Recycling Workforce Issues

Employee Turnover is Costly

Employee turnover is one of the biggest challenges any MRF operator faces. It’s time-consuming and expensive to recruit, onboard and train a new employee whether the person is employed directly by the MRF or through a staffing or workforce company. When an employee leaves, not only does the hiring process begin again but the investment made in the former employee is lost forever.

In addition, when there’s turnover on your workforce, productivity can slow down and safety incidents can increase.

If you knew why employees leave and could attack the turnover problem armed with that knowledge, would it change how you manage your operation?

Why Employees Leave

Employees leave because they believe things will be better somewhere else. What does “better” really mean? There are six answers to that question. 

  1. Better Manager. It’s often said that people don’t leave organizations, they leave managers. If turnover is chronic at your MRF, it could be a sign that the management team needs help. Not everyone is cut out to manage a team of sorters. Sometimes people are promoted into positions they are ill-equipped to handle. And in the MRF environment, stress and burn-out are common.
  2. Better Hours. Your MRF may operate one, two or three shifts. You may offer an opportunity for sorters to work four 10’s, or to change between 1st and 2nd shift on a periodic basis. Regardless of the standard hours at your facility, there’s always room for small adjustments that can improve employee satisfaction and reduce turnover.
  3. Better Pay. This is a tough one. Ask any employee if they would like to make more money and 100% of them will say Yes. The better question to ask yourself is, do our pay rates match or beat the local competition? Are our wages based on the way we’ve always paid people or are they based on an analysis of current workforce data in our market?
  4. Better Benefits. Employees often look for a job that offers health insurance benefits like medical, dental and disability coverage. You may or may not offer those benefits to your workforce, or they may have to work a certain number of hours or months before they are eligible for benefits. Fair enough. What other benefits can you offer that would be appealing to your workforce? Think about free lunch once a month. A company t-shirt after six weeks on the job. Early out the day before a holiday. Get creative and do what will suit your operation and budget.
  5. Better Location. You can’t change your location. What you can change is the way you recruit. If you’re hiring on your own or recruiting through a workforce partner, be very clear about where you are located, what bus line you are on, or what transportation options you make available. Do you help coordinate carpools? Be sure to probe each candidate about their transportation plans as part of the interview. They may want the job, but they may not stay if it becomes too expensive or difficult to get to and from work.
  6. Better Culture. What employees really mean here is, they want to work in a place that is a better fit for them. Do they have a sense of belonging? Do they understand why they are doing their assigned tasks and how their role fits into the bigger picture? Do they feel like they have a friend at work? Many MRFs start new employees with a “buddy” who shows them the ropes and can provide a friendly ear when there are questions or concerns.

Better Opportunity

Together, the desire for these “better” conditions of a job can be summarized as Better Opportunity. Employees want to know:

  • Do I have a chance to move up? Do you promote from within?
  • Will I make a higher wage over time?
  • Does my manager care about me as a person? Does he have my back?
  • Can I learn skills that will help me over the course of my career?
  • Is this industry one that’s growing?
  • Is this a place where I belong?

 Make “Better” Happen at Your MRF

Reducing turnover starts in the job interview. Provide a clear, optimistic but realistic overview of the job. At Leadpoint, we take job candidates onto the sorting floor and let them work the line for a period of time so they can truly understand what the work entails…before they take the job.

Show appreciation and treat people fairly, every day. Every employee in your MRF has the same goal as you do in your work: they want a job where they can earn a paycheck so they can care for themselves and their family. Their unspoken goal is to get home safely at the end of every shift. Just like you.

And think of the adjustments you can make – the little things – that will build teamwork, morale, and tenure. When you do, you’ll see turnover decline and productivity increase.

Finally, if you want to know more about what your employees mean when they say they are leaving for something better, ask them! Exit interviews are powerful learning tools for any operation and give employees a chance to be heard, without risk, and with dignity.

How do we know these things? At Leadpoint we’ve been providing high-performance work teams to the recycling industry for nearly 20 years. Our hiring and leadership model, combined with our embedded onsite management approach and diligent attention to safety, has helped MRFs nationwide become more productive, efficient, and profitable.

Talk to us about how to reduce turnover at your site. Call 888-205-1511 to speak with a Leadpoint representative today.


  1. Currently working at your facility Outagamie county recycling Center Holland rd. Been there since February. I have brought safety issue to Management about new hire,s that have been there months and most of those have no Steel toe saftey shoes .most wearing plan soft sole Shoes. They said to me mind your own Business ! Someone is going to get foot crushed or Sole of foot Cut on Broken glass

    • Thank you for bringing this to our attention, Bill. Your comment has been forwarded to a member of our executive team.

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