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Food for Thought: Self-Storage Hiring and Retention in Today’s Feast or Famine Employment Market

Though the U.S. unemployment rate is higher than ever, it’s still difficult for self-storage employers to find talented, available candidates. To increase the staffing success rate at your operation, follow these hiring and retention practices.

In today’s self-storage landscape, keeping your facility staffed with well-trained, competent and positive managers can leave you feeling starved instead of sated. The employment market tends to be feast or famine, and the last few months have seen employers scrambling to understand how the coronavirus crisis affects their recipe for hiring success. Prior to COVID-19, they were suffering through a hiring famine due to the low unemployment rate, which made it tough to find and keep good talent. Attractive candidates had an abundance of opportunities across numerous fields, and recruiting was difficult.

In mid-March, many things shifted, and the U.S. unemployment rate skyrocketed due to layoffs and furloughs. You’d think employers would now find it easier to pick up new talent; but we see people preferring to stick with their current employers, or continuing to collect unemployment, which now pays more. Candidates still seem to have the upper hand, as finding good staff is more important than ever. So, even though unemployment is up, the “buffet” of talented, available workers still needs replenishing.

The good news is savvy employers can improve their staffing success by implementing a few best practices. Here are some considerations for recruiting, training and retaining self-storage managers when the market feels like a job-seekers’ smorgasbord.

Streamline the Recruitment Process

Hiring has always been a slow process. A winning recipe requires many ingredients: posting ads, screening resumes, and scheduling and conducting interviews. The goal is to find the perfect hire and making an offer before your competitor snatches him like the last hot biscuit.

Streamline the process by having your team work on different parts like an assembly line. An applicant-tracking system can also help shorten each step. You don’t lose out on a great candidate because you didn’t get to him fast enough.

Communicate With Candidates

When you’re at a restaurant and your food takes longer than expected to arrive, don’t you feel more assured if your server stops by with frequent updates? Much like a guest enjoying a fine-dining experience, today’s job candidates expect more from companies than simply submitting their resume and waiting. Communication from the beginning is crucial, and leaves potential employees feeling informed and valued.

To keep prospects engaged, research and implement ways to improve communication, from receipt of the resume, to the interview, to onboarding, training and beyond. This improves the candidate experience and employee relations with your company throughout their tenure. If you don’t keep good candidates engaged, you may lose them to someone who makes them feel more important.

Speed Up Your Onboarding

Onboarding can be a long, clunky and tedious process. With so much paperwork required, a new hire can get lost in the shuffle, or worse, give up before he gets settled. “Ghosting” has become rampant in recent months due to the many opportunities available. To avoid issues, many companies opt to use a professional employer organization (PEO) to handle HR-related tasks like payroll and onboarding.

A great PEO can offer options, such as online paperwork and employee-information portals, that will help your HR taskmaster stay ahead of the rush and remain aware of each candidate’s position in line, similar to a well-prepared and efficient maître d’ monitoring waitstaff. Having these resources means new hires are able to easily complete their paperwork in a timely manner, without any hassle.

Phase Your Training

Often, new hires are given too little guidance once they’re in the door. Frustration can cost you a wonderful employee, restarting the hiring cycle. Who has time for that? Implement training to give new staff the foundation and resources they need to be knowledgeable and successful, and then continue to refine and strengthen your program. To keep employees excited and engaged during their first few weeks, we recommend a four-phase training program:

  • Phase 1 should cover the basics of self-storage, vital business functions and daily duties.
  • Phase 2 should branch into more advanced skills, such as budgeting functions, revenue management and other duties.
  • Phase 3 can cover all aspects of marketing.
  • Phase 4 focuses on self-storage lien laws and auction procedures.

A phased approach allows new hires to be introduced to all job functions at a slow but steady pace and helps ensure they don’t get overwhelmed on day one by something as daunting as rate increases or delinquency letters. The last thing you want to do is scare away your newest team members!

Once training is complete, assign each new employee a mentor he can reach out to with questions. For multi-site operations, the mentor should be in addition to an area manager and any training-department support, so your hire isn’t left floundering alone.

Keep It Together

It’s a good idea to periodically gather employees to discuss any pertinent updates, news and training on new processes. Of course, during the current health crisis, my company has moved all training and staff meetings online. Even if you have many locations, this approach can actively foster team unity and camaraderie, and helps employees feel they’re part of the greater good and larger corporate family. You can use these opportunities to celebrate birthdays, work anniversaries, and commemorative life events like births and weddings.

Another strategy is to bring all employees together for annual training and awards. Of course, this is difficult to impossible during the coronavirus pandemic. Under better circumstances, I’d suggest making it a weekend event, with day one being a half-day of training, followed by an awards banquet and celebration. The second day could be a full day of training and team-building exercises. This helps get everyone onto the same page with a positive outlook and reminds staff they have the full support of the company. For now, events can take place virtually. I anticipate interesting changes ahead.

Employee Checkups

To retain valued team members, it’s important to regularly perform employee-satisfaction surveys. Much like a good food server checking on patrons several times during a dining experience, a good employer should ensure staff are thriving and enjoying themselves. Consider conducting an anonymous survey annually and use the feedback to gauge how employees are doing and feeling, as well as to assess what you can do to enrich their work lives and ensure their continued success.

Survey questions should be geared toward evaluating your company as a whole, covering performance expectations, policies and procedures, and growth opportunities. Ask about job factors like workload balance, if the work is meaningful, and if employees have enough autonomy to perform duties successfully and independently. By surveying staff, you’ll learn a lot about what is and isn’t working, and gain insight to making improvements.

Attracting and retaining good employees is vital to the health of any self-storage operation. By implementing the above tactics, you can help offset the overabundant and ever-changing opportunities candidates now have. Taking the time to properly recruit, onboard and train employees is a worthwhile investment that can lead to lower turnover, higher retention and better satisfaction.

Stacie Maxwell is vice president of marketing and training for Universal Storage Group (USG), a provider of self-storage management, education and development services. With more than 18 years of experience in the storage industry, she oversees the branding, design and marketing programs for the company and its portfolio, as well as the company’s award-winning multi-phase training programs.

Tonia Fowler is a human-resources coordinator for USG. With more than 18 years of experience in the self-storage industry, she oversees the employee-onboarding process. She also coordinates employee benefits, payroll processing and auditing, and employee-retention programs. For more information, call 770.801.1888; visit www.universalstoragegroup.com.

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