30/07/2009 - 00:00

Perks are nice, but job security makes a workplace comeback

30/07/2009 - 00:00


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Job security is key, as employees worry about economic uncertainty, according to this year’s Best Employers survey.

Perks are nice, but job security makes a       workplace comeback

MASSAGES on a Monday afternoon, barista-quality coffee in the staff kitchen and bottles of wine offered as gifts at the end of a long hard week. They are my employee perks, how do yours stack up?

"Rather good" seems to be the finding of the WA Business News 2009 Best Employer Awards, where stories of creative employers going above and beyond in an effort to attract and retain the best have emerged.

But against the gloomy backdrop of a global economic crisis and rising unemployment, it was not the perks that held sway over a workforce as they may do in a tight labour market.

Rather, job security was the most important issue for attracting and retaining workers, followed closely by employees feeling supported by their managers.

"People won't stick with their employer if management isn't up to scratch," Tracie Dawson, WA state manager at Insync Surveys, said.

"Also, recognising job security as a top retention driver is essential because uncertainty can lead to employees looking for a job elsewhere."

So it seems the worm has turned, so to speak, as the drivers of employee satisfaction during boom times, such as perks, give way to old fashioned job security.

The effect of job insecurity on a workforce can be disastrous, according to Robyn Ivankovich of Perth-based engineering and construction project manager, Georgiou Group.

Ms Ivankovich said a workforce latched onto negative sentiment quickly, which led to a drop in productivity, and workers sought other employment even when their job was, in fact, secure.

"We want to make sure that they aren't even getting into those negative conversations," said Ms Ivankovich, who heads leadership development at Georgiou Group.

The survey of more than 2000 workers, conducted by Insync, found that Western Australians believe their employers have a good reputation and provide quality products and services, which certainly makes getting out of bed that much easier.

On the flip side, companies under public siege regularly witness a drop in morale, even when decisions taken by senior management don't at first appear to have a direct effect on an employee. A company that is no stranger to controversy, James Hardie, recently admitted a planned re-location for tax purposes could result in further public criticism and negatively affect employee morale.

There is, however, something even more important than a company's reputation. One of the big findings to come out of the survey was that the people Western Australians work with - peers, supervisors and senior management - matter, for better or for worse.

Neil McGrechan, founder of Perth consultancy Modal, said managers could be unaware of how big a shadow they cast over their workforce. They might be defensive in the way they approached someone, rather than engaging with that person, producing the opposite response from that they were seeking.

Insync's Ms Dawson agrees with that sentiment, claiming supportive managers are critical for the retention of "talent" and for building employee engagement.

"In many cases when employees leave their organisations, they are actually leaving their manager," Ms Dawson said.

Or, they may be leaving because they don't like their pay. It shouldn't surprise employers that workers listed pay as an area companies need to improve in.

Having some history in these types of surveys, Insync notes that pay often comes up as an area of improvement. It suggests organisations consider increasing non-financial rewards such as recognition and training opportunities.

Workpower Incorporated, a company that finds work for people with disability and people with mental illness, gives employees their birthdays off, without having to claim annual leave.

According to the survey, employers may want to use some sort of external benchmarking so that suitably remunerated staff recognise that's what they are ... suitably remunerated.

Lastly, by dividing the survey respondents into age groups, several themes emerged. Generation Y (those born from about 1980 to the early 1990s) appears to be hungry for additional opportunities, such as career progression.

Generation X (born in the 1960s to late 1970s) also identified issues around career progression as being important, but to a lesser extent than the younger generation. And for baby boomers, recognition and obtaining feedback ranked the highest.

The percentage of employees who are promoters of their company outweighs detractors, showing WA employers are doing a lot of things right. The survey also shows all workers - be it new recruits or old hands, young workers or those working to the grave - view job security as crucial, which indicates there's a lot of uncertainty out there.

The worm may have turned, where job security is now critical, but that doesn't mean employers should get rid of their coffee machines just yet (although that last bit isn't from the survey, but may be a good idea).


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