Work Attribute and Importance
Maslow Need Being Exhibited
Potential Reward or Expansion of Duties
A critical opening question: When it comes to your most valuable personnel, does the size of your business, or a dull economy, prevent you from treating them with respect, keep you from assigning them important responsibilities or hamper your ability to provide a positive work/life balance? If you can’t offer this environment as a smaller company in a tough economy, then you probably won’t be holding on to your best people in the future. But if you can offer respect, fulfilling work and a positive work/life balance, as I imagine you can, then you will be providing the top three career attributes that modern workers desire (that’s right — compensation isn’t in the top three!); therefore, taking away much of the advantage large businesses with deep pockets have and significantly relaxing the ambitious wandering eyes that your top producers generally exhibit.
DO YOUR TOP-SHELF PEOPLE HAVE THE JIMMY LEGS?
Of course, compensation does still matter but we are learning much more about its changing relative importance. Twenty-five years ago work/life balance wasn’t yet on the radar. Still, the last few years have been tough in the compensation department for workers, managers and owners. Some research concludes that between the Wall Street yo-yoing, the marginal salary bumps and unreliable performance payouts, our standard of living has actually slipped. Inflationary pressure and a confidence-shaking reversal of the “wealth-effect” caused by declining home values have been the one-two punch that’s put us back on our heels.
Nearly every single smaller business has that one very special employee that’s counted on for so much. Each of us knows the value of such an employee in both legal tender and psychological swag — they’re worth their weight in gold. We can leave them with the most sensitive of jobs and entrust them with our keys and codes and confidences. Their presence often allows us to take off for a few days or leave the shop early on a Friday afternoon. They somehow quickly learn our rhythms and our tactics and our tolerances — they just seem to “get it.” This is the kind of employee about whom you quietly say, “If I had a dozen more just like them, we’d be unstoppable!” On the flip side, this MVP (Most Valuable Performer) can really rattle us when they’re unhappy. If they sigh, we sigh. We worry about losing them to competition, to a bigger paycheck, to fancier surroundings, to vision, dental and profit-sharing. We worry about losing them to a better all-around opportunity . . . perhaps one we would take if we were them.
AVOIDING CORPORATE SIN IS A MUST FOR INTEGRITY
Each year, within your own established system and pay scale, it’s getting tougher to structure something that’s sticky enough to bring MVPs safely onboard and sweet enough to fairly reward them for that valuable peace they bring (and the profit they provide us). But let’s get really honest about your top-shelf premium people and pay. With little exception, management has the power and leverage right now. Unemployment is rising, new high-quality jobs are developing at a snail’s pace, global investment is swinging wildly at every bad pitch, and we now, apparently, owe China our secret recipe for Mom’s apple pie and the master keys to our continent. Who is willing to take the risk and switch jobs (and health plans) right now? Very few people have the means to walk away from security. The steady paycheck-issuing devil they know (that’s you) is still more attractive than the new devil they don’t. Don’t play on any of these insecurities by building a fear fence around your facility. Yes, you would get the biggest bang from tightening down on your most highly compensated employees, but that is exactly the kind of Corporate Sin that must be avoided. While plainly good for the bottom line, I would urge you to never use poor economic conditions as a false lock on your people’s pay or their opportunities. That kind of bad faith dealing quickly becomes an infamous act and a permanent spoiler of fine reputations. Small business has a leg up on big business when it comes to the public’s perception of humane behavior toward its workers. Don’t give up that tremendous competitive advantage — you need it too much!
OUR MOST VALUABLE WORK ATTRIBUTES (Surprise!)
In a recent study co-sponsored by Spherion and Harris Interactive, more than 3,000 employed people were asked their feelings about how their employers handled retention. Their answers revealed troubling trends in the employer/employee relationship, with the majority of the participants feeling dissatisfied with the employers retention efforts. In fact, 29 percent of these employees think their particular employers are actually putting forth less effort in hanging on to top workers. Less effort? Somebody’s not listening.
As outlined before in Business Essentials, there is a shrinking skilled worker pool in our collective future. Workers are getting older and birthrates continue to flatten, leaving us with a scarcity of young talent in the pipeline and a decline of hard-to-replace seasoned workers. Making this more challenging (but ultimately easier to overcome) is the changing nature of what employees value (made more intricate by some significant differences in what is valued within and between diverse geographic/ethnic groups such as North Americans, Asians and Latin Americans). Beyond these differences in what’s most valued, there are also some distinct generational differences with which to contend.
Check out these eye-opening answers in Figure 1 culled from Mercer’s latest comprehensive Global Employee Survey titled “What’s Working.” Interviewees were asked, “How important are the following factors in influencing your commitment and motivation at work?” The results placed these workplace attributes in order of importance.
How, if at all, does this list of most valued attributes surprise you? Upon seeing these results, many have been surprised that just three of the 12 attributes would be cash related. When you candidly compare your company environment with the attributes this survey says workers want, how would you fare in a head-to-head face-off with the optimum work environment? If you find yourself slipping off the pace, then you may be silently wishing for a “Monty Burns” (origin: personified by C. Montgomery Burns, Corporate Tyrant, a Monty Burns signifies a nostalgic return to the “good old factory days” when accidental death on the job was not only common but also grounds for dismissal). Everything is relative. It seems a “given” now, but in its time, safety on the job was just as much of a pain in the backside as providing comprehensive benefits and supervising a worker’s long-term career potential is today. We have evolved and society has evolved. Evolution is growth and growth is rarely smooth.
AS WE EVOLVED, OUR NEEDS EVOLVED . . .
And there was Abe Maslow to help explain it all to us. Dr. Abraham Maslow was born 100 years ago in Brooklyn, N.Y. — becoming a psychologist and, eventually, the father of humanistic psychology. He is most famous for describing the “Hierarchy of Human Needs.” Maslow had the very original view that human needs were much like a ladder. The most basic needs were physical (air, water, food) and they fell to the bottom rung. Then came safety needs (security, stability, a warm blanket) and so on (see Maslow’s Pyramid in Figure 2 for details on esteem, belonging and achievement). At the top of ladder were needs that Dr. Maslow labeled “self-actualizing” (fulfilling oneself, becoming the best version of oneself, etc.). Dr. Maslow felt if a person had unfulfilled needs lower on the ladder they would be inhibited from climbing to the next step. (Example: if you’re choking badly and fighting for your life, you no longer worry that your boots aren’t waterproofed or that cats aren’t being neutered in sufficient numbers.) Late in his life, Maslow published a revision to his original pyramid that placed needs above self-actualization; adding the need to acquire knowledge and then the need to create and experience artistic beauty at the very top.