HR exec: ‘In 20+ years, I’ve never experienced a labor market as fluid & as unpredictable as the current market’

By Stephen Daniells contact

- Last updated on GMT

© designer491 / Getty Images
© designer491 / Getty Images

Related tags: HR, staff retention, staffing, Dietary supplements industry, COVID-19

As the US economy surges back, many industries are bracing themselves for a tsunami of employee turnover. In the first of our two articles on the changing HR landscape, NutraIngredients-USA explores the challenges of staff retention and how the dietary supplements industry offers purpose.

Multiple surveys​ and news articles​ are highlighting concerns for companies around staff retention as the economy improves and employees, tired and stressed from 15-plus months of working from home or under stricter conditions, seek change.

Obviously, every industry, and indeed every company, is different. “Overall, I think people have more employment choices than ever before and are more willing to explore new opportunities,” ​said Michelle Canada, Vice President of Human Resources, NOW Health Group, Inc. “As a result, our industry as well as many others are seeing increased turnover.  In the beginning of the pandemic, many employees were hesitant to make employment moves, but as we are in recovery, many have been re-evaluating priorities and making choices that fit lifestyle preferences. This includes our industry.”

Maggie Yontz, Vice President of Human Resources for Van Drunen Farms/ FutureCeuticals (VDF/FC), said the Chicagoland-based company has historically been fortunate to have low turnover relative to benchmarks over the years, but they are seeing an increase in turnover primarily in their manufacturing operations.  “Our current turnover challenges in manufacturing seem to be consistent with the hiring and retention challenges we’re hearing about locally and nationally when it comes to what are generally lower-paying jobs,”​ she explained.

“In my 20+ years of serving in HR roles, I’ve never experienced a labor market as fluid and as unpredictable as the current market,”​ added Yontz. “In contrast, turnover in our corporate functions, like R&D, Procurement, and Sales (for example) has not significantly changed over the past 12-18 months and remains relatively low.”

Brent Tignor, Chief Human Resources Officer, Balchem Corporation, echoed Yontz’s last comment, telling us that his company has actually experienced a modest reduction in turnover over the past year in its salaried roles.

A sense of purpose

So, with the industry perhaps not experiencing the turnover tsunami as other sectors, is there something about the dietary supplements sector that makes a difference?

“Staff retention is always an issue regardless of what industry you play in. Fortunately, ours is a fun and exciting industry composed of mostly healthy, positive, family-oriented individuals and for that reason, it’s hard to leave,” ​said Elan Sudberg, CEO of Alkemist Labs.

VDF/FC’s Yontz said that the company’s historically strong retention can be attributed to the company itself--its history, values, and opportunities, versus the specific industry. 

“Specific to the natural products industry, though, we do see an unmistakable passion in employees for the work they do,”​ she added. “Not only do employees believe in the value and impact of the products they’re creating, they’re continually challenged to solve, create, and improve.  The continual challenge combined with contributing in a meaningful way definitely support employee engagement and help with retention!”

“I think people stay long term because there is a sense of purpose, that our products truly help people,”​ said Beth Lambert, CEO of Herbalist & Alchemist. “Most of our employees use our products, which is a vote of confidence.”

“COVID has emphasized the importance of health and nutrition, unlike anything else in our lifetime,” ​added Balchem’s Tignor. “As a result, I do believe it has enhanced the sense of pride and purpose associated with working in this industry. 

“From a practical standpoint, Balchem and many other companies in the health and nutrition space, have experienced growing demand for our products throughout the pandemic, demonstrating the stability of our industry.  Few industries can provide such purpose and sustainable growth, even in challenging times.”

Keeping a finger on the pulse

A sense of purpose can help with staff retention, for sure, but that is only part of the overall picture, and companies were forced to change how they operated, whether for employees who had to continue to come to the facilities, and those that moved to working from home.

NOW’s Canada said that the company made adjustments very early on in the pandemic, from offering more flexible remote work schedules to accommodating work schedules in manufacturing and giving five paid days off to employees to arrange for child care during the pandemic.

“We also paid medical benefits for employees who had first responders in their families and were not able to work early in the pandemic when we were still unsure how COVID was transmitting,” ​she noted. “All employees were given gift cards, bonuses, and even Kitchen Aid mixers since more employees are baking and cooking at home and eating out less.” 

Alkemist’s Sudberg said that showing employees that you care is critical. “We deployed Tiny Pulse (an anonymous employee engagement software) about 3 years ago and have an ear to employee voices like never before,”​ he said. “From that data we fine tune our operations with the goal of having the happiest team. Even if it wasn’t the right thing to do ethically, and it is, employee dissatisfaction and turnover is expensive.”

Part 2, to be published July 13, will cover recruitment and changing HR practices.

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