When it comes to creating a complete employment experience, employers oftentimes bank on a simple adage: A happy worker is a loyal worker. But what makes—and keeps—employees happy?
For some, it's a fat paycheck, flex-hours, and the freedom to telecommute. Others find a nifty benefits package alluring, especially one juiced with stock options or profit sharing. Still others covet a trusting environment unencumbered with bureaucracy—one that fosters professional and personal growth through training and continuing education. Or maybe it simply boils down to an overall love for a job, respect for a particular company, or simply the "make a difference" desire held by much of today's workforce. With an increasingly diversified workforce, it's hard to keep the whole camp content. Greenhorns fresh out of college undoubtedly gauge happiness differently than, say, a working mother of three. But creating a complete employment experience is of paramount concern for companies intent on securing loyal and motivated workers.
Discovering what is universally fulfilling from worker to worker is a complex proposition, says Tom Terez, author of 22 Keys to Creating a Meaningful Workplace (Adams Media Corp., 2000), and many companies take a limited approach to enriching the workplace. For example, there may be too much emphasis placed on the company mission and rallying the troops around team initiatives—such tactics may harm individuality. "A headlong charge down the mission path may come at the expense of other issues like people," says Terez. "You might gloss over some of the wonderful devil's advocates out there who might help you analyze a problem from different angles."
Inspired employees who contribute ideas are more likely to feel valued, inventive and self-motivated, according to the Meaning at Work surveys that Terez conducted in preparation for his book. The surveys also found that when employees actually see their ideas implemented rather than stuck on a drawing board, there is a ripple effect on the team, or workforce at large.
Many companies find that by offering training and development courses at corporate universities, workers can enhance their skill base and gain the know-how needed to propose change. For example, Southwest Airlines' in-house training center, the University of People, offers employees courses in leadership management, communications skills, time management, public speaking, systems software training, and several other career development programs. (See In Person, page 46).
Southwest's rich training culture gives the company confidence to push decision-making responsibilities down the chain of command, says Peter Nelson, creative development manager for Southwest's University of People, Dallas. "That's how you get in touch with the people who are actually doing the work. It's very validating and it taps into people's motivation for their jobs if they know that their opinions matter. Whether we implement the idea or not, it's important that we encourage creativity and innovation."
For Atlanta-based Home Depot, that creativity and innovation means putting people "in charge of their own destiny," explains Tony Robinson, recruiting manager. This "I'm in charge of me" attitude fosters a more productive and positive environment for employees, he says.
Home Depot—which has more than 230,000 employees and a new store christened every 43 hours—thrives on an entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, associates are allowed to set up their departments however they see fit. The company schedules rotational shifts where workers engage in cross-functional duties; for example, workers scattered throughout the company's vast chain of stores can participate in the corporate climate at in-store support centers, and associates can dirty their hands out on the floor. Such grassroots participation has led to a number of Home Depot executives who began in the trenches and rose through the ranks.
At Hewlett-Packard, Palo Alto, Calif., employees are expected to contribute quickly, and at a very high level, considering the fast-paced landscape of the IT industry. "There's not much of a honeymoon here," says Mike Nichols, director of global staffing and workforce programs. "We get them on projects immediately and give them a lot of autonomy."
For the next 20 years, talent will be the single most important corporate resource, according to a 1999 study conducted by McKinsey & Co. that involved nearly 6,000 managers and executives. And as the demand for business-savvy people with an aptitude for IT skills increases, the "talented" ones will become increasingly difficult to attract and retain.
Enter lavish benefits, rewards, and trendy perks to lure and appease workers (see sidebar, page 95). Savvy workers are no longer impressed with traditional packages thanks to the progressive dot-coms and well-heeled corporations that have raised the bar on company perks.
The most coveted perks, according to a Job Satisfaction Survey conducted by SurveySite for CareerPath.com, are those that offer a hands-off management style in a comfortable, flexible environment. Flex-time and the option to occasionally telecommute were also prized by the survey respondents. But 89 percent also want their employers to "show them the money," listing salary as the most valued perk in considering an employment opportunity.
"At this point in the labor market, I see a benefits package as a given, not as a retention tool per se," says Max Wagoner, human resources manager for Los Angeles Freightliner. "In other words, if you don't have a reasonable benefits program, people won't give you a second look, and they won't stay. But, given anything resembling a reasonable benefits program, then most employees aren't too particular about the enhancements of one package over another.
"In my opinion, the labor market is still looking for 'How much money am I going to take home?' as the deciding factor. Stock options were simply the key to riches, but now, as a benefit, they don't quite shine like they once did," Wagoner explains.
Perks also can be a means to achieving a work/life balance, an increasingly important indicator of job satisfaction. At Hewlett-Packard—where 40 percent of the sales representatives telecommute—the goal isn't balance, but harmony. "I don't know if it's possible to achieve balance," says Nichols. "However, being open-minded to each individual allows us to accommodate their personal commitments and needs."
While many organizations feel that a full plate of well-intended carrots will bring out the best in people, job satisfaction can run deep at companies light on perks. In fact, Terez found many cases in which perks were turned into so-called "motivators" designed to boost productivity in, say, sales departments or among various regional offices.
He recalls one incident in which an employee for a Midwestern insurance firm became so frustrated by the company's system of perks and resulting rewards that she left, returning to her original teaching career. "It got to the point where employees in different areas of the company refused to trade secrets and strategies. There was a passive-aggressiveness going on, which led to in-fighting."
For Randall Birkwood, director of employment for San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems, perks are simply icing on the corporate-culture cake. "For us, the results are what really matter. It's not what time you come in or what time you leave. We want to make sure that our employees are being looked after."
Pride of Affiliation
Social responsibility is another aspect of the complete employment experience. People feel a sense of purpose and pride of affiliation if they perceive their company as ethical and actively involved in the community. A 1997 survey from Barrett and Associates, a consulting firm in Alexandria, Va., found that 50 percent of graduating mba students would take a cut in salary to work for a socially responsible company. Some 75 percent said that a company should consider its environmental impact on society and encourage equal opportunity, family relationships and community involvement.
Such a message is taken to heart by Home Depot and Cisco. The former had a philanthropic budget of more than $25 million in 2000 and is involved in affordable housing initiatives such as Habitat for Humanity and the Kaboom Project, which builds playgrounds in low-income neighborhoods. Participation for these weekend projects comes from Team Depot, a volunteer force made up of company employees who also pitch in on local environmental and disaster recovery efforts.
Cisco calls its society initiatives community investment. For example, its corporate philanthropy group has raised more than $100,000 for cyclone victims in India as well as food and resources for flood victims in Vietnam. Says Birkwood, "We're constantly reaching out to our employees, saying, 'Hey, you're in the upper echelon in terms of salary; let's give back to the community.' It's a big trend here, and we see it spreading to other high-tech companies."
Southwest Airlines takes pride in its policy of no first-class seating on any of its flights, which Nelson says translates into a message that egalitarianism is a core value of the company. "We don't have private, elite-class passengers, so more people have the opportunity to fly. Our employees get that pride of affiliation because they, too, have a tremendous amount of freedom, not just to fly, but also in decision making and responsibility."
Just Do It Yourself
What does management do when employees are given greater freedom and opportunities, but they don't use them? Sharon Borsche, director of human resources at Foth & Van Dyke, a Green Bay, Wis.-based consulting and engineering firm, discovered this issue when she polled the company's 300 employees to assess their level of job satisfaction. She was disappointed to find that the most commonly cited response among workers was poor personal and professional development, despite the fact that the company has a formal career development program in place, and ample compensation in time and money for additional education.
"We're going to butt heads here," says Borsche. "Employees feel that their development should be driven by the organization; management feels it should be employee-driven. We certainly encourage it. We have the tools, the coaching and mentoring programs in place, but the bottom line is, we'll assist you, but you need to develop yourself."
Terez likens this situation to a caretaker model, in which workers rely too heavily on their organization to manage their individual development process. It leads, he says, to a "workplace made up of a handful of thinkers and many doers, and over time, it can even create an entitlement culture in which people dutifully do as they're told in exchange for being taken care of."
The bottom line, he says, is that workers need to grasp what it is they want and expect from their jobs, then find the right culture for their careers. "Folks need to be a little more rigorous in trying to understand themselves because workplace fulfillment ultimately comes down to a personal proposition."