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Q&A: Chris Burkhard on employee retention and attracting workers

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Chris Burkhard, president of Outside-In Companies in Newark, facilitates CEO Think Tank, an event series for company leaders looking to scale their businesses. We talked with Burkhard about employee retention, attracting young workers and the value of vacation time and health benefits.

What is the best way for a small business to keep turnover low now that the unemployment rate is 4 percent?

Today’s workforce places value on work-life balance. For example, being able to work from home when a kid is sick, or being able to stagger hours to have a repair made at the house. If leaders knew that flexibility is often the No. 1 thing workers want, they would think differently about how they structured their workforce programs.

How important is a company’s reputation for treatment of employees during the Recession years, particularly in an interconnected state such as Delaware?

According to the Business Journals of U.S. Census Bureau data, 170,000 small businesses in the U.S. closed between 2008 and 2010. If the Recession did not kill your business or cripple you by saddling the business with debt at a time when sales were plummeting, what could a business of any size really do? Almost all of us were impacted. How did the best companies handle reputation?

The key was openness, transparency and communication from leaders. A winning business heals and hides many flaws. Then you have a chance to have a great culture and a solid foundation of practices and principles that attract and keep the right staff. Getting it right is not easy; it takes years.

What are the best places to post jobs in order to attract young workers?

Professionals entering the workforce today value growth opportunities over money. They want flexibility and someone who can support their career progression. If you want to attract employees, make the above a reality and they will find you. Employees and customers will refer them to you, and this is way better than a posting. The key? Treat attracting talent the way you treat sales and marketing. You must have staff dedicated to recruitment, or you will fall behind in the war for talent.

What additional insurance benefits (dental insurance, vision coverage, pet insurance) are most attractive to new hires?

The truth is the cost of health care has gotten so expensive for every business that it is limiting the creativity and dollars to invest in additional coverages. Health-care costs going up at 7 to 50 percent a year is crippling. This is the real issue and opportunity. We must work to lower this cost. I find that other coverages are really a personal choice. The real workforce issues are flexible time, time off to care for loved ones and the high costs of health care.

Can unlimited vacation be both a carrot for the employee and a boon for the employer? Do employees actually take fewer days when their vacation is “unlimited?”

Less than 1 percent of companies in the U.S. offer unlimited vacations, so this is far from a meaningful trend. The real advice? Be careful about taking ideas that work for a few and plugging them into your company. Our advice? Focus on building great leaders in your business. Give staff learning opportunities. Gather data on employment engagement. This can help you customize your work environment.

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