By LILY CHEAH
Employer of choice. Just tune in to the employer chatter landscape for a short time and chances are that you’ll hear these three words.
It’s a term that describes what many companies aspire to be, and the kind of establishments employees want to work for. In a nutshell, this human resource buzzword refers to companies that are great employers.
Why are companies bothering about their reputation as an employer? With ongoing fierce competition for top talent, there is heightened awareness of the need to both attract and retain the best people.
At the same time, a global study by Hewitt Associates on the best ranking employers reveals the following additional benefits of being a top employer:
- Higher engagement – Top employers demonstrate higher employee engagement scores.
- Reduced turnover – They experience lower levels of employee turnover, by as much as 40% in Asia.
- Larger talent pools – They receive almost double the amount of applications per employee.
- Business results – Organisations with high engagement scores are 78% more productive and 40% more profitable.
Of course, the term shouldn’t be taken without its limits, because an employer of “choice” for Tom may not necessarily be an employer that Dick and Harry would “choose” to work for. Attributes of companies like industry, company structure, roles and culture will inevitably attract their specific segment of people.
However, observe good employers, and similar characteristics do appear. Scan the numerous top employer lists and reports, and we do see consistencies in attributes.
So what do top employers have in common?
Though every list will be worded differently, top employer attribute lists generally describe a company with an environment positioned for high employee satisfaction and performance.
- High employee engagement – Staff of these companies are motivated to go the extra mile to meet business objectives, they speak highly of the company and intend to stay on.
- Compelling employer brand – These organisations have a good reputation as employers, and their perceived reputation is matched by actual employee experience. They deliver on promises made, and employees can clearly explain the distinguishing factors of their employer.
- Effective leadership – Leaders of these companies provide clear vision, and regard employees as assets. Employees, in turn, believe that leaders are able to make sound business decisions and communicate with employees in an open and honest way.
- High-performance culture – Employees have access to career progression and learning opportunities. They are aware of how their individual objectives link to company goals, and they share in the overall organisational success.
Glassdoor also found the following five characteristics in employers that were most highly ranked on their site, as elaborated by Sara Pollock of ClearCompany:
- People matter – Employees are willing and excited to be their employer’s brand ambassadors. As a result, they naturally attract other great talent to the company through the people they know. This is crucial because potential candidates place a high degree of trust in current employee feedback and reviews.
- People feel heard – Beyond just doing employee feedback surveys, great places to work are quick to act on feedback that they receive and integrate these points into business strategy. At the same time, they are swift to provide employees with feedback on their growth and performance.
- People can grow – Employees are provided with opportunities to grow in their careers. Glassdoor cites career growth opportunities as the second most popular reason that employees leave a company to accept another role. Growth is also the second most important to employees, after salary.
- Leaders matter – In these workplaces, leaders are confident and well-informed, and consequently, they are able to make decisions soundly and firmly. They are also connected to and clearly understand the goals and values of the company. As a result, employees are clear on their roles, can communicate with leaders and know how to fulfill expectations.
- People feel appreciated – Employees feel valued and appreciated, and there is a strong performance management system that keeps leaders informed of successes and problems in the workplace. In this way, leaders are able to react in a timely manner and employees can be rewarded and recognised.
Though Glassdoor has selected more people-centric terms in their attribute descriptions, both Glassdoor and Aon Hewitt’s factors pick up on key terms such as engagement, leadership and growth.
Does age matter?
One question that arises is whether the age of employees matters in all of this. That is to say, do the criteria for top employers cater only to the attraction and retention of Gen-Y and Gen-Z employees, generally regarded as more demanding generations?
Interestingly, data from Towers Watson’s 2014 Global Workforce Study reveals that the top attraction and retention drivers are mostly consistent for employees across ages (see Figure 1):
Regardless of age, base pay/salary and job security come in as the top factors in attracting employees. Career advancement opportunities, trust in senior leadership all make appearances in the five most important retention factors for all age groups.
So it seems that generational differences do not come into major play when it comes to what attracts and keeps individuals in companies.
Furthermore, the data affirms the key characteristics of great employers, by highlighting the importance employees place on career growth and learning, and the relationship between leaders and employees.
These attraction and retention drivers have also remained consistent in Malaysia since 2012, namely base pay/salary, job security, and learning and development for attraction, and base pay/salary, career advancement opportunities, and relationship with supervisor/manager when it comes to retention.
As far as engagement is concerned, the Malaysian data reveals similar keywords to the lists elaborated on earlier. The top five drivers of sustainable engagement are identified as empowerment, goals and objectives, workload and work-life, image and their relationship with the supervisor/manager (see Figure 2).
Are employers and employees on the same page?
Towers Watson also collected data to compare attraction and retention factors from the employer point of view and the employee perspective.
Both employer and employee are largely of the same opinions on attraction drivers, with six out of the seven top factors cited by both parties being consistent with one another (see Figure 3).
The factors vary in priority according to the two different points of view, but base pay/salary and career advancement opportunities are acknowledged by both sides to be in the top three.
However, this general correlation is less evident when it comes to retention factors.
Although both employers and employees agree on base pay/salary and career advancement opportunities as the top two drivers, three out of the employee’s list of seven don’t appear on the priority radar of employers (trust/confidence in senior leadership, job security and length of commute). This difference in perspective is an area for employers to address (see Figure 4).
Priority areas for employers to address
For organisations that are current or aspiring employers of choice, the data does illuminate key areas they can channel their attention towards.
As a result of its 2014 Global Workforce Study, Towers Watson advises focusing on several spheres, including:
1. Base salary, opportunities for career advancement and job security
Since these three drivers are cited as top attraction and retention factors, or in simpler terms, key areas that are important to employees, companies should remain competitive where these are concerned.
“Even though companies cannot guarantee job security, they can focus on creating a stable work environment through communication of business strategy, goals and results as well as effective leaders and managers, and clear expectations” writes the report.
Moreover, as these are factors that matter most to employees, these will inevitably influence the extent to which employees function as employer brand ambassadors and how they speak of the company.
2. Development of senior leaders
As confidence and trust in senior leadership are crucial in retaining employees, companies should prioritise the development of senior leaders to ensure they are able to lead in a way that inspires the trust of employees.
A starting point is to develop a model of leadership that includes “performance components aligned with their strategic priorities, values and culture”.
3. Improvement of manager effectiveness
Companies can invest in building the competencies of managers to ensure they are being effective in their roles.
Surveys show that from the employee’s point of view, the main factor determining manager effectiveness is “consistency between word and actions”. In other words, managers must walk their talk.
On top of this, employees see an effective manager as someone who can “remove obstacles to success”, “differentiate between high and low performers”, “treat all workers with respect” and “clearly communicate goals”.
4. Increase in engagement levels
In order to increase levels of engagement, Towers Watson advises the offering of a “consumer-like experience” to employees.
Essentially, organisations should take the time to understand and respond to employee needs the same way that staff are expected to understand and respond to the needs of customers.
This would address scenarios such as the disconnect referred to earlier between what employees see as key retention drivers and what employers think their staff want.
As technology and the Internet has enabled greater access to information, this has empowered the employee with a greater degree of choice when it comes to selecting employers.
Online platforms provide spaces where people can discuss and rank companies as employers. Furthermore, with increased ease in travel and mobility, individuals are no longer restricted to finding jobs where they are from.
This casts greater pressure on companies to stand out as employers, as they are scrutinised at completely new levels in this internet-driven world, not merely in their internal initiatives, but also in their external branding (how they are perceived by the general public).
Being an employer of choice is then not only imperative to attract and retain the best people, it is also a greater challenge.
However, access to information for employees also means access to information for employers. Valuable data is available to organisations who want to commit to being great employers.
Moreover, with numerous awards providing recognition to companies that are getting it right, there are helpful comparisons and best practices to model after, and organisations that rise to the challenge stand to reap immense benefits from their efforts.
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Prethiba is passionate about impacting people through the written word. She believes that our lives are solely written by us, and thus the power to change for the better lies with us.