Companies worried about labor turnover can try baseball

Companies worried about labor turnover can try baseball


Over the past two years, the “great resignation” has left employers figuring out what to do about their high employee turnover. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that voluntary resignations accounted for 25 percent of vacancies in 2021, with total turnover at 57 percent. That doesn’t stop either. Microsoft’s Work Trends Index predicts that 2 out of 5 workers globally will leave their jobs this year.

As companies such as Goodyear, National Cash Register, Kellogg’s, and Union Pacific did in the early 20th century, many businesses are trying to figure out how to slow turnover and retain workers. These companies realized that worker turnover reduces productivity, so they invented a solution called “employee wellness work” — and their century-old solution can help today’s businesses deal with the costly costs of employee turnover.

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In 1892, the National Cash Register sent $40,000 worth of cash registers to London, only to have them all returned as defective. NCR President John H. Patterson was furious and moved his desk to the factory floor to try to figure out the problem. He quickly discovers that his factory is like any other in the United States – hot, dark, loud, smoky, and dangerous. He couldn’t work in that environment, which made him realize his employees couldn’t either. Patterson quickly began designing an employee welfare function.

The plan evolved into a larger program that included putting sunlight in factories, providing hot meals to workers, and creating programs to create more work spirit through spectators at company baseball games. Other companies jumped on the bandwagon to reduce turnover, fight unions and use welfare work to boost profits. Patterson once noted that “there is no charity in what we do. Isn’t it good business to lose three cents in a girl’s meal and get back five cents in work?”

Goodyear president FA Seberling agreed. He embraced employee welfare in Akron, Ohio, with an extensive program that included an improved work environment, a thrice-weekly employee newspaper, housing developments, and even a company baseball team to make workers feel part of “Goodyear.” Family.” Faced with the same problems, his crosstown competitor Harvey Firestone followed suit.

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These companies met others on the baseball field in leagues they organized that spanned at least two states. The brick stadium where the Firestone Non-Skids played (named for the company’s first treaded tires, “Non-Skids”) seated 4,500 enthusiastic workers and still stands in front of the old company’s headquarters. The idea was that when employees were in the stands cheering for the company, they would be more loyal and, as a result, encouraged to do so. Goodyear told workers in the 1920s, for example, that simply attending games was not enough; “Moral support, organized cheering, [and] Running 24 hours a day” was also critical.

The quality of baseball had to be good enough to attract these fans. In growing industrial cities like Akron and Flint and Grand Rapids, Michigan, where there were no professional teams, fans typically watched amateur club competitions. Industrial teams played as part of that environment, and so increasingly, companies hired men who were good baseball players. During World War I, Frank Stefko recalled hearing from a fellow soldier, Glenn “Speed” Bosworth, that Goodyear was hiring ballplayers in Akron, so after the war, he moved from Scranton, Pa., to Rubber City. The personnel office said the company did not have an opening until it mentioned Bosworth’s message. “Hey, you’re a ballplayer!” They hired him on the spot.

Rooting for the company team, often named for production — Firestone non-skids squared off against teams like Kellogg’s Corn Flakers and Flint Buicks — was an important factor in creating a positive culture with retained and loyal workers. Don’t join a union. By and large, these programs succeeded in reducing turnover and preventing unionization efforts, at least according to management reports to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. From free lunches to baseball teams, there is no evidence of labor opposition to any of these efforts. In a way, companies were trying to “out” unions by rendering them redundant. The fact that unions rarely form in companies with strong welfare programs suggests that bread-and-butter issues such as wages or job security do not suffer, at least from the perspective of workers.

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Henry Ford took another approach to improving business by providing a higher standard of living for his workers. At the time, Ford’s moving assembly line cut the Model T from more than 12 hours to just 93 minutes, but there was a catch. All-day tasks such as fitting doors on Fords were mind-numbingly monotonous – so much so that workers flocked. By the end of 1913, the company’s turnover rate was a whopping 370 percent. Ford’s response was to begin paying each worker at least $5 a day, more than double their current salary.

But such benefits came with strings attached. He also imposed lifestyle conditions on the workers – don’t drink or abuse family members, keep the house neat and clean, save money. Ford’s approach was more aggressive than welfare work programs. Ford operators visited workers’ homes to make sure they were living as Henry Ford expected.

On the other hand, welfare work programs are strictly voluntary. Workers can use the company lunchroom, read the company newspaper, and attend baseball games if they wish, or they can ignore these efforts. The events were typically popular — Firestone Stadium, for example, seated more than 4,500 spectators, suggesting that baseball games could have thousands of workers in attendance.

As companies cut operating costs during the Great Depression, many of the benefits of welfare work were cut, including industrial baseball teams, which were replaced by intracompany softball teams. In fact, when companies such as tire and rubber manufacturers cut these programs and reduced workers’ hours during the recession, workers turned to unions to negotiate both the wages and benefits they expected. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration supported these efforts with the 1935 Wagner Act—also known as the National Labor Relations Act—which led to the creation of the powerful Congress of Industrial Organizations Union.

Some aspects of welfare work returned in the decades after World War II. The employee newspaper and cafeteria (or lunchroom) became part of union negotiations in many cases. New programs reflected the values ​​and tastes of postwar suburban workers during the baby boom, such as family-oriented company picnics or special company days at amusement parks or baseball games. Like NCR’s Patterson and others, companies sponsored such activities to create a sense of loyalty and camaraderie among employees.

Today, companies are experimenting with ways to increase worker welfare in the context of mass layoffs. Baseball spectatorship has been replaced by team-building activities that include workplace climbing, wine-tasting events, table tennis, family picnics, free lunches and special donut days. At the turn of the last century, employers experimented with identifying what benefits workers received. While the jury is still out on whether such programs will succeed today, companies are following in the footsteps of NCR, Goodyear, and Kellogg in experimenting with programs that employees find meaningful and useful—enough to keep them on the job.

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