Volume 57: Compensation

After spending the last 6 weeks reminiscing about the way things used to be in the corrugated industry, and acknowledging that they are no longer like that, it’s probably time to settle down in the present.

Before my talk at TAPPI in October, I sent a newsletter that broke down Oberg’s Hierarchy of Needs, essentially detailing what an individual needs to be happy and healthy working in the corrugated industry.

This concept is an obvious knockoff of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which details what a human needs to live: from Basic Needs, like food, water and shelter, to Psychological Needs, like friends, and feelings of accomplishment, and lastly, a sense of purpose. But, obvious knockoff or not, I believe it to be very valid.

As you can see in our chart of Needs, the sections in our chart come down to: Compensation, Work Environment, Clear Expectations, Company Culture and Leadership Style, and Opportunities for Advancement.

So, let’s start at the bottom and work our way up.

The most basic need that every employee has from their employer is simple: compensation. Though some of us love our jobs, the reality is that most of us aren’t at work for our health, or because it makes us happy. We work because we have a family to take care of, and generally, in modern society, you need a job to do that.

But, in many cases, it’s not a matter of making just enough money to feed our families and put a roof over their heads, people want to be compensated what they believe they deserve.

Employee A that has worked for his company for 30 years, and has moved up from Operator to Superintendent, wants to know that his pay reflects that growth and experience, but he especially wants to be compensated fairly for the work he’s being asked to do, and the value he brings to his company.

So, if I had to pick one, the most common complaint that I hear as a recruiter for the corrugated industry is that people feel like they are undervalued, and aren’t making what they are worth. They feel that their experience, and the market, dictates a higher pay than they are currently making.

Money isn’t everything, as this series is going to properly illustrate, but it is a big thing. And whether it should be or not, it’s an emotional thing. Right or wrong, many people tie their self-worth to the number on their bi-weekly paycheck, so they want to feel validated when they receive it.

They want to know that the hours and hours they have spent busting their asses at the facility are being recognized and compensated fairly. That their value is appropriately noted by the company.

On top of base pay, does Employee A have the ability to earn bonuses if he does his job well and the facility thrives? And is this bonus arbitrarily decided by some corporate accountant? Or are there benchmarks they can aim for?

Does the company offer matching 401K contributions so that he doesn’t have to rely on PowerBall as a retirement plan? Since pensions are all but gone in 2018, people want to know that the company cares about their future.

Does the company offer enough vacation time? And if they do, are employees actually allowed to use it? We’ll talk about how many hours many corrugated individuals put in, and how little time they are often able to take off, in the next newsletter on Work Environment, but this all ties into compensation as well.

If your company is seeing dozens of employees leave, taking decades of experience, and sometimes customers, with them, the first place to look is the most basic of needs: are you compensating your people fairly, according to what the corrugated market dictates?

There are, of course, other factors to this as well: a Corrugator Supervisor in the middle of Iowa and a Corrugator Supervisor in the middle of Los Angeles are going to make very different amounts. So, are you compensating similarly to your competitors in your local market? If not, I think you’ve probably figured out at least part of why your employees are going across town.

And if you can’t compensate to the market level, you had better be meeting all of the other Needs in the pyramid, or you’re going to have an especially tough time keeping people around.

This leads me again to the fact that money isn’t everything. Even if the compensation is great, there are other factors that are leading people to be disenfranchised with the way the corrugated industry has evolved over the years.

So, over the next few months, we’ll break down the other grievances we hear most often in the industry, and look at how the needs they are based off can be met.

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