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Published: Wednesday, 6/12/2002

GOOD WORK: A Company Is Known By The People It Keeps

BY PAUL R. HUARD
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

The old saying goes "Good help is hard to find," but the prudent manager or business owner knows that it is also hard to keep.

Keeping valued employees is one of the toughest -- and most expensive -- issues businesses face. But keeping turnover under control is possible if companies remember that more than money keeps someone on the job.

"Money and perks can be used to attract people to your company, but they can't be used to keep people there," says Dick Finnegan, a retention consultant and author. "The biggest reason people give for leaving their job is because they are disconnected from their bosses or work situation.

Good people simply won't continue to work for a jerk or under unfavorable daily conditions, and that is a tough thing to fix."

Why do workers leave their jobs? A study by The Hay Group says the most-cited reasons are related to unhappiness in the workplace. According to the study, most workers listed the following in order of priority:

• They feel their skills are not being used adequately.

• Lack of confidence in management.

• Lack of a clear sense of direction.

• Lack of opportunities for advancement and skills growth.

• Lack of management feedback.

• Pay.

• Lack of training opportunities.

"Good pay and good benefits are important, but the real focus must be on making work interesting and establishing good managers," says Finnegan.

Another factor is the steady decline of employee loyalty. Once taken for granted, the idea that a worker will spend 20 years with the same company is as outdated as carbon paper.

"Major shake-ups like the Enron scandal have proven to another generation of junior executives that having loyalty, the best business degrees and over-the-top performance sometimes means nothing," says a human resources executive for a major food manufacturer. "I've overheard the same conversations I've heard during similar stories, and they can be summed up as 'every man for himself.'"

But most companies face the day-to-day issues rather than scandals. They need to develop a strategy that keeps employees from wanting to leave, says business writer Evan Cooper.

"Successful Web sites possess a quality called 'stickiness,' or the ability to keep luring back people who happened onto the site in the first place," says Cooper. "It's the same way with jobs. Employers must do something to make their companies "sticky" if they want to avoid costly turnover."

In an article he wrote for www.morebusiness.com, Cooper says that there are proven factors that contribute to "stickiness."

Pay does matter, but it is not the only factor that prevents turnover.

Employees may love their jobs and their company, but if their incomes lag comparable jobs by more than 5 to 10 percent, it's goodbye stickiness and goodbye job," says Cooper.

Similarly, benefits have to be at market levels. If they are worse than other businesses in your area, you are eroding reasons for employees to stay.

Yet pay and benefits, assuming they're competitive, are not the prime reasons employees stay at their jobs, says Cooper.

A SENSE OF PURPOSE

"This may sound ridiculously basic, but a jobholder should know what his or her job is and what it's supposed to accomplish," says Cooper. "The person doing the job also should know to whom he or she is responsible."

An employee draws a sense of purpose from core values that are understood and rewarded. "Every organization has its own values," says Cooper. "But unless everyone knows what these values are and believes they are followed with consistency, satisfaction drops."

If a company violates its own code, written or unwritten, employees will start considering their options.

CIVIL BEHAVIOR

How you treat your employees is often far more important than almost any other factor -- including pay. This might seem like a statement of the obvious, but many workplaces often contain managers who are charitably referred to as difficult.

"If prospective bosses or colleagues are described as 'very demanding' or 'brilliant, but temperamental,' watch out," says Cooper.

This is a problem that can sometimes be weeded out during the hiring process, or through performance reviews and counseling.

But suppose your company is doing it right: Good pay, good conditions, good communications. Can you sit back and relax?

The answer is a resounding "No," says Gregory P. Smith, who conducts management training and is the president of Chart Your Course International, in Conyers, Ga.

"With each new employee you hire they bring a totally new set of expectations, needs and problems," Smith says. "Bad managers are the biggest cause of high turnover, low attendance and low morale. For those of you who have people with good attitudes and good work ethics, count your blessings and insure you take good care of them so they don't leave you for someone else."

Smith recommends performance compensation plans that reward individual employees for productivity combined with timeliness and good attendance. If they are late to work they loose their bonus for the entire day.

He advised other companies to use a lottery system with prizes to reduce absenteeism. Only employees with no absenteeism during the month can participate.

Another company improved attendance with a poker game. Employees who came to work each day were allowed to draw one playing card. Those who attended all week owned five cards on Friday. The player with the best hand wins $20.

Smith urges caution: Don't succumb to inflexibility or a "one-size fits all employees" plan.

"These ideas won't work in every situation and could backfire if you are not careful," he says.

"Keep in mind that good employees don't need the carrot-and-stick approach and might find these ways offensive, unfair or unnecessary. The key is to know the individual needs of your work force."

Workers who have child-care responsibilities, for example, find it difficult to have perfect attendance records.

Many female executives say the sports they played while growing up helped prepare them for corporate life, according to a survey sponsored by Mass Mutual Financial Group and Oppenheimer Funds.

Of the 401 businesswomen polled, 82 percent said they played organized sports after grammar school, whether on school teams or intramural or recreational leagues. Basketball was the most popular sport, cited by 23 percent, followed by volleyball, softball, tennis, track and field and soccer.

Eighty-one percent agreed that sports helped them function better on a team, 69 percent said sports helped them develop leadership skills that helped their professional success, and 68 percent said it helped them cope with failure.

"There are lessons to be learned on a softball diamond or basketball court that are unavailable in a business school lecture hall," said Janet Wyse, a manager at Oppenheimer Funds. "It's no coincidence that top businesswomen tend to have played sports." (CNS)



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