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Getting Guidance on the Produce Safety Rule

Produce Safety Rule

Adhering to Good Agricultural Practices has always been key to growing a successful agricultural business. In the past, voluntary FDA guidance documents provided a general idea of what to do in order to minimize risks throughout the production process. However, in 2011 the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) brought about the most significant changes to U.S. food safety laws in more than 70 years. One of the seven major overarching rules under FSMA is the rule on Standards for the Growing Harvesting, Packing and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption, better known as the Produce Safety Rule. The Produce Rule applies to farms engaged in the growing, harvesting, packing, or holding of raw agricultural commodities (fruits, vegetables) for human consumption. This rule is the first mandatory federal law requiring growers to adhere to specific science-based standards to grow and pack products for human consumption.

While the law came into effect on January 26, 2016, the FDA understood there needed to be time allotted for the industry to comply. The Produce Safety Rule compliance dates vary on the size of the facility—very small farms were given four years to comply, small farms were given three, and larger companies were given two. Additionally, the Produce Safety Rule offered additional time for monitoring the agricultural water quality requirements as this is a complex area and one which FDA anticipated the need for training and education within the growing community. Commercial farms with average annual produce sales of at least $25,000 are covered under this rule. 

There are; however, qualified exemptions to the rule. Commodities, such as beans or potatoes, which are rarely consumed raw would not fall under the Produce Safety Rule, nor does produce that is grown either for personal consumption or consumption on the farm. The FDA has created a Produce Safety Rule decision tree that can help determine if your farm needs to be compliant or is eligible for a qualified exemption.

It is important to note that the Produce Safety Rule is derived from Good Agricultural Practices, or GAPs, and the principles that the FDA first laid out two decades ago. The Essentials of Produce Safety course is built for produce managers and supervisors across the supply chain. This online course reviews GAPs in detail and traces their evolution into what we recognize today as the Produce Safety Rule. One example of the approach FDA outlined might include worker health, hygiene, and training from subparts C and D in their Good Agricultural Practices guidance. Both of these subparts have a prominent role in the Produce Rule. They additionally impacted the revision of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) from the Preventive Controls Rule, which covers manufactured products.

Focus on Training

You’re most likely familiar with FSMA’s requirement for specific training for designated employees in your facility—Preventive Controls Rule or Produce Safety Rule, depending on your operation type.  Best practices show that training affects employees at all levels in your facility:

  • Reinforce training regularly.—Train field or line workers when they are hired and in regular increments afterward.

  • Educate supervisors and managers.—Give employees in charge of supervising produce safety activities more background information so they understand what is done and why.

  • Offer training in language the employees speak.—Providing workers training and outlining learning outcomes in languages that they customarily speak adds to the value of the training you give.

  • Give real-world examples.—There are many companies that can attest that when employees understand why a task is important, they are more likely to own the responsibility for completing the task to the best of their ability.

  • Highlight the importance of good hygiene.—Illness might cause product contamination, so recognizing symptoms early is especially important in food production and manufacturing.

Learning is always essential to protecting your products and your company. Alchemy Academy offers exclusive content from the Produce Marketing Association that is complimentary to the FDA’s produce safety training curriculum and provides not only what needs to be done, but why it is important and offers insights on how best to not only be compliant with the FSMA rules but also best protect your company, your customers and your employees from the disruption of a produce safety illness outbreak. In Essentials of Produce Safety, individuals will learn how to better identify and manage produce safety risks within their operation and more. Get started with PMA’s exclusive online course today!

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What Kosher Means to Your Food Facility

Managing Kosher Production

While the word “kosher” has entered mainstream culture references, kosher food production demands strict adherence to a set of religious rules. You may have a general awareness of some of the requirements for what makes something kosher, but kosher certification requirements are rigorously detailed. Kosher manufacturing may seem intimidating, but this unique market has multiple rewards.

What Is Kosher?

Kosher is a set of rules for food production with religious significance. There is a set list of foods that are considered kosher, or acceptable to eat. The laws behind kosher food are deeply rooted in the Bible and further outlined in the Talmud and other Jewish traditions. Those who keep kosher take this designation very seriously, so there are many expectations when a product does obtain that designation.

kosher annual sales

$12 billion

What the kosher food industry generates in annual sales

consumers purchase kosher


Percentage of consumers who purchase kosher food for religious reasons

Non-Jewish Consumers who Purchase Kosher

35 million

The approximate number of non-Jewish consumers who purchase kosher products

Why Should I Become Kosher?

Let’s begin with the most evident reason to start producing kosher products—the revenue. The areas that sell kosher products are densely populated with consumers who depend on the availability of kosher products, creating a regular income. Kosher is a multibillion-dollar industry in the United States alone. It was recently reported that the kosher food industry generated over $12 billion in annual sales. When considering the global marketplace, this increases even more. As of 2009, Mintel Press reported that a mere 14% of consumers purchase kosher food because they follow kosher rules. That means that 86% purchase kosher products for non-religious reasons. Given the trends in kosher sales, it’s likely only increased since then. Secondly, though most purchase kosher products because of non-religious reasons, there is a wide range of religious and cultural groups that follow kosher practices. Keeping to these strict standards creates a solid brand loyalty to Kosher-sanctioned products. Finally, there are some individuals with allergies whose needs coincide with established kosher standards. For example, an individual with severe shellfish allergies might not be able to consume anything that has come into contact with shellfish to any extent at all. As kosher does not include shellfish, this individual would be able to take comfort in the fact that foods with this designation would be safe for their consumption.

Who Supervises Kosher?

Kosher designation requires extreme diligence. By having a kosher supervisor, or mashgiach, you ensure that your production facility is fully aligned with kosher standards. A rabbinical coordinator can go through every aspect of your processes, equipment, and materials to ensure that every detail is considered. Kosher certification requirements are very exact and consultants who specialize in governmental standards are not necessarily versed in the requirements of what makes food kosher.

What Comes Next?

Interested in finding out how kosher can work for you? Alchemy Academy offers a unique opportunity to start your journey to kosher production. Our Kosher eLearning Course helps plant managers or those in senior management understand the significance of kosher within their plant. This curriculum helps outline the bearing of kosher on a grander scale, giving perspective on the communities you directly impact with proper kosher production. By signing up for Managing Kosher Production, you get one step closer to a lasting relationship with valuable and loyal communities of consumers.

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How to Avoid Top Audit Non-Conformances

In the food production industry, the Global Food Safety Initiative, or GFSI, performs audits that act as unbiased, independent evaluations of food safety and quality systems. This reassures the public that the source of their food is looking out for their best interests and trying to avoid product recalls. Audits provide brief snapshots in time that inform vital decisions in the food safety and quality of the business. A successful audit provides assurance that the company can sell the product to customers with minimized risk. An unsuccessful audit, however, identifies opportunities for improvement within the organization and shows where food safety might be lacking. By knowing the most common non-conformances, you can look at your own food safety program and see where you have room for growth.

Top Audit Non-Conformances

One of the top major non-conformances for SQF audits is related to a requirement for a food fraud program. Clause mandates that you have to assess both your site and your raw material’s vulnerability to food fraud. The primary reason for non-conformances in this area is typically related to the food fraud program inadequately addressing all that it needs to. To avoid non-conformances based on this clause, document and maintain your Mitigation Plan to reduce risks. Review your program at least annually and schedule updates as needed. There are several tools to ensure that your food fraud program is successful: PWC Vulnerability Assessment, Food Fraud Database, and Horizon Scan provide supporting documentation.

Every facility is now required to have a risk-based environmental monitoring program.

The second major non-conformance is a recent update to edition eight, with a requirement for environmental monitoring programs. Every facility is now required to have a risk-based environmental monitoring program. Make sure that you perform risk assessments and test adequately for environmental pathogens. When you have completed the risk assessment, you can evaluate the results to determine which hazards to monitor. Your written program also needs to specify the sampling and testing schedule, as well as the number of samples to be taken and the frequency of sampling. Survey the plant to find sampling sites and designate the frequency based on risk. You can further justify the sampling by following regulatory, trade association, or scientific guidelines. The USDA and FDA both provide supporting guidance documents to justify sampling frequency. Some trade associations, such as the American Frozen Food Institute, also provide helpful compliance guidelines. Maintain thorough records for sampling and corrective actions after adverse results. By keeping adequate records, you can study the results to find a trend analysis and address any findings to improve future audit results.

Cleaning and sanitation are a vital part to any audit’s success. To ensure that you perform well in this area, double-check your written Sanitation Standard Operating Procedure program, or SSOP. Every SSOP should address the appropriate cleaning procedures for all major pieces of equipment in your facility. Within this documentation, you should also address the verification procedure for sanitation effectiveness. Include a visual pre-op inspection, as well as different types of either ATP or total plate count testing to verify that you’ve removed the soil and microbial loads from the equipment.

Next, be sure to address the critical control point or preventive control monitoring procedures. Be sure to perform preventive control monitoring procedures at the frequency designated in the food safety plan, in the manner in which it is outlined. When documenting preventive control monitoring, include an explanation for why you chose the critical control points that you did, and the critical limits to demonstrate that they will effectively control the identified hazards. To further support this portion of the audit, prepare your CCP monitoring and verification personnel to adequately respond in interviews. Ensure that they can confidently explain their responsibilities and how they fulfill recordkeeping requirements. Perform annual reviews to verify your CCP records for completion and accuracy.

Beyond critical control points, it is also crucial to address pest prevention. Two of the top ten major non-conformances are related to pest prevention programs and pest activity. By implementing an effective pest prevention program, you can limit the non-conformances for both clauses and Evidence of pest activity, whether rodents, roaches, ants, or any other type of pest, leads to major non-conformances on your audit. If you feel you are unable to manage pest control yourself, you may want to use an outside pest control organization. If you do choose to manage this externally, be sure to verify that they’re doing everything that you’ve outlined within your program.

Another major non-conformance is classified under clause for internal audits and inspections. For internal audits other than the SQF system audit, there are two different components: one for the SQF system, the other for plant inspections. To prevent this non-conformance, keep a checklist to show that you are auditing all elements of the code. Be sure to perform an annual review to maintain compliance with this clause, as well.

Validation and Effectiveness are other factors in major non-conformances. Clause speaks specifically to the validation of good manufacturing practices and critical limits associated with critical control points or preventive controls in the food safety plan. To avoid a non-conformance in this portion of the code, validate changes within the SQF system any time you have new products, changes in raw materials, or new equipment changes with a process that adequately demonstrates you’ve performed SQF system verification and validation.

During the Process

While you are being audited, if you identify a non-conformance, there are ways to address it. Communicate closely with the Auditor throughout the process. This helps you understand the nature of the non-conformance and dispute it if you do not agree after the Auditor explains the issue. Take before and after pictures of non-compliant areas so you can show further proof when taking corrective actions later. Be sure to correct non-conformances as soon as possible and point them out to the Auditor. By taking quick corrective action, you demonstrate your commitment and sponsorship. Ask the Auditor to review results each day in an exit meeting. Daily meetings during the audit ensure that you are in agreement with any nonconformances that have been identified. Assess your ratings in the final exit meeting.

After the Audit

Meet with your Food Safety Team and work directly with them to establish appropriate corrective actions for each non-conformance. Investigate each non-conformance and establish the root cause for its deviation from the standard regulation. Each non-conformance should have a Corrective Action and Preventive Action (CAPA) record that goes with it to support actions to be taken to correct the non-conformance, as well as future actions to prevent the irregularity from occurring again. Each certification body has Corrective Action Forms for submission on or before a date set by the Auditor. After you have completed all appropriate records, follow up with the Auditor to ensure that the non-conformances have been closed. While it is not recommended, you can file an appeal if you have a strong dispute with the type of non-conformance. Any appeals, however, will affect your overall audit score, so do this with extreme caution.

In Conclusion…

With regular monitoring of systems that you have in place, you can avoid many non-conformances and ensure that you perform well on any audit—announced or unannounced. Review procedures and meet with your food safety team and SQF practitioner regularly to make sure that all team members are ready, even at a moment’s notice. Regular training also improves performance by refreshing everyone’s memory and keep processes on track.

Alchemy Academy provides online training that lets your employees train at their own pace, on site. If you are at all able, use a third party for reassessment. By using external individuals, you can get impartial feedback on processes and get recommendations for any changes that might need to be made during the annual reassessment process. Know your team, processes, and facility so there aren’t any surprises when you are faced with an audit. Minimize unused equipment, and don’t allow contractors on days when you do have audits. By limiting external factors, you reduce the chance that a non-conformance will be identified. Alchemy Solutions offers personalized training and consulting to help you along every step of the audit process. Our online courses offer in-depth knowledge to help you succeed in every aspect of the audit process.

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Taking Control of Your HACCP System

Implementing a HACCP System requires that both Prerequisite Programs and HACCP Plans are implemented.  Prerequisite programs are programs that are put in place in the facility to control hazards in the environment, preventing contamination of the product.

Many factors are taken into account to successfully produce safe and wholesome food. Governmental regulations guide implementation of GMPs, which stands for Good Manufacturing Practices, and outline prerequisite programs and HACCP plans to ensure the safety of the consumer. A successful HACCP system requires both PRPs, or prerequisite programs, and HACCP Plans. These two facets combined are essential to the development and implementation of a full HACCP system. The stronger the prerequisite programs are, the stronger your food safety plan will be. PRPs and HACCP plans provide the basic environmental and operating conditions necessary for safe and wholesome food.

HACCP systems deal uniquely with food safety issues.

While prerequisite programs and HACCP plans work together, each type differs from the other. Prerequisite programs deal indirectly with food safety issues and are more general in nature. They may be applicable throughout the plant, crossing multiple product lines. If your facility fails to meet a prerequisite requirement, the result is seldom a food safety hazard or concern. HACCP systems, however, deal uniquely with food safety issues. They are scientifically based, originating from hazards analyses. They are product and line specific. In HACCP plans, deviations from a critical limit typically result in action against the product.

When developing your prerequisite programs, keep in mind that many PRPs are based on cGMPs, or current Good Manufacturing Practices, and sanitation regulations. Outline ingredient specifications, including any raw materials used to create your product packaging, and processing aids that might affect the output. Allergen management programs, both cleaning and labeling, are included in prerequisite programs. Facilities that manufacture ready-to-eat products must legally also include microbiological monitoring in their PRPs. Additionally, include traceability programs that outline sourcing from raw materials to final product. Supplier approval programs should also be included in prerequisite programs.

One of the most critical programs included in PRPs is employee training. By effectively training employees, you reduce risk in other aspects of your HACCP plans and prerequisite programs. Food safety and personal hygiene training are the minimal requirements from FSMA for essential employee training. Employees must be trained upon hiring, and there must be at least annual refreshers for all employees to remain in compliance. Reinforcing key concepts with training and other visual reminders encourages employees to follow food safety and HACCP plans. Additionally, individuals involved in activities related to a critical control point or having to do with preventive controls might need specialized training to ensure that all procedures are being executed correctly and to be in SSOP compliance.

FSSC 22000 lays out additional prerequisite programs for food safety that are essential to GMPs. There are several key PRPs related to the physical layout of the facility and the facility itself. The construction and layout of the building itself play an important role in the prerequisite programs for ISO 22000, including the layout of the premises and workspace. Include additional programs for utilities, waste disposal, and cleaning and sanitizing. Both layout and cleaning and sanitizing act as measures for prevention of cross contamination. FSSC 22200 requires that Operational Prerequisite Programs (OPRPs) be identified within the food safety system, as well. OPRPs are used to control the likelihood of introducing food safety hazards or contamination of the product. They are primarily used to reduce food safety issues and should not be used for food quality parameters. OPRPs are almost equally important to CCPs in the food safety system, and thereby must be verified and validated. They are defined based on risk, so a detailed risk assessment is vital to establish them.

HACCP plans are complementary to other programs, including industry and inspection programs. They must coexist with adequately implemented PRPs. A HACCP system relies on SSOPs and SPS (Sanitation Performance Standards) to serve as a solid foundation to be fully functional. With strong PRPs for food safety, your facility can effectively implement a HACCP system and protect your customers. Industry standards are ever evolving, but with regular employee training, you can ensure that you stay up to date with regulations and ensure safe, quality food to your consumers. 

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Label Transparency: Protecting Your Consumers from Allergens

Governmental regulations, such as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), have drastically impacted how food producers perform allergen control. Activities that were formerly merely suggestions are now compulsory in order to minimize the risk of allergens in food products. Food allergen preventive controls are both essential and beneficial to your bottom line. With increased allergen awareness among consumers, restaurants and other food handlers should encourage employees to train to increase their food allergy awareness and reduce the possibility of incident in their facility.

The Big 8

The majority of food allergic reactions in the United States stem from 8 allergenic categories. While some of these categories need to be further specified, the inclusion of any of these allergens must be documented to comply with regulations.

  1. Milk
  2. Egg
  3. Peanut
  4. Tree Nuts (species specific)
  5. Fish (species specific)
  6. Crustacean Shellfish (species specific)
  7. Wheat
  8. Soy

If your facility uses any of these products in your manufacturing, you must be vigilant in how you handle and manage not only the allergens, but also any materials that might come in contact with them. In larger facilities, consider separating production lines in close proximity with walls, curtains, or partitions to minimize the risk of allergen cross-contact. Additionally, create a hygiene map to indicate where different allergens are stored or located. This also illustrates the flow of allergens throughout the facility, offering a visual representation of any places where cross-contact may occur.

Food safety allergen training can inform employees of best practices and also create protocols for your facility. To increase awareness, staff training can include allergen identification and assess the ability of employees to clearly segregate the allergens. Establish a consistent manner to identify allergens within your production. One possibility for allergen identification is using a color-coding system to designate which allergen is present. Alternatively, you can use icons as labels—this prevents risk of confusion for any employees that might be color-blind. Identify allergens on raw material labels using the common name. Some ingredient names do not adequately identify the allergenic material, for example lecithin, which may contain a soy allergen. By listing the common allergenic name, you reduce the chance of misperception for other employees in the facility. When cataloging allergens, also include any packaging, processing aids, colors, flavorings, or lubricants that may transfer to food products.

Allergen controls begin as soon as you receive any materials. Prerequisite programs can be put in place that outline how to treat these materials, including documented allergen checks as you receive them. If your facility takes test samples upon receipt, ensure that you do not use same knives to open bags or containers of unlike allergens. After you do take any samples, ensure proper closure of the bags. Use designated tools and equipment to handle any allergenic materials and prevent cross-contamination.

When considering product manufacture and storage, be sure to adequately clean any shared equipment. Equipment design can facilitate cleaning, simply by having a sanitary design. Scheduling and engineering controls can minimize the frequency of intensive cleaning. Schedule equipment use in an order that runs unique allergens toward the end to help minimize changeovers. Do keep in mind that robust sanitation protocols must be executed if an allergen is present in one product but is not present in the next product scheduled to run. Visible inspection is one way to verify that the equipment is clean, but some allergens require further testing. If any residue is present, including films or protein sheen, the equipment is not “visually clean.” Visible cleanliness is only used as a minimum standard. Validated allergen-specific test kits are available for some food allergens. They detect the presence of food allergens on food-contact surfaces using swabs and are sensitive enough to detect levels of allergens that could cause a reaction.

Storing product causes additional allergen concerns. Keep allergen-containing rework and work in progress in sturdy containers with secure covers and disposable interior liners where this is appropriate. If possible, use containers that do not require equipment to move them—this minimizes the risk of damage to the container, resulting in a possible incident of product mixing with an allergen-containing product. When you do reuse a container, be sure to thoroughly wash and sanitize the container before you reuse it. Any bins used for storage should be marked with information such as the name of the rework, the allergen included, and dates for manufacture, storage, and using the rework. Clearly labeling the allergen and material in the containers helps reduce the risk of accidental product mixing.

Ultimately, allergen control is in the hands of your personnel. Manage employees’ outer clothing, as it may accumulate residual allergen from the processing area. Control traffic patterns of both people and raw materials to further reduce risk. Most importantly, proper allergen control training is essential for food companies.  Providing food allergy awareness courses is beneficial but emphasizing the importance of food allergen preventive controls is vital to protecting your customers. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) includes allergen control practices that are necessary for consumer protection and serve your best interests as well. Alchemy Academy is an industry leader in online food safety training. Click here to take PCQI training at your own pace. Protect your customers and protect yourself with food allergen preventive controls.

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Internal Audits: The “Write” Stuff

The “Write” Way to Document Internal Audits

Preventing Audit Non-Conformances with Good Documentation

When preparing for external audits, the best preparation is your internal audit system. While many non-conformances may seem out of your control, you can easily manage the documentation behind your internal audit system and strengthen your results. Of course, your process is dependent upon your facility, but some documentation practices are better than others. Explore different methods and weigh the pros and cons to determine which is best for you.

Performing an internal audit might seem like a daunting task, so many companies resort to the walk thru method. Simply walking through your facility and performing a visual inspection of processes as they occur is one way to verify that your processes and employees are performing as expected. While this is considered a valid method to many facilities, it is not always sufficient to supporting a third-party audit process. Lack of documentation of what you observe in addition to inconsistency of observation can lead to a non-conformance when it does come time for your third-party audit.

More detailed than the walk thru method is the GFSI System Checklist. By having a clear outline of procedures, people, product, and facilities that you are observing, you reduce the chance of missing abnormalities within your system. If your facility is covered by SQF, BRC, or FSSC 22,000, the GFSI System Checklist details line-by-line what you need to verify. Furthermore, when you do identify non-conformances in your internal audit, create a Corrective Action Register. Identify where you have an issue, what action was taken to correct the issue, and how you will prevent any recurrence in the future.

As you inspect your facility, be sure to record the details of your internal audit process. Have representatives from operations, quality assurance, and maintenance present to ensure that every point of view is addressed. It is even more beneficial to include someone from sanitation, as well. When going through the checklist, you may also need to review written programs before continuing when you approach certain line items.

An even more effective method for established facilities is customized checklists for your specific facility, which can be used for plant inspections or specific processes. Customized checklists guide the auditor through each step you take to secure your facility’s internal audit. It ensures all elements of the checklist are completed, because you can be as detailed as necessary to verify that each point in your production process is audited. If additional documents need to be reviewed before completing an item, you can outline this with a customized checklist. Additionally, it reinforces audit objectives and scope. Properly define what you are trying to review in this process, setting clear designations for product, processes, people, facilities, or a combination of any of those elements.

By using customized checklists, you have a written record that provides evidence to a third-party auditor that you have adequately completed the process. As you document, be sure to include details of the process, including the date, time started and finished, duration, and team members who were present. Document specific inspection results and identify any nonconformances that you find, as well as the corrective actions to be taken. The checklist you create can be detailed or limited, depending on the experience of the auditor. With more detailed checklists, there is less room for error with less experienced internal auditors. Update the checklist as needed or as changes occur, this includes changes of product, equipment, or the facility itself. Inspection results need to be evaluated by the internal audit team and any other relevant personnel.

All checklists have their benefits and their downfalls. When using a checklist, do not let the details of the checklist drive the entire process. At times you might lose sight of something that might be otherwise obvious because you only look for the items that are defined. Use the acronym STOP—stop, think, observe, proceed—to verify that you aren’t overlooking anything in your internal audit. Stop the process at different points and evaluate what you are truly observing. Think about the requirements of the checklist and at what points you can take action. Observe the full process from beginning of manufacture through shipping; take note that employees are complying with procedures and that equipment and structure are adequate. Finally, proceed to the next step on your checklist. Once you have taken into account what you are observing and the actual requirements for an item, you can repeat the process with the next requirement on the checklist.

Internal audits are a necessary, but helpful, part of your external audit process. With practice and time, the process becomes more streamlined and documentation becomes a bit more natural. Keeping proper records and documentation protects your company from legal action, but more importantly acts as additional security for your consumers and your brand. Consistent training further reinforces best practices. With Alchemy Academy, you can delve into internal audit requirements with both our Basic and Advanced Internal Audit courses. Learn more by enrolling today.

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5 Ways to Support Your Employees

With the continual increase of handheld technology, it’s only natural to assume that there would be a similar increase in communication ability between people. Time and again, however, we’re reminded that even with an influx of input, that’s not always the case. Tools that were built to improve our capacity to communicate have seemingly decreased our tendency toward authentic human connection.

How does this relate to your business?

While more and more everyday processes are being automated, the biggest detriment to your bottom line is most likely the engagement and retention of your people. That is not to say that people are a detractor, only that a lack of relationship between manager and employee can harm the productivity and, in turn, the bottom line. It additionally affects safety within the organization. Lack of focus and engagement increases the likelihood of safety incidents by 48%. This same deficiency will also add to quality incidents and absenteeism. When considering how to best invest in your employees, there’s a direct relationship between their engagement and manager capability. Increasing productivity doesn’t have to be a chore, though. By building relationships, you can turn your employees into your biggest asset.

Death of the psychological contract

In the past, many companies have taken advantage of having the upper hand. There was, in a sense, a psychological contract between employee and company. It wasn’t uncommon for employees to feel a certain loyalty to the business where they worked and in return, there was an implied security and standard of work-life balance. With the current unemployment rate so low, there are more jobs than candidates. This has shifted the norm and, essentially, ended the psychological contract. If an employee perceives a decrease in standards, the impetus to stay is no longer there. The motivation to stay with a company through its ups and downs for modest raises and an eventual retirement has been traded for a more migratory pattern to the employee’s benefit. The onus now lies on the company to cater to the employee’s needs to retain the employee.

Relationship building

In order to best serve your employees, you need to know their motivation. Incentives will vary from one person to another, but a person’s motivation is not always what you think. Money does play a role in keeping employees, but it is not typically the biggest influence to stay at a particular company. The motivating factors to retain employees have been referred to by Kim Seeling-Smith, a longtime industry professional, as the Currencies of Choice. While she outlines eight, we’ll focus on five impactful points she makes on how to better the work environment and retain employees. These Currencies are ways to connect with employees and create a welcoming work environment that’s more amenable to everyone. By using these Currencies of Choice, employees are able to do what they do best every day. It is essential for direct managers to have open conversations with their employees to build lasting relationships. By engaging them, you can increase productivity, reduce safety incidents, and help retain valued members of your organization. There are many ways to fortify these relationships, including the following:

1. Use Spot-on Job Descriptions

Let’s start in the very beginning, before you even hire a candidate with the job description. Job descriptions in many places are vague and, oftentimes, don’t adequately describe the expectations of the position. Spot-on job descriptions outline the company purpose and values to encourage application by individuals who have similar purpose and values. Additionally, the best job descriptions will be compelling to candidates who have the appropriate background. They outline the tasks to be performed as well as desired strengths in the ideal candidate. While they may not be as lengthy as previously, spot-on job descriptions will list measurable outcomes in straightforward language. This sets expectations from the outset rather than having to discover expectations as the job progresses. Beginning with tangible descriptors in mind will show candidates exactly what you value in an employee and permit them to speak to the strengths that they embody.

2. Increase Communication

An increase in communication with existing employees lowers the intimidation factor between them and the manager. Conversations might not come naturally at the beginning if they have not been normal previously. To start this habit, though, you can use formulaic conversations initially, then develop a more natural cadence. One key point to open communication is delineating how an employee can be effective. Giving clear outlines of how success is measured as well as how to further succeed will provide the employee with set expectations and typically prompt him or her to perform thusly. Secondly, express appreciation for a job well done. Informal exchanges, even if they are brief, when an employee exceeds expectations will forge a more collegial relationship and encourage the employee to continue to challenge him or herself. The Gallup Organization determined that people are 300% more likely to leave within the following year if they do not feel appreciated in their role. To this point, encourage an environment where employees feel their ideas are valid and that they are confident in sharing them. An open interchange between employee and manager strengthens bonds and builds trust in the relationship.

3. Set Individual Goals

After moving away from more formulaic conversation, you can begin to converse openly and identify the strengths and passions of each individual on your team. Using this new knowledge, set goals for each person that speak to their particular interests. By identifying these interests, you can set target objectives based on what each person does best. This also permits more naturally defined outcomes that are more aligned with their gifts. Speaking to the employee’s strengths to define his or her goals fosters additional confidence and ownership in the role itself. When you outline these goals, ensure that you give each one a greater purpose. The goal itself may be a measurable outcome, but the “why” is often deeper. By further explaining the significance of the goal, you heighten the worth of the individual within the team.

4. Delineate a Clear Pattern for Growth

Most people are motivated by an innate drive to improve themselves. In recent surveys, Right Management reported that up to 37% of employees have not had career conversations with their manager. In studies by the Gallup Organization, only about 48% of employees understand what they’re required to achieve even within their current role. With no clear direction, it’s easy to see how employees might remain stagnant. Create dialog with your employees that show them exactly how to progress within their role and even beyond. Make sure they understand the expectations for how to best perform their role at present and take steps to continue, either vertically or horizontally. If there is not a clear vertical path, show them how they can make steps toward furthering their career in the company.

5. Use Strength-Based Thinking

In most existing performance reviews, the focus is on areas for growth or improvement. The employees start off with reminders of their imperfection and are not praised for the areas where they are already succeeding. By stressing their deficiencies, employees’ performance tends to decrease year on year. When you change your approach and focus primarily on the employees’ strengths, you empower them and give confidence in their abilities. Behavioral psychologists show that we define these abilities at a young age, between ages three and 15. Using these strengths connects with a longstanding part of their conscious and creates a positive focus on who they are.


Improving long-term performance is a process that is achieved by taking daily steps to better the team morale. Treating employees as individuals who have valued input and original ideas that can contribute to the organization as a whole adds to the feeling of ownership and belonging in the company. To best motivate people who work for you, treat them as people. Investing financially and temporally Giving value to everyone has tangible benefits for the business, as well as innumerable benefits to the people who work with you. Building a mutual respect with others helps show that by doing their role, they are valued, appreciated, and integral to your success as well as theirs.