As the economy recovers, employers have seen some of their best talent defect for better jobs. Top-performing corporations are fighting that trend by doing what they can to strengthen their relations with their workers.
That’s the bottom line to a Towers Watson survey of employee attitudes that confirms what common sense might suggest: people who work foremployers that invest in their workforce have been feeling better about their organizations as the economy has improved.
Towers Watson tracks what it calls high-performing companies to gauge what it is they do that makes them stand out. Its study underscores the value of investing in workers as part of a larger strategy to minimize turnover and outperform the pack.
“Given growing expectations for advancement and development among employees, many employers need to invest more in people programs,” the firm said in a summary of its survey results. “One way to chart a course is to identify employer practices that are currently attracting attention and appreciation from employees themselves. For example, if the topic of career development opportunities is trending favorably among workers, employers would be wise to re-evaluate their own approaches to ensuring skill acquisition and advancement for employees.”
Stressing diversity in recruiting
Retention top concern among senior management
High-performing organizations recognize employees
The responses from employees surveyed by TW were increasingly favorable as the recession worked itself out from 2009 through 2013. The only consistent exception: Data from 2011 in nearly every category showed a decline in how employees viewed aspects of their employer. That was likely because 2011 proved to be a critical make-it-or-break-it year in the economic recovery, and many employees apparently feared things were about to go topsy-turvy again.
The gains in most categories weren’t huge over the five years — the most common increase being between 7 percent and 10 percent. But, as Towers Watson points out, these employees already had considerable confidence in their employers. So the gains were impressive considering that many other studies have shown that workers in general don’t have lots of confidence in their employer’s ability to hire the right people, retain the right people, manage them effectively and offer quality goods and services to the marketplace.
The study sought employee feedback in four key areas: career development, empowerment, rewards and recognition, and leadership. “The areas showing the greatest improvement over time indicate the people priorities high-performing companies consider most vital during the post-recession recovery,” said Patrick Kulesa, director of employee research at Towers Watson.
Among the trends in these major categories from 2009 to 2013:
Career development saw employee confidence steadily increasing in promoting the right people (57 percent to 64 percent), recruiting (66 percent to 74 percent), long-term ops (68 percent to 80 percent) retention (53 percent to 64 percent) and training (65 percent to 74 percent).
Empowerment, which includes employees’ voice in the workplace and ability to innovate, showed similar gains. For instance, employees feel that it is increasingly safe to speak up at work (67 percent to 74 percent), they believe they have the flexibility to do a good job (83 percent in 2009 rose to 90 percent, the highest percentage of any category), and they think innovative ideas are better supported today than they were in 2009 (60 percent to 67 percent). Support of innovative ideas was one key area that showed considerable room for improvement in the survey.
Rewards and recognition. The one area that stood out in this section was in “my supervisor values my contribution, which started high (79 percent) and went to 86 percent — a sign that good companies chose good bosses.
Leadership evaluations, based on worker views of senior leaders’ effectiveness at decision-making, communication and change management, indicated that employees generally believe their companies have been well managed and governed by solid values. However, they were less sanguine about communications and the pace of change, a couple more areas where even the top performers could do better.
The kicker came when employees were asked to rate employers in terms of customer service, product quality, and reputation in the marketplace. Again, workers increasingly value employers in these essential competitive area, with particular support shown in response to the question about reputation among customers. Appreciation for this was high in 2009 — 84 percent satisfaction — and through the roof in 2013 at 92 percent satisfaction.
“The evidence suggests that investments in people are paying off, as measured by employee perceptions of company performance. Employees in high-performance organizations report that their companies are more highly regarded by customers, and their product quality and customer service are perceived as more competitive,” the survey concluded.