in a magazine review article, a cartoon showed the typical slave master, complete with whip, walking the aisle of an old style ship. The rowers were struggling under the threat of the whip. The caption stated:
Apart from greater use of the whip, the new IR rules have made absolutely no difference to the way we treat our employees.
It reminded me of the old saying (source unknown):
We will stop using the whip when morale improves.
The cartoon was a “tongue in cheek” comment about the new industrial relations (IR) legislation introduced by the federal government. In a previous article, Staff motivation in the industrial relations reform context, I discussed some of the motivational issues raised by the various campaigns surrounding the reforms.
The imagery of the cartoon again highlights the importance of the employer/employee relationship.
This is now even more important, given that employee retention is now such a big issue.
So what can you do?
Employee friendly policies and practices
Young people are more mobile and less committed to individual organisations. The baby boomers are approaching retirement age.
To retain staff, organisations have to be more flexible, ensuring that work/life balance is possible.
When we talk about work/life balance, we tend to picture in our mind couples with young children. It actually applies to all employees. Work/life balance applies to young, single people and older people seeking shorter working hours.
People want to experience life. They want to travel. They want flexibility and because of the skills shortage, they can seek out organisations that cater for these aspirations.
So organisations need to have supportive policies like sabbaticals (12 months leave of absence without pay) and flexible working hours.
Once the policies are in place, managers and team leaders need to implement them correctly. Workplace flexibility is much harder to manage. Sometimes it hard to meet operational demands when everyone wants Friday off to make it a four day weekend (eg. Queens Birthday public holiday on the Monday). But it has to be managed. The good intent behind the flexibility policy is lost if it is too much hassle to get the time off you need. There has to be a match between reality and expectations.
These things are about the interaction between work and private time.
What about the time actually spent at work?
Work environment and culture
‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life’
Confucius (551-479 BC), Chinese philosopher
Employee retention is about the nature of the work itself and the work environment/culture.
What can you do?
Firstly, you have to get the basics right – good pay, appropriate conditions, etc.
Secondly, you have to remove the fear of uncertainty – employees should feel safe and secure in their employment. They should not be concerned about your employment practices. They should not picture you ‘with a whip’.
Thirdly, you have to work hard to create and maintain a good work culture and climate.
I define culture as ‘the way we do things around here’ and climate as ‘how things are around here’.
The culture should be friendly, work focussed but not obsessed. People should have fun when the pressure is off and work hard when the pressure is on.
At the time I worked in the health insurance industry, the federal government kept changing the system, meaning major system changes every 12 months or so.
I was actively involved in change management (policies, systems and the like), so I found the work very challenging and motivating. But all the staff ‘got a buzz’ from the peak workload as many customers made contact simultaneously. For about four weeks every year, work was extremely busy, and then workloads would return to normal levels. It was serious. It was fun. It would have been impossible to work at that pace all year, but the ‘positive feeling’ of a job well done lasted a long time.
The organisational culture and climate supported staff in this peak workload. It was appropriate. It worked.
There are many facets to employee retention. It is much more than having appropriate organisational policies. It involves successfully implementing good policies and creating a positive work culture and climate. It requires positive action by team leaders and managers.
- Do you like your job?
- In line with the Confucius quote, do you love your job?
- Do your team members like their jobs?
- Do you work in an organisation with a positive culture and climate?
- What did you do this week to actually help achieve the best climate and culture possible?