THE ART OF CARING

Thursday, October 9, 2008

People are the most precious asset of a company and are constantly stalked and hunted out by the competitors. So, how do you stop this poaching?


The biggest excitement for young recruits at Ernst & Young is probably their annual trip to the Walt Disney World and not their bonuses. In fact, in the past three years, E&Y’s average salary hasn’t increased substantially – yet, when it comes to voting for the ‘Best Places to Launch a Career’, the firm scored the highest points.

When Marriott International went on its recruiting spree, it did not need to show big bucks to attract the best talent from the campuses. It was the job profile, which did wonders. The best student from University of Delaware joined Marriott in spite of being offered higher packages from other firms, because here she was promised a chance to help run the hotel. In fact, rejecting higher salaries in favour of offers with better benefits and perks is nothing new.

The toughest job for an HR professional is not just getting the best talent, but also retaining it. Southwest Airlines seems to be one company that is doing this the best. It receives a minimum of 1,00,000 job applications every year and according to its Director of Public Relations, Ed Stewart, “People leaving is virtually non-existent.” Not surprising then, that Southwest is ranked 2nd in Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For (The first being Container Store, a small company employing only 1200 people). As someone correctly said, “My most valuable assets go home everyday.” It’s not your world class infrastructure or state-of-the-art facilities, but people who are the most precious to an organisation; and it’s these great workers, these trophies that are constantly stalked & hunted by the competitors. So, how do you stop this poaching?

A man does not live by bread alone

Gone are the days when a large bonus at the end of the year kept one motivated to work year long. It’s the era of year-round perks; just good salaries is not enough.

So Google gives free breakfast, lunch and dinner to its employees. Free M&M’s are available in dispensers around the building; you could grab a handful as you walk around. Southwest found giving free airfare worked best for it as employees felt they could connect better with their families. As a result, people love to work in these places.

Perks contribute to loyalty and employee retention. However, giving perks is not easy – it requires a deep understanding of your employees. Perks actually reflect the true sincerity of the top management.

Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam (BRPNN) has turned around its image totally. Today it has a state-of-art gymnasium, gives paid vacations to foreign countries to its employees, organises motivational lecturers. The sense of belonging among its employees has increased like never before. Thanks to its dynamic chairman Pratyaya Amrit, today, this once ailing government company is throbbing with life and its people & the state are benefiting from its makeover.

It’s not just work, but building camaraderie that’s more important toady. If Google has put up in-house games, then Rodas and Ecohotel in India too organise sports competitions for their employees. Satyam has announced the launch of satyamstarpower.com a few months back. It’s a portal designed to showcase the creative talent of its employees. Fun@Work is the new initiative and helps workers de-stress and work better. Bob Nelson, the author of ‘1001 Ways to Reward Employees’, says showering employees with cash never works, but it’s the little things that count. A pat on the back, a surprise. One employee recalls how her boss hired a chauffeured limousine to drive her to an elegant restaurant – a way to thank her for completing her project on time. She may not remember the cash benefits but this little gesture that hardly cost anything was unforgettable.

A nine to five job, even if high paying, can get boring and that’s when perks can ‘perk’ one up. The owner of K.T. Kitchen, a California based maker of frozen pizza, found an inexpensive but fun filled way to thank her overworked staff for wining a multi-million dollar grocery account – she booked a nearby go-kart track and everyone went go-karting.

Mind Tree Consulting has a ‘Baby’s Day Out,’ where once a week, women employees get to bring their children and maids along with them to office. Perks work better than cash incentives, because they give employees an experience to recount, to savour.

The psychology of perks

Google is the most admired company of today’s times. Its “perk-crazy” founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page have done what it takes to create a lovely stress-free atmosphere for their employees. Out here, it’s ok to get your dog to work, it’s ok to go to the Lego room and de-stress by building blocks. Yet, it’s reported that employees cried at Google this summer. According to the New York Times, Google Inc. decided to upgrade its infant care and raised the prices from $1,425 a month to $2,500. It was a ‘rare’ fumble made by Google, a company most admired and known for charming the press and people alike.

A ‘perk’ has its advantages sure. Like a movie-day once a month, a sky-diving trip, a concierge service that shall pick up your dry cleaning, take your pet to the vet and even get your car fixed – are all wonderful, but once you have a perk, to take it away is like a break of promise. It can lead to anger and lower levels of motivation among employees. The management needs to explain clearly and logically why this was done, for the retaliation is more psychological, with workers feeling low and not giving their utmost. If the benefits are huge, so are the negatives that come with its withdrawal. Perks need to be introduced intelligently and after studying the work environment and culture. When RBZ saw most of its employees leaving the company to join internet companies, it started offering two months paid leave to every worker who completed six years in the organization. Its attrition reduced to fewer than 5%. Motivated by the huge benefit of perks and their power to increase productivity, a company decided to give its staff 30 minutes off after lunch so they could go for walks. No one was impressed! Now the ‘business of perks’ is in itself a big business with people making a living out of advising clients how to manage perks. Companies like Perk.com, OC Tanner, Loyaltyworks tell business houses how to make their employees feel special and how to design the right perks. After all, good salary is mundane; it’s the perks and special incentives that make the employees feel special; and once given, no one wants to give them up. In an interesting survey done by MSN Environment, 80% employees wanted their business to improve its energy efficiency; yet, none was willing to give up their perks such as free taxi-rides to contribute to the cause.

Companies are today working harder to find innovative ways to attract, retain and motivate their employees. From car allowances, to group term life insurance, to free neck-massages on your desk, to psychiatric counseling to help people fight stress, to discount coupons at select stores, they are doing it all. Just a word of caution though… Remember, a perk, however good, can never be a replacement for human interaction. Probably the best perk is that timely pat on the back or just a simple note, ‘You did a good job’. Treat your employees like family and like family they will love you back The definition of work has changed today, and a good employer is one who understands the art of caring.