KANSAS CITY, MO— It’s no secret that these are challenging times for attracting and retaining a talented and engaged workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the commercial baking industry from top to bottom, and the lingering effects make one thing clear … there’s no returning to business as usual.

This sentiment rings especially true given current labor challenges. The pandemic cracked open what wasn’t working for many employees, and if the Great Resignation is any indication, industry leaders must listen — and act — based on employees’ work-life needs or risk losing their most valuable asset: their people.

Workers are more discerning than ever about where they invest their time and energy, and this proves to be notably true for the younger workforce. According to a 2021 report by global marketing agency LEWIS, only 19% of Gen Z would work for a company that does not share their values.

“The next generation are quickly moving into the workforce, and they want to be heard,” said Chris Lewis, CEO of LEWIS. “It’s clear that Gen Z prioritize values above all else, and companies that don’t understand or reflect that will find themselves struggling to attract and retain the best talent.”


Today, purpose is paramount. Company leaders are increasingly aware of the need to play an active role in tackling greater societal challenges, and sitting on the sidelines is no longer a viable option if they want to remain competitive. In a manifesto published by

Harvard Business Review, Paul Polman, former Unilever CEO, and Andrew Winston, a consultant and author, call this a “net-positive” approach to business in which the company “improves wellbeing for everyone it impacts and at all scales — every product, every operation, every region and country, and for every stakeholder, including employees, suppliers, communities, customers, and even future generations and the planet itself.”

The pre-pandemic status quo simply doesn’t cut it anymore, and leaders need to reconsider how they use their organization’s culture and values to drive business decisions.

“We recognize that the workforce we’re dealing with is totally different,” said Trina Bediako, CEO of New Horizons Baking Co., during a workforce panel at BEMA Convention 2022. “We could decide to do things as we always have, and then we won’t have anybody working on the lines.”

All that change has prompted New Horizons to reassess its mission, vision and values to be crystal clear on where the company needs to be and what it needs to do to get there.


Many organizations are doing the same, and reevaluation comes at a critical time when employee engagement in the US remains in a slump. In 2021, engaged full- and part-time employees dropped to 34% — down from 36% the previous year — the first annual decline in a decade, according to Gallup.

The downward trend continued into early 2022, as 32% of full- and part-time employees reported being engaged. What’s more, 17% — up one point from last year — say they are actively disengaged.

Building a highly connected workforce isn’t just good for morale; it’s also good for business. According to Gallup, companies with engaged workers have 23% higher profit compared to those with despondent workers. They also see significantly lower absenteeism, turnover and accidents, in addition to greater customer loyalty.

If organizations aren’t proactive about making changes to engage employees, their workforce will look elsewhere. It’s a competitive market for job seekers, and according to Mintel, three in 10 workers are likely to look for a new job in the next year.

So, what can be done? Using company values as the guidepost of all decision making is key. But it’s not enough to put up a poster with inspirational words like “integrity,” “collaboration” and “respect” in the break room, and then expect workers to feel like they have value and ownership in the organization. In fact, a recent Gallup poll revealed that only four in 10 employees strongly agree that the mission or purpose of their organization makes them feel their job is important.


To build trust, employees need to see that mission lived out daily through its leaders. Managers can’t just talk the talk. They must walk the walk.

“When you don’t have a strong foundation of values, or a culture that truly permeates outside of the headquarters, you’re just going to run into challenges,” said Alexis Gilbert, Dawn Foods’ senior director, global brand and communications. “Your customers, your team members, they’re going to feel it. They’re going to see it, and you will lose credibility.”

Gilbert said that for Dawn Foods, team members adhering to and living the company values of relationships, optimism, integrity, passion and process is non-negotiable. But she also acknowledged that those values have to be backed up with action; otherwise, they’re just empty words. Trust in values-based leadership requires consistency.

“If you’re not living up to [your values], you’re losing trust of your team, you’re losing trust of your suppliers, you’re losing trust of your customers,” she added. “It’s not great for business, and you’re going to very quickly see the impact of operating without that standard in place.”

Dawn Foods is living out its values by placing a premium on feedback. The company offers a 24-hour Speak-Up hotline, operated by an independent third party, where customers, suppliers, vendors and team members can share concerns, voice opinions or offer suggestions.

“Not everyone communicates in the same way,” Gilbert said. “We want to make sure — regardless of your comfort or ability, or whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, or someone who speaks up in every meeting or someone who sits back and listens — that your opinion and your ideas matter.”

This story has been adapted from the August | Q3 2022 issue of Commercial Baking. Read the full story in the digital edition here.