Monday, September 04, 2000

Survey: Satisfied employees stay put

        Richard Wellins is senior vice president of Development Dimensions International, a global human resource company based in Pittsburgh. The company recently surveyed 20 firms and 200 people about the challenges of creating a committed work force. The firm has a roster of 1,000 clients worldwide that includes General Motors, Bank of America, BASF and Toys "R' Us. Mr. Wellins talked with reporter John Eckberg.

        Question: What was the big take-away from the survey?

Answer: First of all, turnover (a metric used to determine the number of employees who leave for a new job) is not getting better. It is getting worse.

        About one-third of the work force is dissatisfied or neutral about their jobs, and about 43 percent of the human resources managers we surveyed expect turnover to get worse — not better.

        The other take-away is that retention is about a lot more than money. Money finished fifth as a reason why employees were likely to stay.

        Other factors that rated ahead of money were balance between work and outside life, whether people felt they had a meaningful job, trust in the workplace and the employees' relationship with their manager or boss.

        Q: Large or small companies? Is there a difference?

        A: We did not survey small companies. The population was mostly large firms. My experience would be that the problems are there at small companies and probably there in the same proportion.

        You may have some employees who are more enamored with working with smaller companies, say Internet start-ups, but they are susceptible to getting their talent stolen away.

        Q: This is not an issue that employers have failed to address in recent years. In fact, many companies have gone to great pains to ensure a vital work force and workplace. What is going on? Why does the problem persist?

        A: We show that about 86 percent of organizations need to improve.

        It's probably a myth that organizations are doing what they need to do.

        Doughnut Fridays are not in the long term going to solve the problem of retention. Most companies are probably not doing what they feel needs to be done.

        Second, there's a lot that a company can do to increase retention, whether it's at a small grocery store or a large company. If an employee leaves, you have to find out why.

        What you can learn from employees who leave can help stop future employees from leaving. That is critical.

        A lot of companies might be hesitant to ask. People may be angry and they do not do appropriate exit interviews. At a small company, it does not have to be the boss or owner because they may not get an honest answer. But it is a very, very valuable tactic.

        About 40 percent of human resource managers surveyed said they got a lot of valuable information from exit interviews.

        Q: What else? That seems like you're closing a barn door after the filly hit the road.

        A: There needs to be more open communication between managers and employees. People like to know what's going on, and they like to feel part of the organization.

        The third recommendation might be to have a better selection in the first place, when the employee is hired.

        Sometimes in a tight labor market, companies might offer jobs that don't fit. Perhaps the employee is not qualified or is not motivated. If that is the case, you are going to lose them pretty soon anyway.


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