WASHINGTON, DC — If you’re the boss, and you and one of your employees are not on the same wavelength, guess who has to change?

Guess again.

“You need to change your behavior to fit the needs of the people who work for you,” said Ruth King of American Contractors Exchange, who addressed people in charge of supermarket mechanical refrigeration personnel at the Food Marketing Institute Energy & Technical Services Conference, held here recently.

In her talk “Meeting the Challenges of Today’s Workforce,” King discussed bosses having to weigh the cost of keeping a current employee happy vs. the cost of finding a replacement. She said it costs three times a year’s wages to bring in a new employee. According to King, that figures in the actual hiring process, having to undo first year “screw-ups,” and dealing with company morale when employees are let go.

“Employee turnover is expensive,” she said. “So, instead, we should motivate.”

King contended that while money and benefits are a motivator initially, they are not long-term guarantees of company loyalty. Instead, she suggested bosses ask themselves, “Why do people work for me?”

One reason, she offered, was job satisfaction that comes, in part, from being recognized for work well done. It gets down to simple things, she said, such as “praise in public, punish in private; keeping open communications; saying ‘thank you’; and telling employees what company goals are.”

Motivation becomes a factor in holding employees. King said she preferred tangibles such as gifts rather than cash.

“Money will be gone quickly,” she said. “Things will have more of a lasting impact.”

“Dirty money” is one motivation method, she said. This involves employees accumulating points during the year for various aspects of the job. Those points can be used at an auction for gifts provided by suppliers and the boss.

Hiring practices should include finding employees with both technical skills and good personalities, although she admitted this is often difficult. Employers need to know what they want before hiring. Do they want a new-to-the-industry person or someone who is experienced?

King said employers should consider hiring a “green” person, then provide training. She cautioned that any hiring be done “in your pay range. Don’t hire a person at $30 an hour if others are getting $20. The others will find out within two weeks.”