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Market Recap: RISI Crow’s Construction Materials Cost Index

BY HBSDEALER Staff

A price index of lumber and panels used in actual construction for Aug. 9, 2013

*Western – regional species perimeter foundation; Southern – regional species slab construction.

Crow’s Market Recap — A condensed recap of the market conditions for the major North American softwood lumber and panel products as reported in Crow’s Weekly Market Report.

Lumber: Sales activity in the SPF lumber market was spotty and sluggish, but tight supplies of certain items generated some higher pricing. Having purchased much of their August needs, buyers held out in greater numbers. Prices hit a wall in the Southern Pine lumber market, forcing some to recoil, particularly on the Westside. Approaches by mills in that region varied in respect to pricing, dependent on the level of urgency at a particular mill. Much of the pricing in Coastal species lumber remained stable or found higher levels at which to trade. Dry prices were more likely to rise than those in green Doug Fir. Inland lumber producers continued to struggle with broken inventories of most lumber grades but found that #2&Btr was getting more attention from buyers than were the uppers. Radiata Pine prices are stable, although some South American Mldg&Btr has discounted slightly. Ponderosa Pine industrial lumber is “Weak at both edges,” according to one source. The slowing of millwork has led to softening in lower grades of lumber, and more blanks and blocks are being offered. Ponderosa Pine 4/4 boards remain “hot,” as one source noted. Activity for Idaho White Pine boards is less energetic than Ponderosa, due in part to mills being sold out or lacking good tallies. ESLP boards are firm and moving in both #2 and #3 Common. Eastern White Pine boards are nicely balanced between supply and demand August is not expected to be a great month in regard to Western Red Cedar sales volumes. Fill-in activity continued to provide steady business for mills, as yards replenished items while keeping inventories in line with late summer levels.

Panels: The entire continent shows varying degrees of softness in OSB activity and pricing. The presence of secondary product is forcing that level of the market to take aggressive action, putting downward pressure on prices. Sources at Western Fir plywood mills reported a range of activity. Perhaps most indicative of trading levels were price moves, which were few but modestly upward. The Southern Pine plywood market was flat in respect to both price and demand. Although a few mills reported selling close to a week’s worth of production, mill order files, for the most part, remained in the weeks of August 19 and 26. While Canadian plywood producers say prices are “up a couple more,” distributors are very wary about the length of mill files and the implications of a decaying OSB market. August and the slower seasonal sales it generally brings continued to envelope both particleboard and MDF markets.

For more on RISI, click here.

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Employee vacations are good for business

BY Bill Leonard

Employees aren’t the only ones who can benefit from taking a vacation. Businesses that urge workers to take time off to relax, recuperate and recharge typically have lower health care, workers’ compensation and turnover costs, and they benefit from higher productivity and employee engagement levels.

The problem is that most U.S. workers don’t take full advantage of their paid-time-off benefits, and the negative effects of overworked and burned-out employees can kick businesses right in their bottom line.

“Everyone agrees that taking vacation time is a good thing, and many business owners understand that rested and happy employees are more productive, healthy and innovative,” said Susan L. Harmansky, SPHR, VP human resources at Southern Graphics Systems in Louisville, Ky. “The reality, however, is the rapid pace of business and the need to have projects finished yesterday is keeping people from taking the time off that they need.”

The real trick is finding a way to fit vacations into busy work schedules. “Following the recession, businesses are much leaner and doing more with less; so having one person from a five-member team take a week off can put pressure on others,” she said.

Pressure to be productive and worries about job security are keeping most U.S. workers from taking full advantage of their paid-time-off benefits. In the fall of 2012, Harris Interactive surveyed more than 2,000 users of the travel website Hotwire.com and found that Americans left an average of 9.2 paid vacation days on the table that year — an increase of three unused days from a 2011 survey.

The reasons typically revolved around job security and workload issues. Other research has revealed that even when U.S. workers take time off, they stay connected to work by responding to e-mails and phone calls.

 

Healthy organizations

Although some might commend individuals who are so dedicated to their jobs that they forgo or work through vacation time, employers are finding that the benefits of having employees take time off far outweigh the advantages of keeping them at the office.

“Actively encouraging employees to take the time they need should be an integral part of any paid-time-off program,” said Steve Cyboran, vice president, consulting actuary and healthy enterprise initiative leader for Sibson Consulting in Chicago. “It really should be ingrained into an organization’s corporate culture.”

The paybacks to companies include enhanced innovation, improved productivity and reduced health care costs, Cyboran noted. Research by Sibson has shown that businesses with effective time-off policies tend to have much lower turnover costs and higher employee engagement levels.

“Some research shows that turnover costs can be reduced by as much as a third,” Cyboran said. “And when you factor in other cost reductions from lower incidents of stress-related illnesses and workers’ comp claims, the cost benefit of encouraging employees to take vacations can be fairly significant.”

And because accounting standards require employers to list vacation time owed as a liability on corporate balance sheets, any methods businesses can use to get employees to take paid time off will reduce that liability.

“So you can easily make a business case for encouraging employees to use their vacation time,” Cyboran pointed out. “Another important benefit is that it’s much easier to adjust workloads and plan for scheduled time off, instead of having to deal with all the challenges unscheduled leaves can create.”

 

Planning for time off

Sibson’s healthy-enterprise research also revealed that companies with policies urging workers to take vacations tend to have a lower number of unscheduled absences. This correlation isn’t lost on some organizations, which are now requiring employees to take a set number of vacation days off every year.

“We require that all employees — no exceptions — take five paid vacation days in a row,” said Connie Rank-Smith, SPHR, assistant vice president of total compensation and rewards at Vantage West Credit Union in Tucson, Ariz. “Our staff really likes the policy, and we take it very seriously here. We’ve seen a lot of benefits from requiring people to take the time off.”

Although planning and workload scheduling are one reason for the policy, Rank-Smith admits that the time-off policy allows her organization to check for errors or fraudulent transactions.

“As a financial institution, we must audit the work of all our associates, and any error or questionable transaction someone is trying to hide will most likely surface within a five-day business cycle,” she explained.

Since the policy has been implemented, her company has had lower turnover rates and improved employee attitudes.

“Feedback from employees has been very positive, and they are very appreciative of the time off,” Rank-Smith said. “And from an anecdotal standpoint, when people return from their vacations they are usually more energetic and engaged.”

 

A boost to camaraderie

Improvements in teamwork and employee camaraderie are benefits that most employers might not think about when urging workers to take time off. Yet, opportunities for cross-training and building stronger team ties should not be ignored, Cyboran advised.

“Some employers are building training and leadership development into their time-off policies,” he said. “It gives workers a chance to step into new roles and take on job duties that they normally wouldn’t.”

Southern Graphics’ Harmansky agrees. She said that pitching in and helping to lighten the load when co-workers take time off builds a stronger sense of community among employees. In addition, workers who take on new roles can bring new perspectives to the job. Harmansky recalled an individual who suggested a change to a work process that improved efficiency and reduced costs.

“It’s not that the employee who took the vacation was doing a bad job; the person who offered to fill in recognized that there was a different way to do it and remove a step that had become unnecessary,” she said.

 

Ways to encourage

Good communication is key when encouraging employees to use their paid-time-off benefits. Often, businesses can send mixed signals — encouraging time off but supporting a culture that makes employees feel guilty about leaving supervisors and colleagues in the lurch.

“Support from upper-level management is crucial,” said Cyboran. “Business leaders have to demonstrate they are fully on board with taking time off.” He recommends training supervisors about an organization’s paid-time-off policies and how to manage and plan for scheduled absences.

 “Often, supervisors just aren’t prepared on the best ways to manage and work around vacation schedules, and that can end up sending the wrong message and actually discourage workers from taking time off,” he said.

Limiting the balance of vacation time that employees can carry over from year to year (often called use-it-or-lose-it plans) is another way to encourage people to schedule days off. Some companies have policies that allow workers to cash out unused vacation time at the end of the year — but only after they take a certain number of days (typically, one or two full weeks).

“Encouraging workers to take the time they need should be at the core of any time-off policy,” Cyboran said. “Employers that build this into their culture will make a tremendous leap toward becoming a healthy enterprise.”

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.

Have HR-related questions and concerns? Get access to essential forms, policies and guides, plus a live call center, at ToolkitHR.com, powered by HCN and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). 

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EasyClosets launches new custom media centers

BY HBSDealer Staff

EasyClosets announced the arrival of its new line of custom standalone media centers, which can be made to order in one day.

"Our goal at EasyClosets is to design and manufacture innovative solutions that are simple to design and assemble, can be delivered quickly, and solve organization challenges for our customers in every area of their homes," said Bobbie Locke, director of marketing and communications for The Stow Company, the parent company of EasyClosets brand. "We’re very excited to bring homeowners a ground-breaking DIY solution that gives them exactly what they need without the wait, and we expect this solution to set a new standard in the media storage market."

Customers will be able to select form a wide range of colors, sizes, configurations and styles. Other options include open shelving, towers, bridges and TV consoles, as well as an integrated wire management system.

An interactive online tool allows customers to design their own media centers, which can be found on the EasyClosets website.

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