Managing the workplace reality gap

Becoming an employer of choice takes more than just platitudes

Why aren’t more employers an “employer of choice?”

Too many organizations have trouble retaining good employees because of the gap between their stated organizational values and how they actually treat their employees. This is the “workplace reality” gap. There is a continuing challenge for executives to “walk the talk.”

With the recent publicity over layoffs in the high-tech and automotive industries, it is easy to believe that attracting and retaining good employees was a short-lived war.

However there is a long-term trend of increasing shortages of qualified staff — hence, being an excellent employer provides a significant competitive advantage.

What attracts and retains good employees is not new. Every HR professional has been taught what is needed to be one of the best employers in Canada. If we were translating what we know into our day-to-day practices, employee commitment and customer service would not be issues.

The irony is that conferences on staff retention are popular, and employment lawyers are busy advising organizations on how to deal with consequences of poor employee management, avoiding being unionized or dealing with poor labour relations.

What would make an organization an employer of choice? The major components are well understood and include the following factors in their approximate order of impact.

•Appreciation for the employees’ efforts and contribution. Employees feel that their hard work is recognized and appreciated by the organization.

•Ability to influence what is happening. Employees feel they are kept informed and have an opportunity to have a say about changes in their work environment.

•Consideration and support in dealing with personal issues. Employees recognize how their employee benefits, work flexibility and leave practices help them respond to personal crises and balance changing work-life demands.

•Employment security. Employees feel secure that they will have a job if they perform well and their employer has a future. They believe that the organization treats individuals fairly and with respect when their job skills are no longer needed.

•Competitive compensation practices. Employees believe they are compensated fairly relative to the job market and their peers. Few people feel that the privilege of working at any organization justifies being underpaid relative to the job market.

•Good working conditions. Employees believe they work in a supportive environment that provides them with reasonable control over how they work, and does not impose unnecessary work restrictions. Employees experience good working relationships with other employees, and do not feel that they are subject to excessive amounts of office politics.

•Satisfying work. Employees feel they made a worthwhile contribution at the end of the day, and are proud of what they do.

•Opportunities for advancement. Employees feel that they can progress to more senior job opportunities based on merit.

•Loyalty of the organization. Employees believe that their organization is loyal and respectful towards them as valued members of their work group.

•Reasonable development and discipline practices. Employees feel that the organization focuses on their strengths and helps them to improve if they are not performing to expectations. When disciplinary action is necessary it is applied in an objective, appropriate, and consistent manner; and that disciplinary decisions are subject to some form of appeal that is fair and balanced.

Where organizations

go wrong

The workplace reality gap occurs when employee management practices fail to enforce all of the above factors as a collective set of employment conditions. Organizations fail to be an employer of choice when their:

•HR management policies and practices are inappropriate;

•managers, supervisors and team leaders have not been trained in effective people management practices or held accountable for how them manage employees;

•HR professionals lack sufficient skills or influence to help the organization manage their employees appropriately; or

•the CEO does not understand or champion the critical importance of good employee relations.

To be successful an organization’s HR management practices must be well designed, appropriate to the unique needs of the organization and be kept current in these times of rapidly changing job markets. In addition, every manager, supervisor and team leader needs to follow good employee management practices on a daily basis.

If attracting and retaining good employees is an issue, the place to start is with the executive team. Have them answer the following questions: Do our employees believe that our decisions and actions reflect the organization’s values? Are we doing a significantly better job meeting the needs of our employees than our competitors? Are our managers, supervisors and team leaders skilled at managing people? How well do our HR practices match the quality of our organization and compare to the practices of our competitors?

Brian Orr is consulting for OrgArchitect Inc., which helps organizations enhance the value of their people, knowledge and
systems. He can be reached at (416) 453-8633 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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