It’s a cutthroat marketplace, both at home and abroad. The economic recovery is lukewarm at best, and the last thing any company wants to face is a unionization drive. Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to protect your workforce against union activity and at the same time maintain your competitive edge. Here are several strategies to preserve your union-free workforce:
1. Offer Competitive Compensation
This is perhaps the simplest way to dissuade your employees from trying to unionize. You don’t need to pay more than the city or state average, but match your competitors; that makes it more difficult for unions to attract potential converts and gives your public communications team a boost (“We pay wages comparable to the industry”). Think of it like insurance — boosting wages may cost a little now, but it will cost a lot less in the long term, as compared to managing a unionized workforce.
2. Provide Growth and Training Opportunities
Not all compensation is monetary. What employees want, particularly millennials, is a structured path for advancement. There are a number of ways to do this: Create programs to identify top talent and provide those employees with leadership training, pair younger employees with older mentors or career coaches, or offer reimbursement for courses that could provide tangible on-the-job benefits. Again, it’s cheaper than the alternative and it helps build employee loyalty because employees see pathways to move up in your organization.
3. Engage Employees & Leaders for Feedback
According to Dr. Fiona Jamison, Partner and SVP of Research and chief analyst at Spring International, you can learn a lot – if you just ask. This isn’t your generic employment survey that no one will take seriously — this requires real engagement. Collect data from managers, supervisors and employees to measure satisfaction and areas of vulnerability. Giving employees a voice in this way can improve productivity and help you remain union-free. If employees aren’t happy, find out what management can do to improve morale. What changes in the workplace would make a difference? What’s a reasonable timeline for making those changes? Employee feedback can help you diagnose issues of which you may not even be aware, and professionals can analyze that data and offer solutions that actually make a lasting difference.
4. Communicate Early and Often
This is like engagement on a much bigger scale. According to some studies, one of the greatest factors that negatively impacts employee morale is a lack of communication with management. Employees want to know who’s steering the ship and what the plan is for the future of their company. This doesn’t mean that the CEO needs to send out a newsletter every week, but senior executives need to clearly communicate their vision and what role employees will play. Employees who feel engaged and in the loop are far more likely to feel a sense of ownership in their company than those who feel as though they are just cogs in the machine.
5. Monitor Union Activity at Competitors
If unions are actively recruiting employees of your competitors, there’s a good chance your business is on the list, too. This doesn’t just apply to your direct competitors — it could be any similar business in your community or your industry. Monitor the filing of petitions and if they’re relevant to you, investigate them in the news. Look at the tactics used and try to find patterns: Are unions targeting a particular type of employee? Are they starting their campaign with focused messaging or are they trying to convert employees to spread their message? If you can crack the union “playbook” for your industry or community, you can prepare your defense ahead of time.
These are just a few of the strategies you can employ, and they tend to revolve around the same principles: competitive compensation, employee engagement and being attuned to union developments in the marketplace. These strategies take time and money to implement, but those investments are far less than leading a unionized workplace.