As we head into the home stretch for 2021, door and window fabricators continue to be amazed at the unusually strong demand that doesn’t seem to be slowing at all. When demand is strong and business is good, fabricators are happy. But when demand is insane, material delays are a daily issue and labor is in such tight supply, fabricators are stressed to the limit. How much longer can we keep this up? Will 2022 be more of the same?

Well, housing starts are on the rise. That will fuel demand for new construction. But housing is in short supply and housing affordability has taken a hit, further compounded by inflation. People are reluctant to sell their homes because a new house is going to be more expensive, so they are remodeling the house they have. This fuels the replacement market. With both new construction and replacement markets continuing to grow, the boom is not going to bust anytime soon—not to mention the backlogs of orders that most manufacturers are still working through. So, will 2022 bring relief? Likely not!

For some, the issue will be tons of orders but a lack of components. You can have everything you need to build 500 windows in a day, but a shortage of 50-cent locks can shut down your production line. It is a very tough time to be a purchasing agent, which is why many PAs are burning out, thereby losing their jobs or just plain quitting. In fact, a good friend of mine who was an excellent PA in this industry decided to sell his house, all his possessions and then quit his job for good. Last I heard, he bought an RV and was headed for the Smokey Mountains to live a stress-free life!

Yes, 2022 will likely bring the now familiar problems of material and labor shortages, long manufacturing days, and overtime and even weekend hours. But in addition to these difficulties, we will likely see an additional complication: employee burnout. As the sun sets on 2021, be aware of how much stress employees at all levels of your company have been undergoing and do your best to guard against burnout. If burnout is ignored, you may find the ranks even thinner when January rolls around, which will not be a good way to start off the year.

So, what are some things we can do to prevent employee burnout and to help your team members to start the new year with a great attitude and plenty of energy? Here are four key areas to focus upon.

Number one: As busy as you are, do not forget year-end reviews and raises. Nothing burns out an employee quicker than working hard all year without moving ahead. Everyone wants to hear how good of a job they are doing and learn about areas they can improve. When handing out raises, take a quick look at the inflation rate, and make sure that you are really moving salaries forward by adjusting for inflation. All of this sounds like common sense, but I cannot tell you how often I have heard employees say that they have not had a review in several years. I have also heard people complain that their raises were mediocre and barely meant any real income growth given the rising costs of gasoline, food and just about everything! Also, year-end reviews shouldn’t just be a forum for telling employees what they are doing right and wrong, but also listen to them and learn what your company can do better to support them as well as to service the customer. This process should be a two-way street.

Number two: Be empathetic and flexible to family situations. In other words, treat your employees like they are part of your own family. When employees come to you with special circumstances which require that they spend extra time with their family, be flexible with work hours, time off or whatever they might need to get through whatever situations they may be going through. When you treat your employees like this, then they will come to think of your company as family as well and will be hard pressed to leave your company for a few extra dollars should another offer come along. You must constantly remind yourself that other companies are competing to land good employees in this limited labor pool.

Number three: Give unexpected rewards. This year presented itself with unusual demands, so give out unusual rewards. If you don’t usually provide a Christmas bonus, then this is the year to do so. If you already give a Christmas bonus, then give out a bigger one. Maybe grant a few extra days of holiday vacation to all employees or at least to those who have really gone above and beyond. In a nutshell, show all your employees that they are not taken for granted.

Number four: Year-end efforts are great, but consider offering ongoing mental health support 24-7, 365 days per year to your employees to show you care and to prop them up. Working in a manufacturing environment can be incredibly stressful these days. Manufacturing teams are under a great deal of pressure to get product out the door and it oftentimes seems that if something can go wrong then it will. This can lead to intense stress and can erode the mental health of your employees. While searching the web, I stumbled upon a company called Lyra Health, which offers a  Managers Guide to Prevent Employee Burnout . This guide offers tips to identify signs of employee stress, showing empathy and facilitating a connection to resources and strategies that can boost the mental health of one’s employees.

I think everyone will agree that good employees are a valuable resource and one that is increasingly harder to find. So, it is imperative that we do everything possible to support our employees and give them back everything that they deserve. Companies that excel at supporting their associates will excel in the marketplace in terms of efficiency, quality and will maintain leadership in our industry. A company can only be as strong as its employees.

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