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Could quarterly bonuses keep part-time employees on the job?

Minutes Solutions, a company that records the minutes at meetings for clients around the Greater Toronto Area, was co-founded by Noah Maislin, left, and Marko Lindhe.

JENNIFER ROBERTS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Each week, we seek expert advice to help a small or medium-sized business overcome a key issue.

Good help can be so hard to find, and even harder to hang on to. The latter is a problem at Minutes Solutions, a Toronto-based company that records the minutes at meetings. The firm started eight years ago as a sideline business and has since grown into a full-blown enterprise with more than 200 clients and about two dozen minute-takers.

"Our major issue is finding people interested in a freelance position," says Noah Maislin, co-owner of Minutes Solutions, which serves clients – mostly condominium boards – in the Greater Toronto Area. "We're not nine-to-five employers; at the low end, our people typically work three hours at a time for a total of about 12 to 15 hours a week."

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Mr. Maislin says the company's part-timers are a mix of university students, retirees and workers with full-time jobs elsewhere. Many of these workers found Minutes Solutions through an online job site called Indeed.ca.

Minutes Solutions continues to grow and its owners are expanding into Florida. But first it needs to resolve its human resource challenge. Employee turnover sits at about 25 per cent; many part-timers leave around the eight-month mark, usually because they have found a full-time job.

"That creates a break in continuity for our clients, who want to see the same person come to their meetings," says Mr. Maislin.

Marko Lindhe, Mr. Maislin's business partner, says Minutes Solutions' high employee turnover also puts a strain on the company's resources. Onboarding new employees is an intensive process that takes about three weeks. During this period, new hires are trained, tested and paired with an experienced employee for job shadowing.

"It's quite an investment for us every time we hire someone new," says Mr. Lindhe.

Minutes Solutions workers are paid a rate that's "not the best, but it's right up there compared to the rest of the industry, and we offer a bonus structure," says Mr. Maislin. He adds that he and Mr. Lindhe have considered hiring full-time minute takers but this doesn't make good business sense given the work schedule. Even when the company has meetings lined up all day, it's unlikely that one person could or would want to travel from site to site.

"We run the risk that one meeting goes overtime and our minute-taker is late for the next one," says Mr. Maislin. "Also, at some point, fatigue sets in – it would be hard for anyone to do several meetings in a single day."

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The Challenge: How can Minutes Solutions persuade its minute-takers to stay longer at the company?

THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN

Frances Mote, principal, Niagara Street Consulting, Toronto

This is a very common problem. The length of time you can expect a part-time person to stay is between six months to a year. One of the things Minutes Solutions needs to determine when it's hiring is how actively these candidates are looking for full-time work – are they just filling in until they find something full-time?

If the company wanted to differentiate itself, it could offer perks and benefits. Maybe it can implement retention bonuses, perhaps on a quarterly basis. So after they take a new hire through the onboarding and the probation period, that employee would be eligible for a bonus at the end of three months and then every quarter after. That gives employees something to look forward to and provides an incentive to stay.

Another thing Minutes Solutions can do is guarantee a certain number of hours a week, because if you have part-time people and the hours are erratic, then they're really just casual workers.

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Brett Richards, president, Connective Intelligence Inc., Newmarket, Ont.

They should definitely be mapping the mindset of a successful part-time staffer and using this information to find similar candidates. This goes in line with star performer studies. What's the thinking, emotional fluency and stylistic preferences of the people who are successful in their roles and are staying?

There's been some tremendous research that shows you can identify certain combinations of thinking, emotional skills and abilities that drive a successful candidate in a role. It's about taking more of a scientific approach as opposed to an intuitive approach, and it's part of what we do for our clients.

At the same time, it's important to map the mindset and identity of their organization and then align that with the mindset of the successful candidate. These two in combination can be a very powerful driver for success.

Denise Craine, director of client services at the association-management firm Secretariat Central, Toronto

It's possible that Minutes Solutions is looking at the wrong people. Have they tried recruiting stay-at-home moms or homemakers who are looking for part-time work and who would be happy with one or two assignments a week? Do they have contracts with these condo boards so they know that they have at least one meeting on a particular day each month? If they have predictable hours that they can pass on to their people, that might help them retain their part-time staff.

Another thing to consider is remote meeting coverage. Instead of requiring that their staff be there in person, maybe they can set up a webcam and their staff can take minutes via videoconferencing. This would not only help to resolve their retention challenge, it could also help them expand to other markets because they could cover meetings in virtually any city.

THREE THINGS THE COMPANY COULD DO NOW

Offer retention bonuses

Hand out employee bonuses every quarter to give workers something to look forward to – and an incentive to stay.

Analyze successful employees

Map the mindset of successful and loyal minute-takers. This creates a profile the company can use to identify job applicants with similar attributes.

Provide virtual meeting coverage

Use technology to remotely cover some – or, at some point, even all – meetings. This makes it convenient for minute-takers and won't take away from the quality of the service.

Interviews have been edited and condensed.

Follow Report on Small Business on Twitter at @globesmallbiz.

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