How can bakeries help their workers not only succeed but also want to stay with the company?

Kerry Goyette, behavioral science expert, founder and president of Aperio Consulting Group, who works with companies to improve their cultures, said the first thing she does when she starts to assess a company’s culture is talk to managers and frontline employees about what it feels like to work at the company.

“I ask questions that lead to: Is there psychological safety? Do they feel like they can throw out ideas or provide feedback that’s not punitive or they don’t get any kind of retribution?” she asked. “That psychological safety is so important. Also, we are social creatures, and so we really want to be part of a group, part of a tribe.”

New Horizons Baking Co. embraces what Trina Bediako, chief executive officer of the Norwalk, Ohio-based company, calls a speak-up culture in its facilities, encouraging employees to say what’s on their minds. Listening to workers helps the company stay agile and flexible.

“You can say what’s on your mind, and we’re not going to hold that against you,” she said. “We have an HR hotline that employees can call when they have concerns. That information will be handled confidentially, and we’ll deal with each issue one on one. This workforce is requiring attention in a different way. The status quo isn’t good enough anymore. It’s about feelings, you’ve got to listen to them and see how we’re going to adapt.”

Getting new workers off to a good start is vital to success, so bakeries are working on their onboarding processes to help them adapt quickly.

“Some of the things we’re trying to do is, one, do a better job of onboarding, making sure the people that come on, and we don’t just throw them to the fire and leave them alone,” said Brad Alexander, chief operating officer of Flowers Foods, Thomasville, Ga. “So we want to provide a mentoring program, making sure we’re following up, especially that first week or two. How are you doing and so forth. And we also want to show them a career path.”

Mike Porter, president and COO of New Horizons, echoed that theme, explaining that good training starts with a good onboarding process.

New Horizons looks at the company’s staffing needs intentionally, Mr. Porter said, and the company is committed to training workers not just how to run equipment but also teaching soft skills and how to make good decisions on the job.

“One of our core values is that we behave as an owner,” he said. “We want our people to understand that when it comes to their decisions they make on the floor, we want them to think as an owner would: that this is your product, this is your business, your name, which it is. We want them to have that same belief as we do. And that’s a challenge. You only build that through leadership.”

Bakeries know that they need to entice workers these days with perks, creative scheduling and more.

“We are trying to think of everything we can,” Mr. Alexander said. “From schedules to how can we make it cooler in the plants, how can we onboard better, how can we train them better, how can we give them positive feedback, how can we show them a career path — everything.”

He added that not every worker wants to work a full-time schedule, so offering part-time work could entice new employees to come onboard. Workers may not be as interested in money as they are spending time with their families.

“We’re penalizing our good employees and making them work a lot of overtime,” Mr. Alexander said. “They like overtime the first few weeks, but after a while they want to have some work-life balance.”

New Horizons is looking for new recruiting methods, perhaps trying to figure out how to help parents with childcare and other issues, Mr. Porter said. Companies are also emphasizing that bakeries offer not just jobs but careers, with opportunities for advancement.

“We don’t have better branding than to show all the people that have been promoted from within,” he said of New Horizons. “The majority of our leadership has been promoted from within. So that’s absolutely evident in our company. I started off as a supervisor 24 years ago. Every couple of years, I’ve been blessed with opportunities. So as I sit in this seat, I want to give that back.”

The American Bakers Association (ABA) started a jobs site during the pandemic to provide members with an avenue for posting jobs. But the site also promotes the industry as providing great career opportunities.

“It’s a career site, and our members post positions, but it’s also meant to be a communications platform about what a career in the industry looks like and the stability and the growth potential that is available in the industry,” said Jennifer Colfelt, ABA’s vice president, operations and membership. “The site is geared toward bringing folks into the industry from others.”

Bringing people into the industry and showing them what a great career they can have is something everyone in the baking industry wants. Taking care of workers and creating a great culture for them to thrive in is what will keep them.

This article is an excerpt from the September 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Staffing Considerations, click here.