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Create a job analysis

If the job description is a grocery list, a job analysis is the recipe. Designed for real (rather than governmental) use, this document directly reflects the job today and its potential for the future.

An effective job analysis starts with the reasons the job exists (why it’s essential to the company) and the objectives of the job. It then lists the responsibilities of the job holder. When writing the job analysis, don’t assume that the job must be done exactly as it has been done in the past. Get input and opinions from employees, supervisors, customers, and others who interface with the position.

To brainstorm this list, consider:

  • What the job holder must do well in order to earn a raise
  • Why you would reprimand or fire a person in this job
  • What the last job holder did well
  • What the last job holder did poorly
  • What you’d like to see done differently
  • What has kept job holders from being successful in the past

Make the analysis specific to the site and to the shift being worked, because different conditions require different qualities and abilities. Distill the essential job functions and critical requirements and the detailed profile of the qualities and abilities best suited for the job, using the CAPS approach described below.

Once created, revisit the job analysis every time you hire for that position. Review it to ensure it’s current and reflects any technological, environmental, structural, or managerial changes that have occurred or are anticipated.

To write the job analysis, think of a job’s requirements as falling into four primary categories, easily remembered as CAPS:

  • Capacities: The mental and physical abilities required to do the job.
  • Attitudes: Dispositions such as dependability, initiative, and customer service orientation needed for success Personality: Temperament and traits such as competitiveness, assertiveness, and sociability.
  • Skills: The expertise required to do the job.

For each category, list and then rank, in order of importance, the factors that would make a job holder exceptional. Include examples and situations to illustrate when each quality is required.

Capacities: If an applicant lacks the required capacities, nothing else matters. That person simply cannot do this particular job. Therefore, when creating a job analysis, the first and most important thing to identify is the capacity requirements. There are two types of job-related capacities to consider:

  • Physical capacities: If employees will be bending, lifting, reaching, climbing, etc., indicate the nature and scope of your requirements in terms of distance, frequency, and length of time spent doing the task. Include specifics about the weight, shape, and sizes of the materials. Don’t forget to include auditory and visual acuity.
  • Mental capacities: Define how much thinking and learning the job requires. Include specifics on the scope or frequency of the duty and the knowledge and abilities required for success on the job. Mental capacities might include the ability to understand and carry out oral and/or written instructions; read work orders, tickets, graphs, logs, or schedules; prepare detailed technical records or reports; inspect, examine, and observe product, equipment, or workmanship; and/or identify and correct defects. As stated earlier, the job analysis must be both site and shift-specific. Conditions at different sites, such as size, physical barriers, and layout may require different capacities in order to perform the same job. Differ- ent shifts may require different capacities if different tasks are done at different times of day.
  • Attitude: After capacities, the most important requirement is the right attitude. Where the needed capacities exist, a positive attitude will determine success on the job. Without the right attitude, an employee won’t do well, no matter how proficient their skills. In fact, it’s much easier to train an employee with a winning attitude to do the job than it is to try to train people with the right skills to smile and be pleasant if they are naturally inclined otherwise. Hire for attitude and train for skills.

Employee attitudes affect every company’s success. Good employees make customers happy and grow sales. On the flip side of the coin are poor employees who upset customers, lose sales, and compel shoppers to go elsewhere. By defining the attitudes that are most important for a jobholder’s success, you can gear your hiring efforts toward those desir- able qualities. For example, an above-average hourly worker in a service industry displays these winning attributes:

  • Customer service orientation
  • Team player
  • Reliability
  • Honesty
  • Willingness to follow rules
  • Problem-solver
  • Loyalty
  • Safety consciousness
  • Ability to follow through

Personality: It’s difficult to find an applicant with the right personality when hiring, because there are actually four personality dimensions involved. In addition to your new hire’s personality, be aware of the job’s personality, your personality, and your company’s personality. Few, if any, applicant personalities will align perfectly with all three, but the closer the match, the better the fit.

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Most important is how closely the applicant’s personality matches the job. For instance, some qualities you might be looking for include attention to detail, working with people, and assertiveness, or competitiveness.

People tend to do well at things that they enjoy doing and that come naturally to them. Successful people do things well even if they don’t really like to do them because they’re able to manage their own personalities.

When looking at personality, you will need to determine if you believe the person will manage his or her own personality to get the job done.

Notice the key is managing — not changing — one’s personality to get the job done. Social scientists tell us that about 60% of one’s personality is genetic and that most personality traits are embedded by age nine. In other words, personality is part of our basic wiring; it can’t be taught and it doesn’t change much over time.

Skills: The ability to read is a skill; the ability to learn to read is a capacity. Employers who always put skills before capacities when hiring make a big mistake. A person with the right capacities and attitudes can be trained in the needed skills. The desired capacities and attitudes, however, cannot be taught. Remember, the preferred rule is to hire for attitude and train for skills. Of course, some jobs require a certain skill level. And frequently there’s no time to train new employees because you must hire immediately. In these cases, your top two priorities become capacities and skills.

Skills are the easiest job requirements to identify and verify. If you need someone to drive a forklift, operate a cash register, or do data entry, you can easily test for these abilities. If you absolutely require certain skills, or if you do not plan to train new hires, then testing for required skills should take place very early in the hiring process — and always before interviews — so you don’t spend any unnecessary time with unskilled applicants.

Excerpted from Creating the Workforce — and Results — You Seek: A Thought Leadership Anthology on Workforce Management from the Workforce Institute at Kronos. Copyright 2010 by Kronos Incorporated. Reprinted with permission from The Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated.