Saturday, January 6, 2007

Workplace Factors That Affect Hiring and Retention

Key Topics Covered in This Chapter
• Company culture,and how it can attract or repel the kinds of people you want to hire and retain
• Employee burnout,and how to minimize or avoid it
• Work-life balance,and how to make it work for both employees and the company
H iring discussions with potential recruits almost always focus on the specifics of the job, the reporting relationships, career possibilities, and com- pensation and benefits. Each of these is important to job applicants. But the climate of the workplace may be equally important in the applicant’s decision to take the job—or to stay for any length of time thereafter. Some companies have reputations as great places to work. For- tune identifies the best of these companies each year in its list of the "100 Best Companies to Work For." Certain companies, such as stockbroker Edward Jones, Container Store, SAS Institute, Plante & Moran, and Frank Russell are consistently near the top of the list. Working Mother produces a similar "top 100"list from the perspective of women with children.The reputations of companies that make these lists undoubtedly make them more attractive to job applicants and current employees. In this chapter,we examine three workplace factors that play an important role in hiring and retention: company culture, employee burnout,and work-life balance. Consider Your Culture As one of the factors that determines the attractiveness of an organ- ization to qualified potential recruits and to current employees, culture matters. If a culture is excessively relaxed, for example, the company may have trouble attracting and retaining hard-core professionals; they may find the workplace insufficiently "serious" and detrimental to their long-term careers. If the culture is too formal and straight-laced, young and creative types are likely to feel uncomfortable and out of place. If it’s unwelcoming to women and minorities, talented individuals in those communities will look for careers elsewhere. And none of these groups will be keen on working for a company if its culture is dominated by conflict, turf wars, dysfunctional senior management, or excessive hierarchical privilege. How is your workplace culture perceived? As a first step in improving culture,ask employees these two questions: 1. Are there any important gaps between the kind of atmosphere you would like to work in and the atmosphere that currently characterizes our group? If so,what are they? 2. What measures would help improve our work culture and/or help close gaps between what we want or need and what exists? There are many ways to close gaps between the current culture of your organization and the one you need to attract and retain great people.Here are just a few sample scenarios: Scenario 1: Your department’s young,high-energy employees want a more informal,fun,and hard-driving culture.They find the current culture too formal and rigid.In this case,you could try the following: • Relax the dress code. • Permit flexible schedules that let employees work long hours during high-pressure projects and more reasonable hours at other times. • Install a ping-pong or foosball table to allow employees to burn off energy. • Take your team to a local park for a volleyball game and picnic lunch. • Start a tradition whereby you have a party at the end of challenging projects. • Bring in stand-up comic videos (nothing too extreme, though!) and play them in a conference room during lunch. Scenario 2: Your department has many employees with young families.They don’t like the current separation between their lives at work and their lives at home.Consider these ideas: • Institute regular family picnics—and invite people to bring their pets,too! (Many people consider their companion animals as members of the family.) • During informal conversations,ask employees about their families—and show a genuine interest in what they say. • Let employees bring their children to work occasionally to celebrate special occasions. • Facilitate work from home during part of the week,or pro- vide flextime or other arrangements to reduce family stress. • Let employees go home early on their birthday or their wedding anniversary,or to attend parent/teacher conferences or important school events. Scenario 3: Your group consists of researchers who want enough privacy and quiet to do the concentrated thinking and writing required by their jobs.Try these ideas: • If your department has cubicles instead of offices with doors, invest in "white-noise"machines to drown out distracting sounds. • Allow employees to work from home during times when they’re embroiled in especially intense projects. • Keep the frequency and length of meetings to a minimum. But don’t allow people to become too isolated.Even if they must work quietly and alone you can create a team spirit by means such as these: • Periodically reward the group with free passes to the theater, museum exhibits,the ballet,and other cultural events. • Start up a book or film discussion group,which could meet once a month during lunch. Clearly, fine-tuning your culture doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. All it takes to develop an appropriate culture is a wil- lingness to observe and listen,a little creativity,and openness to new ideas. But remember that managers must be visible symbols of the culture they aim to promote. Employees look at what top manage- ment does. If management says "Let’s be casual" but still wears suits every day,anyone who aspires to being at the top will keep on wear- ing a suit. If management says "We care about our people" but focuses only on cost controls and dumps long-term employees at the first whiff of slowing revenues,no one will take their statements seri- ously.That said,by attending to your culture in these ways and really working to change it for the better,you can make your organization more attractive to the people you’d like to hire—and boost your retention rate. Employee Burnout Burnout is work exhaustion.It is sometimes self-induced,but in many other cases is a result of the workplace culture. Burnout typically manifests itself through lower job satisfaction, less commitment to the organization,and heightened intention to "do something differ- ent."In some cases,you will also see these warning signs: • reduced self-esteem (when there’s just too much to be done, some people blame themselves) • a decline in feelings of competence and achievement • a detached or negative approach to colleagues,customers,and clients Burnout generally results from long-term involvement in situa- tions that have many negative attributes,such as: • work overload • conflicting demands (e.g.,"Think big and be creative—but don’t make any mistakes") • unclear objectives • monotonous tasks • interpersonal conflict • too few real rewards (bonuses,extra time off,and so on) • little acknowledgment of employee contributions • failure to achieve clear success As the list indicates,burnout is not strictly a function of the number of working hours.A person may work countless hours and still feel highly motivated. Rather, most people burn out when they feel more stress than support in their work lives. Burnout can directly undermine your company’s retention efforts—and if the organization develops a reputation as a burnout chamber, it will have trouble hiring good people. Worse, its most highly motivated employees—those who feel a strong commitment to their work—are most susceptible to burnout. Supervisors sometimes contribute to the burnout problem without realizing it. Most supervisors have a natural tendency to load all the critical projects onto their few top performers."I can’t trust anyone else to do it right," they say in justification.And then, when these workhorses have succeeded with one project, supervi- sors immediately load them up with another! Meanwhile, the lax, the lazy,and the malingerers coast along,picking up their paychecks every two weeks.Are the workhorses of the department given pro- motions for all their good works? Not always. If they were pro- moted,there’d be no one left to handle the important jobs. Consider using one of the following strategies for combating burnout: creative staffing, burnout management, and regular "re- recruitment"of top talent. Creative Staffing One way to avoid employee overload is to create a long-term,strate- gic staffing plan that ensures enough people—and enough of the right people—to do the job.Here’s how: • Get line supervisors to work closely with the human resource department and upper management to define a staffing strategy that meets department and company needs.Staffing is not entirely within the control of line supervisors—but they should do their best to clarify the human resources they need to meet their assigned goals. • Assure that people are well trained.People who are not prop- erly prepared for their assignments are at greater risk of burnout.So arrange for the training they need. • Prioritize the workload.If your department is especially short- handed and unable to add people,be strategic about what you ask employees to do.Consider every task in light of whether it adds value to customers.If it doesn’t add enough value,eliminate it.(All tasks add some value—be a ruthless judge of just how much.) • Consider internal redeployment of personnel.If you don’t "repot"your houseplants every so often,the roots that support them will become impacted and stop growing.The same applies to employees.Redeployment gives your organization greater flexibility while retaining top employees.Equally important,it gives employees a chance to gain new experiences and skills that may be important to them. • Provide variety in place.Internal redeployment may not be necessary if you can find ways to vary their tasks and responsi- bilities.You might,for example,give one person in your depart- ment responsibility for leading a team-based project for the next six months—before rotating the task to someone else. Another person could be given temporary responsibility for facilities maintenance in your work area.Just be sure that those responsibilities are added to the individual’s performance objec- tives and taken seriously. In discussing redeployment or varied responsibilities with employees, be respectful of their thoughts and feelings. Rather than moving them around like chess pieces, think about what might be the best opportunities for them—and emphasize any professional development benefits offered by those opportunities.Also,redeploy- ment should be optional. If a reassignment does take place, check with redeployed personnel periodically to see how things are going, and devise solutions to any problems that arise. Burnout Management Another way to avoid the high price tag of overload is for managers to actively minimize work exhaustion.Here are a few things that can be done: • Regularly monitor workloads, especially among your top performers. One of the Big Five accounting firms did this by screening travel schedules. Individuals observed to be spending excessive time on the road or volunteering for too many projects were identified and counseled. If you find people like this, meet with them regularly to see how they’re doing.This act alone can help people feel supported.And go a step fur- ther—do something about their schedules before they flame out. • Show your appreciation for valued workers.This,too,can help outweigh some of the other negatives. • Consider job redesign.If a valued employee shows symptoms of burnout,take a look at his or her job description.The tasks and responsibilities of the job may be beyond the powers of even an exceptional worker.In these cases,talk with the HR department and your staff about redesigning the job. Above all,be a keen observer and a good listener.Acknowledge cries for help—such as "I don’t know how to keep up,""I’m swamped,"or "It looks like I’ll have to work over the weekend again."Then do something to alleviate the situation. "Re-recruit" Your Top Talent Don’t take valued employees for granted or assume that they’ll want to keep working for you. Remember that the marketplace for cer- tain skills is highly efficient and provides great mobility for top pro- ducers.Assume that you need to "re-recruit"these people from time to time.Identify your top performers and then: • Remind yourself that high producers are your competitors’ likely poaching targets. • Show high producers how much you appreciate them—either through informal but heartfelt thanks for a job well done,small but meaningful tokens of appreciation,or in the form bonuses or extra "comp time." Work-Life Balance Work-life balance was one of the hottest business topics prior to the 2000–2001 recession.And despite the shock of recession-driven lay- offs, it is an issue that refuses to go away.The reason that it won’t is because work-life balance is a core element of employee satisfaction, loyalty, and productivity.This means that if you provide a workplace in which employees can effectively balance the requirements of work and their personal lives,retention will be less of an issue.And if you develop a reputation in the labor market as a place that supports work-life balance,you’ll have an edge in hiring good people. A study by the Ford Foundation sums up what many other researchers have found about this issue: The separation of work and family undermines both business and employee goals,impairing work efficiency and family life. The process of challenging old assumptions and cultural beliefs that underlie work and work-family integration frees employees to think more creatively about work in general and provides companies with a strategic opportunity to achieve a more equitable,productive,and inno- vative workplace. Many of the same assumptions and beliefs that create difficulties in work-family integration also lead to unproductive work practices,under- mining the companies’ability to achieve key business goals. Restructuring the way work gets done to address work-family integration can lead to positive,"win-win"results—a more responsive work environment that takes employees’needs into account and yields significant bottom-line results. 1 As this quotation makes very clear, work-life balance isn’t just a "feel-good" issue or a perk that will cost your company money. It translates into better business performance. In the United States, two long-term developments brought the work-life issue to a head in the late 1990s.The first was the uniquely American practice of expanding the work year, even as people became more productive and prosperous. Harvard economist Juliet Schor in her book The Overworked American has documented how the typical American has been asked to work more and more hours. By her count, the average U.S. work year has grown nine hours per year over the past several decades. 2 Those extra hours (and they really add up over the years) have cut directly into the time people would normally spend tending to family and personal matters. Ironic, isn’t it? The more productive and prosperous Americans become, the more they are asked to work. By the late 1990s, the average American manufacturing employee was putting in 320 more hours each year than his or her counterpart in Europe. Schor’s research was completed before laptops and e-mail had made major inroads into corporate life.So you can add into her cal- culation of long hours the time that people now spend working at home on weekends and answering e-mails at night and during their vacations. The result of working hours escalation: people feel squeezed. They find themselves in a winless situation in which they must either shortchange their careers or neglect their home lives. Many companies have made this situation worse by perversely buffering up-cycles in the economy with overtime.When business is boom- ing, they ask people to work extra hours; this helps them to avoid adding new people to the payroll. The second big contributor to the issue of work-life balance has been the growing percentage of married women in the work force. Today,well over 50 percent of married women are employed outside the home.That’s good news for gender equity,but having two work- ing spouses means that fewer people are available to keep up the household.When both are working full time and tied up in daily commutes, the time available for family and personal life takes a major hit.Meals are caught on the fly,and civic and family activities are shortchanged. Three Principles Work-life balance is a major issue today because so many people are saying "enough" to long days, paltry vacations, evenings spent in hotel rooms, and weekend e-mails from the boss. Many companies have gotten the message and responded with programs that help their employees balance the two sides of their lives. At first blush, you’d think that every concession toward work- life balance would represent a cost to the sponsoring company. But as Stewart Friedman, Perry Christensen, and Jessica DeGroot ex- plained in a widely read Harvard Business Review article, work-life balance can be approached from a "win-win"perspective,and not as a zero-sum game: [W]e have observed that a small but growing number of managers . . . operate under the assumption that work and personal life are not competing priorities but complementary ones.In essence,they’ve adopted a win-win philosophy.And it appears they are right:in the cases we have studied,the new approach has yielded tangible payoffs both for organizations and for individual employees. 3 These researchers offer three principles for breaking through the zero-sum game: 1. Make sure that employees understand business priorities and encourage them to be equally clear about their personal priori- ties. The work of the organization must get done,and work-life balance should not be an excuse for letting it slide. Alternatively,work cannot be an excuse for letting important personal matters slide.Friedman,Christensen,and DeGroot counsel managers to be clear about company goals and per- formance expectations.At the same time,they encourage employees to be clear about their goals as family members and as individuals.Once everyone’s cards are on the table,schedules and assignments can usually be arranged in ways that satisfy both sides."The fact that these managers define business success in terms of results is key,"they write."To them,outcomes matter more than process.To that end,they give their employ- ees specific goals but also great autonomy over how to achieve those goals." 4 2. Recognize and support employees as "whole people" with important roles outside the workplace. Managers can only deal with work-life conflict if they understand and show some interest in the nonworking lives of their employees.And show- ing a sincere interest "creates a bond and,with it,trust—which brings organizational benefits familiar to any manager." 5 3. Continually experiment with how work gets done. Smart man- agers know that work processes must be periodically rethought and redesigned for greater efficiency and effectiveness.Work- life balance provides opportunities to experiment with these processes.In describing managers who have successfully adopted work-life balance,the authors state that "[C]onflicts between work and personal priorities can actually be catalysts for identifying work inefficiencies that might otherwise have remained hidden or intractable." 6 Does your office have a "this is how we do things" mentality? That’s bad for the company because it stands in the way of process improvement. In a dynamic environment, the best way of doing things is always changing. Flexibility is one of the ways we adapt to change and survive. So,according to Friedman,Christensen,and DeGroot,work-life balance doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Managed correctly, work-life balance can improve morale, increase productivity, and help you hire and retain the best employees. (See "Tips on Work- Life Balance.) Telework Many companies have found that telework is an effective tool for cre- ating work-life balance. Telework describes work that is done by employees in locations other than their regular offices and is facili- tated by telecommunications and Internet capabilities.The Interna- tional Telework Association & Council’s (ITAC) definition of tele- work is "using telecommunications to work wherever you need to in order to satisfy client needs: whether it be from a home office, telework center, satellite office, a client’s office, an airport lounge, a hotel room,the local Starbucks,or from your office to a colleague 10 floors down in the same building." 7 The ITAC estimated that some 20 million U.S. employees were involved in some form of telework in 2001. Proponents of telework point to measurable cost savings and benefits, including lower real estate costs, greater employee produc- tivity, greater employee loyalty and job satisfaction, and lower per- sonnel turnover.And the teleworkers themselves report that it helps them balance work and personal responsibilities.AT&T, which has used telework heavily since the early 1990s, conducted a random survey in 2000 of 1,238 managers and found that: • Teleworkers put in more hours.Respondents indicated that they worked at least one hour more per day;that’s equivalent to 250 hours or 6 weeks of extra (unpaid) work done by the average teleworker. • Telework is more productive.Seventy-seven percent of AT&T’s teleworkers said that they got more accomplished at home than they did in the office. • Loyalty improves.Of those teleworkers who reported receiving competing job offers,67 percent said that giving Taking our cue from the "three principles" of work-life balance described above,here are a few things you can do to make work- life balance a win-win situation: • Give employees specific goals,but also greater autonomy over how they achieve them.Say,"You are responsible for con- ducting a customer survey and producing a complete report between now and mid-March.I’d like you to develop a plan for handling that." • Give more attention to results than how,where,and when the work gets done. • Get to know your employees and coworkers on a more personal level.Do they have civic obligations that need tending? Do they have children or aging parents to support? What hobbies or artistic pursuits absorb their attention? Do they have other skills that might benefit the company? As the Hawthorne experiments found many decades ago, making these inquiries and simply showing an interest in employees as individuals can have a positive impact on morale and motivation. • Encourage people to find new and better ways of meeting their responsibilities.For example,sales managers and product development people may discover that a $5,000 investment in teleconferencing equipment could save the company $15,000 each year in travel expenses—and save each of them from weeks of unproductive travel time and many nights away from home.Supervisors may find that their 4 p.m. staff meetings—the ones that never seem to end before 6 p.m. and make everyone late for dinner—could easily be rescheduled as a lunch meeting.That would get the job done and get people home on time. up the telework environment was a factor in their decision to turn down those offers. • Attracting and retaining good employees is made easier accord- ing to 66 percent of responding AT&T managers. • Seventy-seven percent of teleworkers are more satisfied with their careers since shifting to telework. • Work-life balance is easier to achieve.Eighty-three percent of AT&T teleworkers reported being more satisfied with their personal and family lives since beginning telework arrange- ments. AT&T also reported saving $25 million annually in real estate costs through full-time teleworkers. 8 (See "Telework Readiness.") These remarkable findings are not unique to AT&T. But before you rush out and advocate a telework program, your company or unit should think through a number of questions,including: • Which jobs are appropriate for telework? • What are the legal,regulatory,insurance,and technology issues? (Individual stockbrokers,for example,cannot work from an unsupervised office of a broker-dealer.) • How will you supervise teleworkers and assure accountability? • Will people worry that telework will negatively affect their chances for promotions and other recognition? Despite claims on its behalf, telework is not appropriate for every organization. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Mahlon Apgar addressed this question, explaining that programs such as telework are most appropriate when companies are: • committed to new ways of operating; • more informational than industrial; • dynamic,nonhierarchical,technologically advanced; • not command-driven;and • willing to invest in tools and training. 9 Telework also requires adaptation on the part of managers and supervisors.After all, their charges will not be under their watchful eyes. Who’s to know if they are working or watching Seinfeld reruns? The remedy, according to most experts, is for managers to focus on results instead of activities.That means setting clear goals for individual teleworkers, making sure that they understand those goals,and setting up a system for monitoring progress in short-term stages. Managers must also find ways to integrate teleworkers into 130 Hiring and Keeping the Best People Are you a good candidate for telework? How about the people who’ve been asking you for permission to work from home every Friday? AT&T’s telework advice site has a handy "Person- nel Screener" that will evaluate the readiness of any employee for telework. a That automated screener evaluates telework readi- ness in four dimensions: 1. Prerequisites.Levels of job knowledge,experience,produc- tivity,work quality,etc. 2. Skills.The ability to plan and manage projects,to set and reach goals,etc. 3. Work style. The ability to work with a minimum of super- vision,the ability to work independently,etc. 4. Attitude factor.A willingness to try new things,a positive attitude toward telework,etc. This self-diagnostic test helps individuals to identify their strengths as well as any barriers they might need to overcome before trying telework. the larger group,otherwise people may become isolated and out-of- touch. Telework clearly represents new challenges for managers,but the benefits—especially in terms of work-life balance and retention— can be substantial. Flexible Work Schedules Flexible scheduling is another mechanism for helping employees achieve work-life balance. Flexible scheduling allows individual employees to work something other than the usual 9-to-5,40-hour, 5-day week.This creates opportunities for people to work even as they accommodate the needs of young children,infirm relatives,and so forth. Many people favor flexible schedules.This is what the accounting and consulting firm Deloitte & Touche learned when it surveyed its professional staff—both men and women—in 1993. Eighty percent said that they wanted greater flexibility in where,how,and when they worked.The company responded the next year with programs for both flexible work arrangements and parental leave.By 2000,approx- imately nine hundred of the firm’s professional employees were enrolled in one or another of these programs. 10 Did these programs help retain professional employees? Clearly so.Eighty percent of the individuals enlisted in the Deloitte & Touche programs reported that they would have left the firm if the programs had not been made avail- able. If you figure the average replacement cost of 720 Deloitte & Touche professionals at 1.5 times annual salary (assumed here at $75,000),the savings to the firm are roughly $81 million. Here are some typical flex-schedule arrangements used in busi- ness today: • Reduced-time schedules. For example,an employee works from 10 to 5 in order to accommodate her need to drive her children to school in the morning. • Seasonal schedules. For example, a tax specialist works 60- hour weeks from January through April to accommodate the tax-filing crunch, then works 30-hour weeks for the balance of the year. • Compressed schedules. For example, to accommodate his weekend acting vocation, a computer technician puts in 40 hours Monday through Thursday, leaving Fridays free for rehearsals. Flexible work schedules are appreciated by many employees. More important, they expand the pool of potential employees. If you define "who can work here" too narrowly—as 9-to-5, Monday through Friday—you automatically exclude many otherwise quali- fied people.Any hospital will confirm this. Desperate to recruit and retain licensed nurses, most hospitals have expanded their hiring pools through flexible scheduling.The first to do so differentiated themselves from rival institutions.You can too.But first make a busi- ness case for it. Women as a Special Case Everything said so far about the importance of work-life balance and its enabling mechanisms is doubled if you are having trouble hiring and retaining talented women. For reasons too numerous to discuss here, women still bear the brunt of raising and caring for young children and keeping the homestead running on an even keel—often by choice.As Felice N.Schwartz once observed,majority of women . . . are what I call career-and-family women; women who want to pursue serious careers while partic pating actively in the rearing of their children." 11 Traditional work schedules and the demands of business travel put these two goals in conflict. It’s nearly impossible to manage the household if both parents are "career primary." And it’s still usually the woman who handles the home front and the job.This is why flex-schedules,telework,and similar programs are particularly appreciated by women.And since women represent half of the talent in the world,it makes good busi- ness sense to do what needs to be done to make their recruitment and retention as easy as possible.So,if you don’t have work-life pro- grams at your company,ask yourself: • What is our turnover among women in key positions,and how does that compare with male turnover in the same positions? • In exit interviews,what have defecting female employees cited as their reasons for leaving? Are they moving to firms with work-life programs? • In our recruiting for those positions,what percentage of women versus men has rejected job offers we’ve made? Was work-life balance a factor in our offers being rejected? If the answers to these questions point to clear problems in hiring and retaining women,determine through research which—if any— work-life programs would neutralize those problems.Then calculate the cost/benefit relationship of these programs. Summing Up This chapter examined three "workplace factors" that can affect a company’s ability to attract,hire,and retain good people: • Company culture: Your company culture should be appealing to the types of employees you want most to attract and retain. Depending on the types of people you are looking for,you may need to alter your culture to be more formal or informal, relaxed or fast-paced.It should also be welcoming and as free as possible from the internal conflicts that sour well-intentioned people. • Employee burnout: Burnout is an important workplace factor to avoid.It can lead to lower job satisfaction,less commitment to the organization,and defections.And talented people won’t be eager to work for your company if it has a reputation as a meat grinder.Watch for the several warning signs of burnout and their root causes described in this chapter.You can avoid or mitigate burnout through proper staffing,being sure that people are adequately trained and prepared for their assign- ments,prioritizing the workload,periodic redeployment, and/or adding variety to employee assignments. • Work-life balance: Work-life balance is a core element of employee satisfaction,loyalty,and productivity.Find ways to help employees successfully manage their commitments at home and at work,and you will avoid many retention prob- lems.And if your company develops a public reputation for providing work-life balance,its recruiters will have an edge over others in hiring good people.Telework and flexible work scheduling are the two of the most effective tools for providing work-life balance.Give them as much attention as you would other aspects of hiring and retention.

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