The Quest for Good Workers: How Human Resources Departments Are Coping in the 21st Century
How many times have you walked into a shop or a business and seen a dog in residence? Usually the animal is calm, friendly and well-mannered – a welcome sight to dog lovers, who always stop to give it a pat. Isn’t there a study somewhere that says patting a dog can lower humans’ blood pressure?
A resident dog can benefit not only the blood pressure of customers in the shop. Allowing a worker to bring a pet to work is one way to build good will with the pet’s owner – a creative type of employee benefit. While this benefit obviously applies to a narrow group of people, according to Debbie Gallant of D. Gallant Management Assoc., it exemplifies the lengths to which employers will go to attract and retain employees. Casual Fridays, flex-time, job sharing and telecommuting are also used to lure people for whom quality of life is a high priority. Remember when dental insurance was considered a progressive benefit? Gallant reminds us that just about every employer offers a dental plan these days. Progressive benefits of 2005 include day care for animals, pet insurance, elder care and long-term care insurance (see article on page 18).
As baby boomers begin to retire and the population of its successor generation appears small in comparison, employers are competing for good workers to fill their jobs. Gallant notes that some companies recruit young people out of high school with guarantees of college payments and job security. Others go so far as to offer spouse relocation packages that promise to find employment for the spouse of a worker they are recruiting.
Don Tyler of Human Resource Partners LLC sees the exit of the baby boomers as a real talent crisis that crosses all industries. He cites the nuclear power industry, for example, which will need to replace half of its workers in the next five years. Similarly, the number of sales positions in the United States is projected to grow by a quarter in the next 10 years – yet one-third of the current sales force is age 55 or older.
“With the economy in the tank the last four or five years, people are staying in jobs they may not be enjoying,” he says. “But as things begin to improve, upwardly mobile workers may start to leave for greener pastures.”
Succession planning is a must if organizations are to withstand the wave of baby boomer retirements.
Dale Huot of Biddeford Savings agrees that mixing the ages is a balancing act. While the bank strives for a range of ages in management and board positions, her top five managers will retire within five years of one another. “We keep a balance of ages in mind as we recruit new people,” she says. “By law we can’t discriminate in favor of younger people. And often the older, experienced applicants are the best qualified for the jobs.”
Companies should look closely at their management ranks. If key jobs are being covered by younger people, they may be in good shape for the future. Human resources consultants can perform a couple of statistical measurements that show employers just how well they are doing. An age profile can tell employers if they have an aging work force. An inventory profile of skills can project who will be leaving and what skills need to be replaced.
Don Tyler says that successful companies will find ways to provide a work environment where people are happy and contributing. He recommends doing employee opinion surveys to find out how workers feel about the organization. Younger generations are attracted by freedom and time off, not by retirement programs. Debbie Gallant agrees that people want to go home after work, be with their families, go to a baseball game.
“Company softball teams and bowling leagues used to attract employees,” she says. “Now they’re more like a punishment.”
Employee attitude surveys can often turn up good suggestions that are difficult to implement. Onsite day care has come up on a few employee surveys at Gorham Savings Bank and, according to Lisa Ouellette, would be a great benefit, especially for people working part-time. While the bank may not be ready to dive into the regulations and responsibilities of the day-care business, management may investigate avenues of child-care subsidies.
Gorham Savings has made flexible hours available for certain back-office positions. Employees may arrive between 7 and 9 a.m. and depart between 4 and 6 p.m., as long as they work the appropriate number of hours. This helps parents who juggle school and day-care schedules, but unfortunately does not work as well in the branches, where set opening and closing times need to be covered.
Finding ways to keep workers happy is time consuming, but essential. According to Ouellette, the bank wants to become the employer of choice. If the home life is settled, chances are the work life will be happier as well.
Comparative compensation studies help employers to find out what the market is paying and how their pay scale measures up. External competition and internal equity are both essential in keeping workers from being lured away.
Dale Huot of Biddeford Savings Bank is taking a look at her bank’s complete compensation package, including salaries, bonuses and retirement benefits. The bank offers both a defined benefit plan and a 401(k), plus a generous health care package. She wants her package to be competitive in the marketplace without giving away the shop. Like many banks, Biddeford Savings is weighing the merits of salaried versus commissioned loan originators.
Human resources needs to become a strategic business partner, according to Tyler. HR programs and activities need to be planned in consort with the organizational plan.
“HR people need to be business- and accounting-oriented, read balance sheets and know the impact of their decisions on the bottom line,” he says. “They need to go beyond being the HR expert and be a generalist. Understand banking. Be familiar with the company, the organization and the strategy.”
Training, too, must be driven by the bank’s strategic plan. HR should determine competencies that are needed based on corporate objectives and develop training accordingly. Gorham Savings makes career-laddering a priority, offering internal programs to help people grow. The bank encourages employees to sign up for training in areas other than the one they are currently working in, to keep people challenged.
“The common path from teller to CSR to head teller sometimes ends at head teller, and eventually the employee gets bored and leaves,” says Lisa Ouellette. If Gorham Savings has a teller, for example, who expresses an interest in lending, the bank will encourage that person to pursue training opportunities in lending in hope of building a long-term employee.
Merrill Merchants Bank has had some success in recruiting “home-grown” people who want to stay in Maine. According to Jane Madigan, the bank offers opportunities for leadership and special projects that help young people develop and lead them to more responsibility.
“We like to hire bright young people, usually right out of college, and put them on a career track aimed at keeping them challenged,” she says.
Merrill Merchants started its leadership development program a year ago, identifying a group of about 20 young employees as future leaders. The bank brought in a professional facilitator to provide leadership training, and the program incorporated some outdoor challenges and Myers Briggs training.
“The aim is to blend this group of people so that they relate to each other outside their day-to-day jobs and have shared experiences away from the bank,” says Madigan. “It will be a while before any of them are ready for the president’s chair, so it’s important to keep them challenged and learning and moving up.”
Whether it’s dogs at work or day-care benefits, employers are getting creative in their quest to lure and retain talented workers. As the next decade poses challenges in the changing of the guard, the winners will be those who can stay flexible and keep their workforce happy. As Don Tyler sees it: “Be an employee advocate and a champion of change. And know how to execute it.”