Employers: Dangle the right carrots to entice workers

February 17, 2006 Barbara Moses, Ph.D

Globe & Mail

Barbara Moses, Ph.D, is an international speaker, work/life expert, and best-selling author of Dish: Midlife Women Tell the Truth About Work, Relationships, and the Rest of Life.

Globe & Mail

Barbara Moses, Ph.D, is an international speaker, work/life expert, and best-selling author of Dish: Midlife Women Tell the Truth About Work, Relationships, and the Rest of Life.

Winning the talent wars. Responding to looming skills shortages. Closing the leadership gap. These are the catch phrases of many organizations today.

At the same time, talented employees know it’s a seller’s market. They understand their value on the street and are prepared to walk if their needs are not met. What are those needs? At the core, most of us have the same underlying desires — to do meaningful or intellectually stimulating work, in a pleasant environment where efforts are recognized, while still allowing time for a life.

Given this, how can employers boost their attractiveness to workers? Here are things to consider:

Improve the corporate culture

Study upon study indicates record dissatisfaction among employees. People experience their work environments as increasingly toxic and complain that the effort/reward ratio is out of whack. They lament the lack of ethics and the extreme focus on productivity over concerns about people.

You don’t need to conduct an attitude survey to take employees’ psychological temperature. Just look at those around you.

When you have stressed-out workers with too much on their plates and not enough time to look after themselves, the results are predictable: an erosion of interpersonal skills, conflict with team members, petty resentments, growing rudeness and crankiness. And that affects how work is done.

Employers must promote a collegial work environment. Ask staff how they think the work environment can be made more civil, and what each can do to contribute to the well-being of the group.

And become a role model yourself. Don’t allow yourself to be drawn into the vortex of everyone else’s hysteria. Distinguish between what is urgent and what simply needs to be done. Distance yourself from the non-verbal cues of harried voices and tense posture and respond in a relaxed manner. Show appreciation for what others are doing. There will be a trickle-down effect.

Attract workers of all ages

Many employers are stumped by how to attract, retain and manage today’s crop of twenty-somethings.

They have high expectations that their feelings count, they should be happy all the time and they should be treated with the nurturing care that their parents and teachers showed them. They also want their work to be fun and to interact with other young people. And they are ambitious.
Understand their desires for collegiality, treat them with sensitivity, and provide lots of learning opportunities. And provide them with high-profile assignments, and lots of feedback and recognition.

But don’t put all your hiring hopes on young workers. Adultescents, as Time magazine called this generation, are not a predictable source of labour as they engage in an endless round of working, going back to school, travelling and various “what should I do with my life?” career crises.

At the other end of the spectrum, older workers are back in fashion.
Unfortunately, many of them are cynical about corporate life, having witnessed a decade in which many were fired to pave the way for younger, cheaper workers, seen important programs they created thrown out in the name of efficiencies, and treated as being as hirable and desirable as a cockroach.

Understand what older workers are looking for and leverage their desires. Many are more concerned about leaving a legacy and doing meaningful work than the status of their job title.

Contract work can be very appealing to older workers and a boon to employers. These skilled staff can hit the ground running. They can also park their ego. Use their desire to mentor younger workers.

Accept piercings, tattoos

Ten years ago, it was about accepting guys with earrings. Now it’s about embracing employees with visible tattoos and metal beyond the earlobes. Many managers have difficulty with this but body ornamentation is a reality they will have to face and, as piercings and tattoos are moving into the mainstream, managers better get used to them.

Speak to workers’ motivation

Recognize individual differences in motivation, whether it’s belonging to a team, moving up a ladder, being intellectually stimulated, having security, or doing pleasant work that does not spill into personal life.
These differences can reflect core personality preferences. They can also reflect the rhythms and needs associated with different life stages — a thirty-something with two kids may not want the same turbo-charged work schedule that her younger, ambitious and childless counterpart thrives on. Shape work expectations accordingly.

Be welcoming to all employees

Savvy companies will become “an employer of choice” to as broad a labour pool as possible. This means not only hiring and retaining visible minorities, people with disabilities, all ages, both genders, immigrants and part-timers.

It also means targeting demographic groups that many haven’t heard of. “GBLTs” — gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgendered — is one term being used in some organizations, along with its various permutations, such as “two-spirited” employees (both male and female “spirits” in the same body, according to native lore).

Look at your company’s rhythms and cultural style. Are they more hospitable to one group over another?

Cast wider hiring nets

“We are all competing for the same talent. Today, banks are interviewing and hiring hotel school graduates. Five years ago, this wouldn’t have happened. We have to think about competencies differently,” says Carolyn Clark, senior vice-president of human resources for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts Inc.

Employers struggling with skill shortages need to be more creative in thinking about necessary competencies for a job, and break out of the industry-specific silo.

Help with career reflection

Though work satisfaction and a sense of direction are among the top desires of today’s workers, many still say they are confused about what they really want to do and consider changing direction.

Many people have difficulty articulating what they need in their work to be engaged. So they ask themselves, “How do I know I wouldn’t be happier doing something else or working somewhere else?”

Yet, when people go through a career-planning exercise, they commonly discover they like their work more than they realized, it’s a good match, and the number of things they derive satisfaction from outweigh the irritants. The result is many formerly restless workers have a renewed sense of engagement.

Help workers reach those conclusions with programs to help their development. And provide career opportunities in line with staff strengths and desires.

Employee development is key

One of the best predictors of employee engagement is career development. Many younger employees received little support in the earlier part of their careers, entering the workplace in the nineties, when overworked managers did not have the time to nurture them. Organizations now need to race to make up for lost time with coaching, mentoring and leadership training. This will ready a younger generation of workers to step into the shoes of retiring older managers.

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