How I Retain Staff in the High-turnover Cannabis Industry
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2020 is a year we’ll never forget. How could we? If 2020 was a story, then the COVID-19 pandemic would be the main antagonist. It upended everything, reorienting the economy, business operations, and our own livelihoods.
The cannabis industry has been no exception. Except where other sectors are still reeling from coronavirus’ far-reaching impacts, 2020 has been a big year for cannabis. More Americans support cannabis today than any point within the past five decades, with 68 percent of U.S. adults now in favor of the legalization of marijuana. The cannabis industry was also already the country’s fastest-growing industry, creating more jobs than any other sector.
Even in the midst of a global pandemic, cannabis supported more than 243,000 full-time jobs in 2020, a 15 percent uptick from the previous year. Yet, while the sector is celebrated for its job creation, it’s also gained a reputation for its incredibly high turnover rates.
This is an exciting time for the industry, one that myself and other executives have been looking forward to since first starting out. Yet, while the sector is celebrated for its record-breaking job creation, it’s also gained a reputation for its incredibly high turnover rates. When any company is under siege of poor employee retention, they aren’t only at risk of hemorrhaging money, it can also put a scarlet letter of ineptitude on their reputation.
There are a number of reasons why employees choose to leave an organization. More often than not it’s related to pay or benefits, but it can also result from a disagreement with a superior or simply because their heart just isn’t in it. But every time you lose an employee, it’s to the detriment of your finances. Replacing an employee in an entry level position can cost a business 16 percent of that person’s annual salary, or 20 percent for a midrange position.
Leaders who address the turnover problem head-on increase their profits, retain their top talent and improve the customer experience. This translates to a more sustainable business, more enthusiastic employees who are hungrier for growth and a happier — and more loyal — customer base.
So, what’s the solution to keeping your employees in a volatile industry? There is no one-size-fits-all strategy, of course, but here are some examples of how I’ve had success retaining employees in a high-turnover industry.
Create a culture that puts employees first
One study found that 44% of budtenders in Colorado and 33 percent of budtenders in Washington left their companies within one year of being hired, often citing a “lack of appreciation” as their primary motivation. As the cannabis industry grows and states continue to grant more licenses, employees have the advantage of being particular about where they work. If you aren’t putting your employees first, they will have no problem finding a business that will.
Working in a customer-facing industry is a demanding job. Burnout and job dissatisfaction are inevitable, unless you are proactive about creating a positive work environment where the benefits of the job outweigh the hardships. If not, you’ll be left with lethargic employees who are counting down their days until they quit.
When employees no longer care about their roles, it affects everyone. Your employees aren’t just responsible for ringing up customers; they’re the face of your brand. Poor customer service will have an adverse impact on your sales and reputation. Happy employees, however, are more productive and make more sales.
Support your employees’ growth and development
Some of your new hires may come with budtending experience, but this won’t be the case for everyone. Regardless, there will be a lot they need to learn.
According to one survey, only 55 percent of cannabis employees reported having any formal training while on the job. Not providing initial or ongoing training tells employees that you aren’t interested in their growth. While developing and implementing a comprehensive training program may be time-consuming, it will be one of the best things you can do for your business and your customers.
Your budtenders should be a part of the customer experience. They should guide customers to the best products for their needs and make recommendations as they learn more about each person that walks through the doors.
At my company, our employees are brand ambassadors, not just cashiers or growers. I’ve found that most employees will only push themselves to meet the standard they feel like you’ve set for them within their roles. If you don’t prioritize development, they will either grow stagnant in their roles (or worse, regress), or they will take their passion elsewhere.
In business, your employees are non-negotiable. You can’t grow your company and become a leader in your industry unless you create an entourage of energetic and hard-working team members. Protect your top talent by making them a central focus of your mission, just as you would your customers.
John Kaweske is the CEO of North Star Holdings and TweedLeaf.