Human resources panel cites importance of care, respect for employees in tough times |

Human resources panel cites importance of care, respect for employees in tough times

Mike Lawrence

— Two local members of the human resources industry said last week that focusing on respect, transparency and compassion for employees can help keep them committed through a lack of pay increases during the recession.

"The more open you can be, the more inclusive with employees … the more they're going to understand and buy in" to company changes, said Dixie Heyl, human resources manager for SmartWool.

Heyl and Michael Turner, chief human resources officer at Yampa Valley Medical Center, spoke to an audience of 10 workers and employers Thursday at the Steamboat Smokehouse, as part of a Yampa Valley SCORE Success Steps luncheon titled "How Much Should I Pay My Employees Now?" Discussion leader Darcy Trask, an instructor at Colorado Mountain College and director of the Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership, stressed that Heyl and Turner were speaking as human resource professionals, not as representatives of SmartWool or YVMC.

Their message was largely universal, focusing on ways to balance compensation and benefits with reduced income in a brutal economy. Turner, Heyl and Trask all stressed the importance of keeping good employees during a recession, because they are the ones who can help bring a business into recovery and find new ways to cut costs while maintaining productivity.

"Good employees are still your No. 1 asset," Trask said. "You need to be (like) the college recruiter who is looking for the best talent right now — and you need to keep your best talent right now."

She said employees might not always realize all the components that are part of their compensation packages and costly for employers, such as workers' compensation. Making employees aware of their total compensation package, Trask said, can "help them develop a value perception about those dollars that you're spending."

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Heyl said if an employer can't increase employees' pay, there are other ways to improve morale, such as providing more flexible hours, creating a fun, family-style atmosphere in the office and increasing managers' personal "face time" with employees.

"Sometimes, it's the little things that can make the biggest difference," she said.

Laurie Good, vice president of financial services for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., said staff members on Mount Werner long have been working to reduce costs, using methods such as bringing seasonal staff to the mountain just before the start of ski season, rather than two weeks or so beforehand, when their full-time services are not yet needed.

"We've been really working on what does it take to open," Good said.

Training workers just before the start of the season makes their time more valuable and reduces ski area costs, she said.

"We've really dialed that up," she said.

Turner said that although conventional wisdom might say to "batten down the hatches" during a recession, investment in employee training and giving employees new skills can ultimately cut costs and improve worker morale.

"I think this is a time when it's most appropriate to invest as much as you can in training your employees," Turner said. "They want to learn."

Randy Rudasics, of SCORE and Colorado Mountain College's Bogue Enterprise Center, said it's important for employers to not only be open about payment plans and business practices, but also to provide a long-term vision that shows employees they're "part of an engine that has a lot of momentum."

"Try to paint a picture of where you're going to be in a year or two, when the ship rights itself," he said.

Turner also said that one-time fixes, such as pay bonuses, often only have "a shelf life until halfway into the next pay period."

"You're not going to buy any loyalty or friendship" with bonuses, Turner said. "Employees need to know that you really love them, that you care."

That's easier said than done, he noted.

"You have to be genuine about it," Turner said. "You can't fake that."

— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4233 or e-mail


■ Get tips and information about employee compensation and more from the Denver-based Mountain States Employers Council at

■ Visit the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment’s Web site at