The new balance: work-health and not work-life

Healthy-office

Photo credit: British Columbia University web site

An SHRM survey recently reveals that employee preferences toward health are fast changing. Employers witness a rapid shift of employee preferences toward gym memberships and subsidies, yoga and dance classes, and health monitoring gadgets. Millennials in the workplace are leading this trend and employers are responding to these by increasing the scope of health benefits to include them as part of an employees’ overall compensation, even though fixed pay scales in the market remain fairly stagnant. While work-life balance has been spoken about for several years, the world is still debating about it. Many argue that the correct term in today’s work environment is work-life integration. Others are still struggling to find the sweet spot where work and life balance each other out. With leaders talking about holistic talent management and about the business of talent more deeply, the answer to the question of work-life balance may finally be revealing itself.

The employer should drive work-health balance- for its own good

As the trend of offering augmented health benefits is still in primitive stages, participation to company-sponsored health programs (such as gym memberships/subsidies, dance classes, fitness competitions) is optional and voluntary in most companies. While the number of employees opting to utilize these benefits has increased, many employees still choose to stay out of them. How many times are we guilty ourselves of justifying why work kept us from visiting the gym or taking the routine evening walk? How many of us have signed up for gym or yoga classes, only to drop out after 2 or 3 sessions because it felt like the investment was just too demanding? Here arises another crucial question, who is accountable for driving work-health initiatives- the individual or the enterprise? Has the enterprise done enough by provisioning these benefits to employees? Research indicates that in order to realize the full benefits of providing health benefits to employees, it makes business sense for an employer to also drive them. Here are some findings that support why an employer should drive work-health benefits for its own good.

  1. EY research indicates that work-life flexibility is the third highest driver in candidates evaluating a potential job after fixed pay and benefits.
  2. A survey by Quantum Workplace says that companies with company-sponsored programs have 44% more engaged employees compared to the ones that do not.
  3. Companies who proactively drive wellness save substantially on employee health costs. For example, J&J saved over $250 million in healthcare costs between 2002 and 2008 since the time the company invested in driving employee wellness among employees.

Change the buzzword: Work-health balance

Companies that change their employer brand messaging to reflect their commitment to employee health and wellness are able to build a much more emotional connection with future and current employees. It sends the comforting message across that the employer cares about each of its employees. Most talent strategies focus on the outcomes from surveys that indicate employee satisfaction. Gallup’s “Customer satisfaction doesn’t count” article indicates that satisfaction is useless without making an emotional connection. Investing in employee health and wellness is about just that- the emotional connection.

Employees too, can stop worrying about how to balance their work and life and instead focus more on balancing work and health. After all, it is always about simplifying life into “the one thing” that makes everything else easy.

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Talent brand vs consumer brand

Many use the terms employer brand and talent brand interchangeably. It is inherently assumed that whatever the organisation wants to highlight about itself as an employer will be perceived likewise in the talent market. The reality remains far detached from perceptions. Social media has made it evident that perceptions of a workplace viewed from the rose-tinted glasses of an organisation’s senior management is different from actual perceptions that exist on the ground. Thus emerges a new management paradigm for an organisation- the talent brand.

It is important to note the differences between an organisation’s employer brand and talent brand. An organisation’s employer brand is a skilfully crafted message conveying how the organisation views itself as an employer. The employer brand typically includes positive messaging about its work culture, its commitment to employee welfare, and the benefits of working with the organisation. While the employer brand is an aspirational appeal to the market, a talent brand is the actual perception about an organisation from the point of view of its employees. While an employer brand can be idealistic and controllable, an organisation’s talent brand is grounded in facts and resides mostly outside the realms of direct organisational control. A preferred employer is one which is able to close the gap between the employer brand and the talent brand.

Employee as the consumer

From a marketing lens, branding is an exercise to enhance the reputation of a company’ products and services. As social media has increased the number of degrees of freedom for a consumer, the challenge of managing perceptions has steadily grown more complex. While social media continues to penetrate a wider base of consumers, a brand manager strives to convert challenges into opportunities. A brand no longer relies solely on the projection of a positive image but also depends on the management of perceptions. With growing number of complexities, organisations have started to realise that a branding strategy has to couple external messaging with perception management. The principles of branding for consumer brand, therefore, applies equally to the talent brand.
HR’s role in the organisation is consequently evolving into a brand and marketing role where the rules of the consumer market apply equally to the talent market. For an organisation’s HR, it is not difficult to predict that a Glassdoor rating will be as much an indicator of talent management effectiveness as hiring and attrition. This calls for a radical shift in the way HR views an employee – to that of a consumer.

Talent brand- a CEO’s agenda

Across the globe, growth continues to be the golden word for any leadership team. As tough economic conditions continue to prevail, leaders worry about how to sustain a profitable business. Business leaders argue that given these economic conditions, the only way to fuel growth is to get the right people on board and ensure that they are happy. When someone asks the question, ‘what is it about companies that continue to grow despite these tough conditions?’ CEOs unanimously agree that it is talent within these companies that propel growth and profitability. It would be fair to say that the only real engine of growth in such conditions is to have the right set of people on board.

Several compelling reasons exist as to why companies and HR need to redefine their focus on talent branding for sustenance in the future. Among them, the most important reason for growth is the need for innovation. The absence of innovation has seen several exceptional brands meet their demise in an age when the competitive landscape has become a pervasive threat. Several noteworthy brands have perished due to lack of innovation. Research in Motion and Kodak are classic examples of consumer brands which enjoyed high equity but succumbed very quickly to competitive pressures. While their competitors were sharpening their axe by building a strong base of innovators within the company, they failed to foresee the future by basking in the equity of their current consumer brand. Over time, newer and better products emerged in the consumer market and both the brands continue to shrink to this day. Both these industries, in fact, have seen the emergence of strong talent empires that are threatening to polarise the entire talent market in their respective segments globally.

Martin Seligman, an American psychologist’s seminal work on organisational psychology discussed the concept of positive psychology. Positive psychology is an organisation’s investment in happiness, human flourishing, exceptional wellbeing, energy and vitality, and meaningfulness and achievement. While most CEOs and talent heads talk about it, the real test of an organisation’s commitment to positive wellbeing is in the times of crisis. Are CEOs in Indian corporations really committed toward employee wellbeing? The leading management consulting firm McKinsey Corporation in a recent research study argues, “The vast majority of companies still gauge their performance using systems that measure internal financial results —systems based on metrics that don’t take sufficient notice of the real engines of wealth creation today: the knowledge, relationships, reputations, and other intangibles created by talented people and represented by investments in such activities as R&D, marketing, and training.”

Tough times reveal the real cracks in a company’s resource plans. Companies with strong talent brands are more prepared now for economic uncertainties of the future. Data from Fortune magazine’s top 100 best places to work companies in the last 10 years have consistently demonstrated a near 10 per cent difference in year-over-year growth than the market average despite these low-growth economic conditions. The renowned business author, Noelle Nelson, in his book ‘Make More Money by Making Your Employees Happy,’ quotes from the findings of a global employee survey which says that companies that effectively appreciate employee value enjoy a return on equity and assets more than triple that experienced firms enjoy. Is it possibly what differentiates an iconic brand from the rest?

Talent empires- the inevitability

As companies continue to face the consequence of economic corrections, the ability of an organisation to acquire and retain talent will be the single-most factor separating brands that exist and the ones that perish. Some progressive talent brands have already prepared their war strategy for the coming times. What makes some of the smartest talent across the globe flock to a Facebook, Pepsico, or Google brand? Is it their choice drive by the consumer brand or have these brands successfully created a strong perception as employers? Southwest Airlines is a typical example of a brand where employee live and breathe the brand. In the tough and competitive low-cost airline market, its talent brand is a strong driver of its product brand.

While companies brace themselves for the future, it will be only fair to say that a company which enjoys a strong talent brand will be able to attract talent from a larger global talent pool and make them stay longer. The linear correlation between growth and talent will never cease and thus, a company’s market share will be strongly linked to its talent market share. Such radical polarisation of preferences will likely lead to the creation of talent empires. While it is up for argument on whether the establishment of these talent empires is a step in the right direction for the global economy, one thing is certain— talent will be the bigger war field for business corporations compared to the consumer brand. At the centre of the war will be the CEO who will likely lead the aggression against its talent competitors, and will be a living proponent of the company’s employment values. Perhaps it would not be too farfetched to imagine the future CEO holding the talent brand and leading the aggression for talent market share.

Listen boss- You’re fired!

So the organization has lost talent over the last 2 years. Some of the loss was expendable. And like any other resource investment, some of the attrition was ‘regrettable.’ Talent loss, like any other capital investment, is part of the cost. True?

Maybe not! It’s not about the cost of replacement being 2.5-3.0 times the cost of the employee. The organization can afford it. The job market has shrunk, which means more skilled people are fighting for fewer jobs. Great, the organization will replace the loss with equally good (maybe better) talent! It’s also not about lost productivity or time to train a fresh hire. The organization has sufficient resources for contingencies. If all of that is true, does the organization really need to worry about some lost (and perhaps, easily replaceable) talent? The answer is an emphatic―yes, in a big way.

Let’s find out why. In times when talent scarcity has become a real problem, organizations have started realizing that when people leave, they take with them not just their aptitude but also a great deal of organizational knowledge. Tacit knowledge retention is never an easy task. And on top of that organizational knowledge means not just knowledge about systems and processes, but also about what’s not going right with the organization. An organization lets go an employee, not worrying about what word s/he will carry to the talent market outside, oftentimes ignoring the fact that every present and future employee is a brand ambassador. In the era of Glassdoor and professional social networks, such an attitude can potentially have a devastating impact on the organization’s employer brand. The potential long-term implication of a bad employer brand extends far beyond short-term attraction and retention. A bad employer finds itself difficult to gain access to key talent in critical markets thereby hampering the overall growth strategy and revenue.

Much too often, exit interviews are merely seen as a formality by HR and the organizational leadership. The leadership is not serious about investigating the real reasons for employee departure. A few days back my colleague and good friend who is an HR industry observer wrote an article on why people leave jobs. It is common knowledge that people don’t leave organizations; they leave managers. The key question for the organization remains― is there a way to identify bad managers who contribute to loss of reputation of the employer brand?

Identifying a bad manager is not an easy task. For an organization’s HR, knowledge about an individual is oftentimes limited to the annual performance assessment report. Behavioral studies reveal that it is human tendency to avoid skewed feedback and a manager’s direct report will more often be inclined to balance bad feedback by outlining some good attributes. The performance assessment gets even more “normalized” when there are multiple direct reports providing feedback to one manager. The consolidated assessment report, therefore, is a normalized aggregated report that smoothens out any alarming spikes reflected in individual feedbacks.  To add to that, most often the manager’s boss is responsible for aggregating individual feedbacks with the final authority to regard/disregard any individual feedback. If the manager has a good rapport with the boss, there is a further chance of dilution in the performance management process. It’s not an uncommon occurrence to see a manager flourishing professionally under a patronizing boss who covers up red flags and highlights successes. Oftentimes, teams with higher attrition rates show instances of a patronizing manager-boss association.

It is human nature to have favorites and develop positive biases. Managers usually develop favorites based on previous experience where an individual demonstrated stellar performance. A bad manager, however, is one who fails to acknowledge that business challenges and situations change and therefore past successes cannot be accurate indicators of future effectiveness.  A manager, however may bias his decisions about individuals based on biases and gut feeling, rather that accurate mapping of individual skills and project requirements. Such decisions include selection of individuals for high-profile critical projects and nominations to the HIPO pool. Bad decisions can have adverse effects on team morale and engagement, where individuals feel cheated and powerless.

Some typical commonalities exist among bad managers. An organization can look for the following characteristics to identify signs of a bad manager.

Early career advancements under remote leadership― If an individual has served most of his/her early career under a remote manager, the weak exposure to everyday management might imbibe in an individual a strong sense of invincibility. Most employees remark that a bad manager is one who regards his/her decision as final and is averse to questioning.

Remarkable personality difference between professional and personal life― Many remark that it is common to notice a remarkable difference in personalities between a bad manager’s professional and personal lives. The otherwise stern and bullying manager at work transforms into a docile and amiable personality outside of work. The difference in personalities is often driven by a professional approach that heavily conflicts with the manager’s personal characteristics, such as insecurity, acquired perceptions of effectiveness, and prior exposure to management styles.

Less diverse experience in 2 or lesser organizations― A common attribute among bad managers is the lack of professional diversity. Owing the lack of experience and exposure to different management styles and organizational cultures, a bad manager has uni-dimensional and siloed views about performance and professional effectiveness.

Restrictive associations― A bad manager is usually inclined to restrict his/her associations to people at the same or at higher levels of the organizational hierarchy. S/he is not usually seen having lunch with his sub-ordinates, sharing a light moment with the team, or participating in non-work discussions with his/her direct reports.

Organizations fervently look into engagement surveys and other forms of corporate forensics to identify the bad apple that leads to disengagement and turnover, oftentimes overlooking the possibility that a manager, in fact, can be the bad apple. While there are numerous research studies indicating that managers are the single largest reason for people leaving an organization, there are very few that outline the organizational response of having a bad manager. Many believe that there really is one organizational response― fire the manager! And make a big deal out of it. Not just because it eliminates the bad apple, it sends out the right message to the organization― of empowerment, of equality, and of corporate integrity.

Reach or engagement- Whats more important for employer brands?

While companies have focused on outreach as the most important social hiring metric, the buck doesn’t simply stop at going viral.

Jasper Visser is a digital strategy consultant; he helps organizations maximize their digital presence. What many do not know about Jasper is that he is also an excellent cook and loves house parties. Jasper would love to throw a party at his place some day; and even though Jasper is anything but a social recluse, one thing stops him. Jasper just does not know how to convince his friends that a Friday evening at his place will be worth more than the regular bar-hopping-club-dancing-drunken-revelry with strangers. He makes new friends every weekend; some even visit him once a while. While most of them find him a nice guy and his line of work gives him credibility, they are not sure about spending a whole evening at his place. What if it turns out to be a drag?

Jasper’s dilemma is typical of what most Indian organizations are facing in the social media space. Up until now, most Indian organizations have been looking at social media as a channel to “spread their net.” The assumption being, once an individual has visited the organization’s social media page, it will automatically trigger a top-of-the-mind-recall thereafter. That, unfortunately, is not the case! A 2012 Forrester Research global survey among top performing sales organizations to assess the typical behavior of online buyers reveals that less than 1% of transactions of new and repeat customers can be tracked back to social media.

Not surprisingly, social media experts have now started debating about what constitutes a more important metric for an organization’s social employer brand― reach or engagement. In a recent study conducted by Facebook, Tata Docomo stands at #1 among Indian organizations in terms of reach or “page likes.” In fact, 1 out of every 6 Indian on Facebook has liked the Tata Docomo page. While Sony features way down among Indian corporations in terms of reach, Facebook Analytics reveal that the Sony page is #1 when measured on terms of “engagement.” The engagement metric is calculated based on multiple engagement factors, including how many people actually view page updates, post content, or share activity. Experts argue that the only real metric of an employer brand on social media is engagement as it has the potential to trigger desired behaviors.

A 2012 social media survey in more than 500 organizations reveals that companies in India spend very little amount of time on social media branding with more  organizations spending less than 2 hours per week. Among the organizations that use social media for hiring, 53% use it for sourcing passive candidates. Social media experts reveal that the importance of passive candidate sourcing is only going to go up across the coming months. The two key social hiring metrics “time to hire” and “quality of hire” will depend on how well an organization is able to impress the passive candidate pool toward the organizational employer brand. Organizations have, therefore, started realizing that while the fixed costs and entry barriers on social media is low, the ROI of social media branding has to look beyond traditional metrics, such as outreach and “virality.”

Here are some tips on how to increase the engagement with your employer brand on social media:

  1. Understand the boundaries― Presence is social media gives an organization access to a large number of candidates and information sources. An organization needs to be careful about how and when to use the information to their advantage. There has to be a targeted strategy for outreach for the brand to make an impact on the intended audience.
  2. Investigate what impacts the audience― The employer branding message on social media needs to successfully communicate what a passive candidate wants to know in a short span of time. It is also important to conduct some web analytics to determine when and how the employer brand should show up on web searches, social media platforms, and portals.
  3. Have the right mix― There is no one-size-fits all strategy for social media branding. Employers who are only looking to maximize their social media reach should start questioning the fundamental assumptions of their branding strategy.
  4. Test, measure, and adapt― It is alright to go wrong the first few times. Success in social media branding, however, will depend on how an organization is able to measure their failures and quickly adjust there engagement strategy.

2013 will likely see more frenzied activity in social media hiring, and organizations will be scampering to increase their employer brand presence. Success of employer branding will depend not just on whether more people know about the organization, but really on whether the passive talent pool is able to understand the brand message, therefore resulting in greater number of conversions.