Saturday, April 01, 2023

Employers can boost hire power

by Margaret E. Davis
| January 29, 2023 12:00 AM

Last summer my teenage son wanted nothing more than to lay about the house Howard Hughes-style in plush robe and thumb at his phone. I finally saw the light: Take his phone to work with me. I left him a note that he could come get it at my office after he’d submitted those promised job applications.

He had two offers by noon.

We discussed the quandary over lunch. Both were for tempting entry-level food service positions. One offer was from a downtown cafe; the other was from the Kalispell Dairy Queen at arguably the busiest and hungriest intersection in the Flathead. The DQ had my heart, as I am an alum of the Helena store, but it was his decision where to work his first summer job.

He wrestled with it, then announced it would be Dairy Queen. I asked him how he had decided, and he shrugged and said, “He gave me the T-shirt.” (Well played, Mr. Dutter.)

That transaction of trust made the difference for my son, and for a business that relies on a workforce of dozens of often newbie workers to pull off a summer slinging chicken baskets and Blizzards.

The adult employment landscape faces many of the same challenges in finding and keeping new hires.

Earlier this month the Blueprint for Business Success series opener held at the Kalispell Job Service, called “Beyond Compensation and Benefits: Why Company Culture Is Key,” made the point that intangibles matter. Work means more than money.

In business school, I learned about Maslow’s hierarchy, that employees turn to motivations other than money once their compensation level covers physiological and safety needs. I also read Daniel Pink, who dug deep to pinpoint autonomy, purpose and mastery as the keys to employee engagement.

At the Blueprint event, Insured Titles’ Dorinda Gray, Nomad’s Dorothy Meyer and Immanuel Lutheran Communities’ Jenna Marshall presented employee satisfaction and retention ideas to 60 people in attendance (four-fifths of them online).

Gray talked about changing up the office meeting style to embrace such questions as “How are we treating each other and our clients?” and “What do we sell?” all while aiming to “listen to understand, not to defend.”

Meyer noted that the costs of losing employees include the loss of morale and the expense of recruiting and training new talent. She said, “A healthy company culture inspires loyalty and longevity.”

Marshall pointed out the benefits of flexible scheduling and perks such as child care, saying, “We try to grow everyone to their maximum potential.”

What makes good employers successful, along with their employees, is investment in aligning company values with practices. Any disconnect is disconcerting for employees and customers. Does the company encourage volunteering, teach soft skills like it does training on power tools, or regard an assault rifle as a universally welcome holiday bonus?

Companies that demonstrate concern and care for their employees do a better job of holding on to them. As Meyer said, when employees come up with suggestions and requests, “Don’t say that you won’t. Say you will try to find a way.”

Over the holidays my son and I traveled to see family in Arizona. In every picture he wears his Dairy Queen shirt.

Margaret E. Davis, executive director of the Northwest Montana History Museum, can be reached at

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