January 1, 2017

Attract and Retain

In a competitive labor market, Taylor Farms Tennessee has established programs aimed at improving the quality of work life for employees. A new lunch program and changes to how new workers are trained are helping the business not only attract but retain workers.

The company processes fresh-cut fruits and vegetables for the foodservice, deli and retail segments. Its labor is split between two processing facilities in Smyrna, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville. Each facility runs a two-shift operation.

“The Nashville market is extremely competitive. It’s extremely business friendly and that has caused a few challenges,” said Taylor Farms Tennessee president Brian Thure.

According to Thure, the company had previously faced lingering labor issues, “but 2015 was definitely the worst year we felt.”

Under Armour, Nissan, Tyson and Amazon also have facilities in the Nashville market.

“We’re all going after the same employee … the last thing we wanted to create was an all out wage war,” Thure said.

Taylor Farms Tennessee employees work on a line that cuts celery for vegetable trays. Photos: Taylor Farms Tennessee

While some wages were increased at Taylor Farms, management chose to focus on establishing employee programs to motivate workers, Thure said.

The company began by establishing a hot drinks program, offering free hot cocoa, coffee and hot tea all day, every day. The hot drinks are available to all workers.

“There wasn’t a place to get hot drinks except for vending machines,” Thure said. “The program gives workers the opportunity to warm up.”

Employees at Taylor Farms Tennessee’s processing facilities typically work 10-hour shifts in 30 ̊ to 40 ̊ F temperatures, Thure said.

After seeing employee reactions to the hot drinks program, the company decided to implement additional programs.

“That kind of got us thinking, ‘If we do that, why not do a meal program?’” Thure said.

The company worked with Five Star Food Service to provide healthier meal options in each facility’s café. As part of the Taylor Farms Tennessee’s employee lunch program, all hourly full-time employees receive a stipend of $25 per week on a money card. The money can be used to purchase meals and drinks at the café. The stipend is enough to buy a hot entrée and a drink five days a week, Thure said. At the end of the week, $25 are loaded back onto the card — regardless of whether the employee spent the previous $25 or not.

“The employees don’t have to worry about their lunch, and it’s high quality food,” Thure said. “It was very simple, very inexpensive and not a lot of people that we’re competing against are doing it.”

Taylor Farms Tennessee workers assemble sandwiches.

Lettuce Be Healthy, the company’s corporate wellness program, is now being incorporated into the employee lunch program, Thure said.

“We want to reward employees that are making the right decision,” he said.

As part of the program, full-time employees will now undergo annua wellness checks and receive a score, which is tracked on a confidential scorecard. The first round of wellness checks has already taken place this summer. If an employee’s score increases from the previous year’s score, they are then eligible for a cash payout, Thure said.

Employees can increase points on their scorecard by choosing healthier meals in the café or attending coaching programs on topics such as exercise planning and healthy eating.

“We want to improve the lives of our employees, or at least help them make better decisions,” Thure said.

The lunch program, however, is only available to full-time Taylor Farms Tennessee employees. It’s one way the company motivates temp workers to stay with the company for more than 90 days — at which the worker becomes a full-time employee.

“Two things occur when a worker becomes a full-time Taylor Farms Tennessee employee,” Thure said. “The first is a 50-cent raise. The second is enrollment in the lunch program.”

To help new workers make it to the 90 days, the company has implemented more flexible schedules and a buddy system to ease workers into facility operations. About 25 percent of Taylor Farms Tennessee’s workforce is temporary labor, according to Thure.

“Our goal is that all the temps become full-time and love their jobs,” he said.

Management analyzed operations and trainings to find ways of better integrating new workers, Thure said.

“We found that we were getting employees trained but not to the level of training they needed for success,” he said. “We had an unrealistic expectation.”

New workers are now partnered with a seasoned employee that works beside them on the processing line to explain processes and expectations. New workers also wear a different colored bump cap than full-time employees. The purpose of the different color is so that those around them can recognize that they may need more assistance or guidance, according to Thure.

“It’s in our best interest to make sure (new workers are) getting real world experience training, and you can only get that once you’re on that processing line,” he said.

“We want people to want to work at Taylor Farms Tennessee, not have to work here. It’s our job as management to create and foster that environment.”

A new captive footwear program at the processing facilities is giving workers one less thing to worry about, Thure said. The company will purchase boots for workers and store them in the facility.

“These boots are steel-toe, open tread and anti-slip,” he said. “It’s everything you want in a shoe, while maintaining it on site gives us a next level of food safety when it comes to footwear. We know where they’ve been.”

The captive footwear program allows workers to wear any shoe they would like on their way to work without having to worry about forgetting their work shoes, Thure said.

In a competitive labor market, the implementation of these employee programs has worked well in attracting and retaining workers, Thure said.

“We were 10 to 15 percent down,” he said of the company’s workforce in 2015. “It was really challenging during the summer months up to September. But this year we’re closer to 2.5-5 percent (down in workforce).”

He attributes changes in labor to some of the programs Taylor Farms Tennessee has put in place to retain workers.

“One, we bumped some wages,” he said. “But two, more than the wages, it’s some of these programs we’ve put in place.

“The goal (of these programs), ultimately, is to find and retain great employees. If we can get them through one day and they come back the next day, that’s the first hurdle. If we can get them through three days, then we can try to get them through a month.”

— Ana Olvera, digital content editor