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Behind the Headlines: Worker Shortage v. Employee Appreciation

Call it what you want. The Great Resignation has been a prevailing headline since the height of COVID. But USA Today, the TODAY Show and other national media outlets have recently shared stories about a new trend called the Great Regret -- remorseful employees who have jumped ship only to wish they hadn’t.

More than 4 million workers have left their job every month since last June. And who can blame them? Employers are lining up in a tight labor market and opening their wallets. Making more money, however, has not been the answer to keeping them. According to a recent Harris Poll, one in five workers who quit in the last two years now regrets the decision.

Better compensation, as it turns out, doesn’t guarantee a better company culture. And that’s a problem for a workforce that rates company values and employee appreciation equal to or ahead of money.

These are difficult things to nail down in a world of job interviews over ZOOM. They may even feel obsolete for many remote workers who seek a sense of belonging but have no audience.

And then there is Neighborly.

The name says it all. An organization that has been around for decades in the not-so-glamorous yet completely essential world of plumbers, HVAC service technicians, electricians and more, has continued to expand at an astonishing rate. Dirty jobs are big business, consumer demand is never-ending, and success stories across these franchise brands are legendary. Today there are more than 5,000 franchises across 29 service brands in nine countries. Home services are hot and Neighborly has more than 10 million customers and $3B in annual systemwide sales to prove it. In the world of job satisfaction, that makes perfect sense as people change careers to franchise ownership and also become the boss.

But how does the parent company sustain the necessary talent to train and assist such a rapidly-growing system? The corporate offices that support what is now the world’s largest franchisor of home services have to keep pace…in a worker shortage, no less.

Enter the Associate Equity Program. In a nutshell, Neighborly has launched a program that demonstrates profound respect and commitment for job satisfaction, employee engagement, and whole-team appreciation across one highly admirable neighborhood. And they’re doing it with company equity.

In a video that was released March 21, Neighborly President and CEO Mike Bidwell said, “It’s essential for everyone to feel like their work matters and has an impact on the bottom line.” He didn’t say the corner office, senior leadership, the boardroom, or a limited group of well-paid executives and stakeholders. He said everyone.

Thus, Neighborly collaborated with its private equity sponsor, KKR, to make it happen. Yes, an organization that specializes in blue-collar work is actually leading the charge in how to care for its people.

“The Associate Equity Program is a perfect example of how private equity ownership can help a company like Neighborly revolutionize how it rewards its associates, creating a deeper more meaningful connection across all levels of the business,” said Felix Gernburd, Partner, Head of Consumer, at KKR.

Looking for ways to revolutionize how companies reward team members should be a teachable moment for other employers. It’s why companies like Starbucks, Home Depot, and Target make headlines for programs that help employees pay for college.

So why are some of the most successful companies out there still leading the news for amassing an army of unhappy workers?

When Neighborly first launched an online platform to deliver a complete solution to customers, Bidwell said the company aspired to be the Amazon of home services. One could argue he’s doing even better than that. While Amazon battles with employees who want to unionize and receive better treatment, Neighborly is giving its associates equity in the company!

That’s a pretty compelling reason to love an employer and stick around with an organization that just keeps on succeeding.

Courtney Kolar, VP of People Services at Neighborly, may have said it best when she explained the company’s goal to retain great people. “We strive to ensure that our associates at every level feel recognized and part of where we are headed as we grow. And we want them to stay with us on this journey,” she shared.

How has that been received?

“My initial reaction to the Associate Equity Program was shock,” said Jade Jude in the company’s video. Jude, an executive assistant at Neighborly, added, “It’s not just about the money, it’s about feeling valued as a real equal in this large organization.”

Therein lies the heartfelt truth and the real bottom line of today’s worker shortage. People need to feel valued. Oftentimes that speaks louder than any paycheck. The Street reported that two-thirds of employees feel unappreciated by their employer on a daily basis.

Neighborly understands this in a way that propels it above other struggling businesses. In fact, the Associate Equity Program is a perfect complement to the Neighborly Code of Values that have been the foundation for the organization for more than 25 years. With themes of Respect, Integrity, Customer focus and Having fun in the process, the Code of Values and the motto to Live R.I.C.H. are frequently mentioned by franchisees and associates, alike, as what attracted them to Neighborly. Add an equity program for associates, and suddenly it takes on exponentially greater meaning.

“Everyone in our global company has a direct or indirect impact on how we serve our 10 million customers across our entire lineup of brands,” said Bidwell. He called the Associate Equity Program one of his proudest achievements as CEO of Neighborly.

Honoring that could make the loyalty factor at Neighborly historic. And not only when competing with other home service brands or other franchisors. But also with the business world at-large.


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