By: Dan Weber, Vice President of Human Resources, MMA - Southwest
Japan has long been viewed as a land of innovation, driving new technologies, medical breakthroughs, and social trends. Much of the nation’s economic success is founded on a work culture that presumes unwavering employee loyalty and a self-sacrificial mindset. In fact, putting in long hours at the office has become so common that people are literally working themselves to death, a tragedy known as karoshi, leading the government to pass legislation that mandates employers ensure workers get sufficient time off to rest.
Although corporate culture in America is not quite so severe, it may run second. Numerous companies operate under the mindset that employees should willingly forge ahead with their workload until well after the close of business, or be on call via phone and email during evenings and weekends, should a project, client or supervisor need their attention. As self-serving as this approach may seem for the organization, as a believer in hard work and “sweat equity”, I’m as pro competition as you’re likely to find. However, recent research actually shows how counter-productive this may be. Such a hyper-competitive approach not only hampers productivity, but can be detrimental to employees’ physical health and emotional wellbeing, creating financial fallout for employers – the opposite of what employers set out to achieve.
Stress Takes Its Toll
Workplace stress costs U.S. businesses more than $500 billion annually, according to estimates from the American Psychological Association, and leads to more than 550 million lost workdays. Other studies show that 80 percent of workplace accidents and 80 percent of doctor visits can be attributed to stress. With medical costs skyrocketing, companies that believe they are boosting productivity in fact end up footing the bill with higher premiums and co-pays, as well as lost man hours on the job.
Many businesses also mistakenly think that money can buy employee loyalty and pay raises will make up for the demands of a high-pressure work environment. Although a 2016 survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) confirms that compensation is among the top three contributors to overall job satisfaction, along with benefits and respectful treatment of all employees, other key drivers speak to employees’ deeper needs and desires. Survey results showed that 53 percent of workers ranked the relationship with their immediate supervisor as very important to their job satisfaction, but only 40 percent were very satisfied with their current situation. Similarly, overall corporate culture is a key motivator for 44 percent of employees; yet, only 28 percent of workers feel their employer hits the mark. This rings true with common sense. Think about the number of times that your supervisor was the topic of conversation at your house, at the dinner table, etc. For most of us, the supervisor is “the company”. If we are satisfied with that relationship, for the most part, we are satisfied with the company. However, the opposite is also true.
Money Isn’t Everything
This undercurrent of dissatisfaction ultimately leads to higher turnover, which further diminishes a company’s bottom line. Once you add up the cost of recruiting and training, as well as lost productivity and expertise, the expense of replacing a single employee is about 20 percent of that person’s salary, according to the Center for American Progress. Failure on the part of employers to understand the cultural dynamics that are driving employees out the door has led to an arms race for perks to buy their affections that ultimately can be both expensive and ineffectual. High-tech organizations and big marketing firms are notorious for creating lavish employee lounges, with billiard tables and Pac-Man machines, state-of-the-art coffee makers and soda dispensers, and all manner of couches and recliners. What these and other organizations miss out on is finding out what employees want. In many cases, the option to play foosball in the workplace ranks far lower on the list of priorities than the ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance. They want employers to recognize that they have families and hobbies and a life outside of their job. The savviest companies will find ways to accommodate that desire.
At MMA-Southwest, our corporate culture committee recently invited representatives from several groups and employees at different levels within the company to share which perks and incentives they value most. As an example, we found that although having fresh fruit available was appreciated, a lot of it spoiled, because employees already were watching their waistlines and bringing in their own healthy snacks. More important to them was having something meaningful to commemorate major milestones with the company after 5, 10, 15, or 20 years of employment. Consequently, we have a generous time-off policy to give employees more days off as they reach different milestones, so they have more time to spend with friends and loved ones, or pursue the activities they enjoy. If we can allow them to be not just employees, but family members and members of their community, they will turn down other opportunities and stay for the long term, because they know they can be their whole self and they feel loved.
One of the many things that stood out to me when I joined MMA was how I was recruited. It was obvious they were looking at the “whole” person and not just a candidate to fill the slot. For example, I heard from those who were contacted as my references that MMA was most interested in what type of “family man” I was, how I contributed to my community, and what my values were. Our CEO, Bill Henry said it best – “I’m looking for someone who will love our employees as I do!” Of the more than half of all employees in the 2016 SHRM survey who said their relationship with their immediate supervisor was most important to their job satisfaction and 49 percent placed high value on their immediate supervisor’s respect for their ideas. Although investing in perks and incentives for employees has its merits, organizations should place as much if not more emphasis on hiring and training managers who can foster strong relationships with their team and begin to unleash the ideas of their employees – often an untapped reservoir. Again, managers may not realize how often they are the topic of conversation at the dinner table. Whether working at a small business or a multinational concern, culture is as close as your own supervisor.
Many organizations move employees up the ranks into management based on meeting certain performance goals, but they have no formal supervisory training. We don’t often have the luxury nor is it smart to always rely on the external market to provide the talent it needs, so we must be prepared to groom and train (or as I say, “invest”) in our own people from within its ranks to fill those supervisory roles effectively. At MMA-Southwest, we have introduced a robust leadership training program that walks employees through management best-practices, like setting and managing goals, and understanding the generational divide. It is called “Leading@MMA” and we are close to finishing our inaugural year. We’re also taking greater advantage of interns and college hires to fill junior positions. In both cases, we can teach the nuances of insurance and employee benefits programs, but we can’t teach someone how to be a good person. Cultivating a positive corporate culture means hiring the right people, and training leaders on how to take care of their team.
Communication Makes a Difference
The more holistic relationship between the company and its employees is important, and equal attention should be given to building goodwill on a macro scale as within the one-on-one relationship between workers and their immediate supervisors. This includes providing transparency on the job ladder, which is especially important to Millennials, who want to know how to get from Point A to Point B in their career path. In addition to setting quantifiable goals for employees at hiring and during regular reviews, department heads and leaders should host frequent town halls to communicate the organization’s progress toward its goals. Doing so can go a long way toward building trust, fostering a sense of belonging, and helping employees recognize their role in the organization.
Ultimately, if a business takes care of our employees, they will take care of its clients and, in turn, its shareholders. A positive corporate culture is a true competitive advantage, because while products and technology can be reverse engineered, you can’t steal a culture. By soliciting employee input on perks and rewards, hiring the right qualities, and fostering a healthy work-life balance, businesses can increase employee retention, minimize lost workdays, boost productivity, and effectively improve the bottom line.
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