Listen to your employees - AZ Business Magazine June 2010

Listening to Employees

In tough times, the give-and-take relationship between workers and employers needs to be nurtured

U.S. productivity is up. According to the latest reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual measure of labor productivity increased 3.8 percent from 2008 to 2009. While some may view this as a sign of an economic recovery, the fact is more than 15 million Americans are still unemployed, the national unemployment rate is hovering near 10 percent and the economy isn’t creating many jobs. Any near-term growth in business is likely going to come from getting more out of the current work force; and the best way to get more out of workers is to help them be more focused and engaged.

While the recession has brought higher productivity per employee, it also has lowered employee satisfaction. Employees are distracted and unable to focus on the job at hand. The Tell It Now poll by ComPsych, an employee assistance provider based in Chicago, found that about three in every four employees are somewhat to very worried about job stress and workload.

Based on the latest research, here are five ways employers can strengthen the exchange relationship in which the employer provides monetary and non-monetary rewards to employees in return for their time and talent.

Communicate more, even if it’s negative
Conceptually, most employers know that communication impacts employee motivation and commitment. Unfortunately, this conceptual understanding does not always translate into action. In fact, the New York-based human resources consulting firm Watson Wyatt’s (now Towers Watson) 2009/2010 Communication ROI Study of 328 employers found that many companies plan to scale down their communication to workers. A 2009 Gallup study of 1,000 employees found that 25 percent feel ignored; that is, they receive neither positive nor negative feedback from their bosses. Neglecting employees is far worse for morale than negative feedback, which at least lets people know they matter. It seems employees crave communication, even if it’s negative.

Pay particular attention to the sales force
In the early stages of economic recovery, many organizations rely heavily on their sales forces to recoup lost revenue. During this critical time, organizations need to ensure they properly motivate their sales force in order to achieve positive results. The best place to start is to simplify the sales compensation plan, such that it can be discerned and executed easily. Joseph DiMisa of Sibson Consulting, a human resources consulting firm with offices in Phoenix, is the author of “Sales Compensation Made Simple.” He says, “There’s a difference between being complex and being complicated. You do not need to have numerous measures, mechanics and linkages to ensure good performance.”

Create career development opportunities
According to the association of human resource professionals WorldatWork’s 2009-10 Salary Budget Survey updated in January, at least 50 percent of employers froze pay for some or all employees in the 2009 recession, while 13 percent cut pay. Cash-strapped organizations are turning to intangible ways to reward and motivate employees, such as career development opportunities (33 percent), non-cash rewards and recognition (28 percent), leadership training on employee motivation (21 percent), and flexibility options (20 percent). Career development opportunities can come in many forms: working on important projects, helping in another department or branch, volunteerism, or training and certification. While training and certification do entail some costs, several associations are offering scholarships to help those who are unemployed, underemployed or underfunded.

Expand programs to include hourly workers
Employers tend to exclude nonexempt workers from flexible work arrangements based on traditional limitations, such as work hours and safety requirements. A recent study by WorldatWork and the Work Design Collaborative, Flexible Work Arrangements for Nonexempt Employees, found that the three biggest industrial sectors allowing hourly employees to telework were manufacturing, education and business services. Manufacturing came as a surprise, as it is traditionally dominated by nonexempt employees working on-site. The study concludes that allowing hourly employees to take part in flexible work programs is becoming more of a business imperative. As such, employers need to have a process in place to determine eligibility. They must also utilize formal employer-employee contracts regarding alternative work arrangements.

Add value by offering voluntary benefits
With the rising cost of employee benefits, how can employers enhance the value of benefit offerings without adding to overhead costs? The answer may lie in voluntary benefits. A 2009 study by the insurance company Unum finds that employee satisfaction with benefits plans is 19 percent higher among employers that offer voluntary benefits than those that don’t. What’s more, these benefits do not cost the employer anything and help employees afford a plan because rates are based on the group rather than the individual. Examples of voluntary benefits include ID theft insurance, pre-paid legal plans, pet or vision insurance, hospital confinement indemnity plans, and other types of supplemental insurance. Finding ways to keep workers happy without impacting the bottom line is a definite advantage in today’s competitive environment.

The economy has certainly dealt a hard blow to today’s work force, but employers still have options to help their employees. If nothing else, the downturn has served as a catalyst for ways to enhance the employee-employer exchange relationship.

Arizona Business Magazine June 2010