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by Craig Clive | March 10, 2009

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Recently I have had the opportunity to work with two companies who represent the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of organizations. The task, in both situations, was to determine how to reduce turnover and make the environment more employee friendly, thus retaining talented employees.

The first is a leader in its industry, has magnificent physical plant, has an abundance of staff, pays at the top of the marketplace, provides benefits aplenty, offers a wide range of employee services, and appears to be the best possible place to work. The workforce is composed of high-level professional knowledge workers.

The other is in an industry primarily funded by government agencies and other third parties. It has an aged physical plant in need of repair, is constantly short staffed and requires the staff to work overtime on a regular basis, pays at the lower end of the market, provides a minimal level of benefits, has limited employee services provided by a volunteer group of employees, and appears to be the last place one would want to work. The workforce is composed mainly of low skilled service workers.

Both firms suffer from perceived high turnover. The knowledge-based firm feels that even higher levels of pay will lessen the turnover rate and are exploring methods to deliver more cash. The other firm knows that their low levels of pay contribute heavily to their turnover, but funding levels make pay raises a dream. In fact, most employees have not received pay raises in two or three years. Much thought has gone into finding sources of funds to provide raises, but no sources have been found.

The project involved focus groups with employees to discuss the positive aspects of the firm, what could be improved, and what services or programs were lacking and would contribute to retaining employees.~The meetings produced lists. The knowledge-based firm's employees' comments on the positive aspects of the organization focused on material items which identified rank or standing in the firm, the benefits, the trinkets given for almost any event, and the advancement opportunities. The employees in the second firm commented positively on the clients the provide service to, the other employees in the firm, the sense of teamwork, and the catered holiday dinner provided by the employee committee.

The "areas to improve" list for the service provider obviously included pay increases but the emphasis was to provide higher pay levels for the unskilled entry-level employees who live at a subsistence level. The professional and managerial employees also desired pay raises, but stressed that the first priority had to be to the lower level employees. They're other areas for improvement included better and more balanced work assignments, assistance for the lower levels of employees, and additional staff in areas, which required more contact with clients. The knowledge-based firm's employees tended to see improvement required in management's commitments to the workforce and more goods and services for every employee.

Why are these two firms so different in their responses? The first firm has created an environment, which is not based on incorporating and valuing employees. Employees are trained to view senior management with god like awe. They do not see a sense of common mission for the firm, but see success as holding the most "toys" at the end.

The second firm places employees in the god like position and works hard to create an environment of openness and family. Almost every employee surveyed indicated that the firm had a family feeling. The chief executive is a person to the employees and makes a point of being seen around the facility. The employees, for the most part, understand the problems with funding as communications are worked hard here. I had the opportunity to receive a memo while at the first firm from "The Management".

What is the environment in your organization? To test it, invite a friend to come to your organization for several hours and ask them how they perceive the organization. You may be quite surprised.

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues
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