Bosses Swear By The 90-Day Rule To Keep Workers Long Term
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Bosses Swear By The 90-Day Rule To Keep Workers Long Term

Chipotle, Waste Management and others gear hiring around reaching a milestone they say is critical to employee retention.

By Chip Cutter
Tue, Jul 19, 2022 11:36amGrey Clock 6 min

In the quest to retain workers, companies are sharpening their focus on a very specific common goal: 90 days.

Hold on to an employee for three months, executives and human-resources specialists say, and that person is more likely to remain employed longer-term, which they define as anywhere from a year on in today’s high-turnover environment. That has led manufacturing companies, restaurants, hotel operators and others to roll out special bonuses, stepped-up training and new programs to prevent new hires from quitting in their first three months on the job.

Heating and air-conditioning company Carrier Global Corp. began pairing new hires with a more experienced “buddy” in its manufacturing facilities after discovering most attrition happened before an employee hit the three-month mark, said Chief Executive David Gitlin. Executives at Minneapolis video software company Qumu Corp., have retooled training and onboarding processes partly around the goal of reducing what the company calls “quick quits,” or departures within three months, said Mercy Noah, Qumu’s vice president of human resources.

Some franchisees for McDonald’s Corp., Wendy’s Co. and others advertise new-hire bonuses of hundreds of dollars, many payable after 90 days; CVS Health Corp. gives warehouse workers at some of its facilities a $1,000 bonus if they stay on the job for three months.

“If you see someone hit the three-month mark, the reality is, they’re going to be here for at least a year,” said Marissa Andrada, chief people officer at Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. Chipotle has focused on consistent scheduling and giving new hires a clear explanation of company operations and benefits, she said. The tactics are designed to help employees be comfortable in its restaurants and motivated to stay, she said.

This summer’s labor market is among the tightest in decades, and finding enough workers, let alone desirable workers, remains so difficult that companies are increasingly motivated to retain new hires. Three months has traditionally been considered enough time for employees to begin to prove themselves, veteran human-resources executives say. Many companies also still enforce 90-day probationary periods, with some withholding benefits like health insurance in the meantime.

Just as it can take weeks of consistent effort to develop an exercise habit that sticks, employers have found that 90 days is typically enough time for workers to get into a steady routine of a new job. This can be particularly important for hourly employees in higher-turnover industries like hospitality or manufacturing, executives say, where workers have plenty of options.

The unemployment rate stood at 3.6% last month. Employees have benefited from a labour market that has given them the ability to more easily change jobs for higher pay. Workers are flexing their power in other ways, too. Employees at an Apple Inc. store in Maryland voted earlier this month to unionize, creating the first Apple retail union in the U.S., adding to unionization drives at companies such as Starbucks Corp.

Patrick Whalen, director of human resources and organizational development at the aerospace manufacturing company TAT Limco in Tulsa, Okla., watched late last year as a number of the company’s welders, assemblers and others left for jobs that, in some cases, paid only a dollar or two more an hour. Some workers, he said, barely stuck around for a month. Frustrated, Mr. Whalen began making a case inside the company that it needed to rethink its approach to bringing on new employees. He wanted a 90-day plan.

“It seems to be a magic window,” he said.

After he explained that every new hire who left early cost the company thousands of dollars in training expenses, time and lost revenue, Mr. Whalen said managers agreed to a change. In January, the company instituted a new 90-day onboarding process.

TAT Limco hired an onboarding coordinator to oversee every new employee’s entry into the company. Managers now contact employees before their first day, part of an effort to provide more contact points with new hires so they don’t get lured to a rival. Supervisors set weekly expectations for new employees to guide them in their first three months, giving staffers structured goals and time to get up to speed.

Turnover, at 37% in January, has fallen by more than half, to 16% today, Mr. Whalen said. Newer employees are also sticking around. In the first three months of the year, the company lost one of 45 employees it hired. “If we lose somebody within the first month or two months or three months, it’s very rare,” Mr. Whalen said.

There are signs the labour market is cooling, particularly among salaried workers. Companies including Tesla Inc. and Netflix Inc. have announced plans to cut staff, and some employers have rescinded job offers to new hires. Yet for hourly jobs across a broad range of sectors, demand for workers remains historically high.

Workers say they often know within weeks if a job will be a fit. Aliyah Abbott, a 23-year-old rising senior at Temple University, said she left a marketing internship in Philadelphia recently after about a month. Though Ms. Abbott said she had never before quit a role and hesitated to leave the internship before it ended this summer, she thought the position turned out to be different than initially presented to her. It paid less than she thought she had been promised, with some compensation based on a commission structure, she said.

“By the third or fourth week, you’re kind of like, ‘Is this right for me?’” she said. She quickly found a new job working as a marketing coordinator. “The bigger picture with jobs is just trial and error sometimes,” she said.

Much of the success of a job in the first three months also comes down to an employee’s connection with a company, executives say. At the San Francisco software company Intercom, new hires at all levels are asked to embark on what the company calls a listening tour to understand the company’s operations and meet with as many colleagues as possible. For lower-level staffers, that might last two weeks; for executives, it could stretch to six.

“The first 90 days is almost like an extended interview process by the employee of the company,” said L. David Kingsley, Intercom’s chief people officer. “Those are the critical moments where someone is truly deciding.”

Some companies, like workplace software provider Envoy, have hired staffers in recent months who will check in with hiring managers and new employees to see how the experience is going for all sides. “That first 90 days are when you have people that either say, ‘This was the best thing I ever did,’ or ‘I made a mistake because it’s not what I thought it was going to be,’” said Annette Reavis, Envoy’s chief people officer.

Waste Management Inc. plans to roll out a tool that will allow managers to get real-time feedback from their teams; workers will be able to leave comments anonymously. The tool will be available to both new workers in their first months on the job and veteran employees. “You’re going to get tidbits from your folks,” said John Morris, Waste Management’s chief operating officer. “It’s going to be, ‘Hey, this is what my group is telling me what’s on their minds.’”

The trash-and-recycling hauler studied its employee turnover data and found the first 120 days to be particularly critical for keeping new staffers as they learn their roles. The company pairs new hires with more experienced staffers and sends some workers to in-person training in Arizona and Florida.

Many factors play into retaining a new worker, Mr. Morris said, including educational benefits and pay. But the company wants to make sure its managers are also equipped to respond to issues in a variety of channels, one reason for the new tool.

“We all get a ton of feedback. But if it’s 800 pages, nobody’s going to read it,” Mr. Morris said. “So how do you give these frontline leaders tidbits, nuggets, actionable things that they can do?”

Jennifer Sick, a 29-year-old based in Richfield, Ohio, took a position in late February as a sales representative at Group Management Services Inc., a provider of payroll, outsourcing and other services to small businesses. The company has a 90-day probationary period, with clearly outlined goals, the first Ms. Sick experienced in her career.

At a minimum, Ms. Sick said managers required her to make 300 cold calls a week and to visit two small businesses; if she wanted to achieve a bonus at 90 days, she could make 375 calls a week, and visit four businesses. Managers checked in repeatedly to see if she needed anything, she said.

“It was a constant communication of, ‘How are you feeling? How are you doing?’” she said.

She completed day 90 on a Friday in early June, and received the bonus for making additional calls and visits. By the following Monday, she also had the keys to a company-issued Hyundai sedan and gas card, another perk for moving past her probationary period.

“I worked really hard in my 90 days because I just saw my future at this company,” she said.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: June 29 2022.



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The IMF’s biannual World Economic Outlook report says the world has so far avoided stagflation and recession, with large pandemic savings enabling households to cope with higher rates and inflation, and strong immigration in advanced economies creating unusually tight labour markets.

IMF economic counsellor Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas said most indicators point to a soft landing for the global economy and the IMG now expects “less economic scarring from the pandemic. He noted that markets had reacted exuberantly in recent weeks to the prospect of central banks lowering interest rates soon.

However, the IMF says global growth will moderate over the next five years to its lowest level in decades. It projects 3.2 percent global growth in 2024 and 2025, the same pace as 2023, with still-high borrowing costs, the withdrawal of fiscal support and weak productivity growth weighing economic activity down.

Australia is expected to underperform other advanced economies, especially the United States, this year but will surge beyond them from 2025. The IMF predicts annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 1.5 percent in Australia in 2024, which is well below our long-term pre-pandemic average of 2.5 percent. The US is expected to book above-average growth of 2.7 percent in 2024 and the world’s advanced economies are tipped to average 1.7 percent growth.

Australian economic growth will then move above other advanced economies and maintain upward momentum through til 2029. The IMF predicts 2 percent GDP growth for Australia in 2025 and 2.3 percent in 2029. For the US, the IMF expects 1.9 percent growth in 2025 and 2.1 percent in 2029. For the advanced economies in aggregate, the IMF forecasts 1.8 percent growth in 2025 and 1.7 percent in 2029.

The IMF said higher interest rates had had less effect on the US economy compared to Australia because most US mortgages are on long-term fixed rates and household debt has been lower since the global financial crisis. In Australia, most loans are on variable rates and therefore immediately impacted by every rate rise, household debt is high, and housing supply is restricted.  

The exceptional recent performance of the United States is certainly impressive and a major driver of global growth, but it reflects strong demand factors as well, including a fiscal stance that is out of line with long-term fiscal sustainability,” said Mr Gourinchas.

An example of unusual fiscal policy is the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes US$369 billion in new spending to encourage green energy investment. This raises short-term risks to the disinflation process, as well as longer-term fiscal and financial stability risks for the global economy since it risks pushing up global funding costs, he said.

While things are going well now, Mr Gourinchas said risks to global economic progress remain.

On the downside, new price spikes stemming from geopolitical tensions, including those from the war in Ukraine and the conflict in Gaza and Israel, could, along with persistent core inflation where labour markets are still tight, raise interest rate expectations and reduce asset prices. A divergence in disinflation speeds among major economies could also cause currency movements that put financial sectors under pressure.

Mr Gourinchas said growth in China could falter, hurting trading partners, without a comprehensive response to its property sector downturn. “Domestic demand will remain lacklustre for some time unless strong measures and reforms address the root cause. Public debt dynamics are also of concern, especially if the property crisis morphs into a local public finance crisis.

He also noted that weak productivity growth remains a challenge for the whole world and “much hope rests on artificial intelligence delivering strong productivity gains in the medium term”.

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