GUEST COLUMN

Healthy approach to retain intellectual capital

By Lewis Schiffman

Whether you are sitting in a boardroom or attending a conference with human resource managers, these two topics are frequently discussed: "How can we attract and retain good people?" and "Why don’t employees have any loyalty to their company?"

The more enlightened leaders also are asking: "What can we do to make it attractive for employees to invest themselves in the success of this company?"

The more enlightened wellness professional is asking: "How can I position myself to be part of the solution?"

Before exploring solutions, however, perhaps we should consider the full scope of the problem. Employees have learned painfully through downsizing (euphemistically referred to as "right-sizing"), acquisitions, and re-engineering that company leaders and shareholders have little loyalty to employees. The employee of the 90s has also been asked to work longer, harder, faster, flow with change, and help their organization stay ahead in a competitive marketplace.

Consequently, they have discovered — as well as having been advised by change management experts — that all of us need to operate as entrepreneurs, and each employee must continually market "You Inc." because there is no job security. With these experiences as reference points, it is no surprise an employee will leave his present employer for stock options, increased salary, a more casual dress code, or 50 cents more per hour.

The cost of losing a good employee is often greater than we realize. Jim Campbell in the People Performance and Rewards Practice office of management consulting firm Towers Perrin Inc. in Atlanta says it takes one to two times a professional employee’s annual salary to search, hire, and retrain a new employee. Once hired, it could take several months before they make a meaningful contribution to the organization. In the case of information technology workers, added costs may be incurred by having to hire contract employees to fill an immediate need by the loss of proprietary business knowledge.

Additionally, there is a loss of continuity in customer service, which could result in loss of customer loyalty. Loss of a good employee also affects the morale of remaining employees, who begin to wonder, "Is there a better opportunity for me out there?" They may also entertain thoughts such as, "Why should I give my all to a company that isn’t paying me as well as XYZ Info Systems?"

More than money

Fortunately, an extensive body of research indicates most employees — and particularly "Generation X-ers" — are motivated by more than money. They want challenge, autonomy, a chance to be creative, and want their job to be fun. All generations from all cultures will respond positively to visible demonstrations that they are cared about, valued, and respected. Include them in important decisions, and they will feel less vulnerable to job insecurity.

For the wellness consultant (both internal and external), the challenge of retaining "intellectual capital" offers us an opportunity to reposition our services in the organization. We can enhance our value to our clients (and our job security) by developing and implementing strategies that make it more desirable to work in a particular organization.

Let’s begin by assessing needs. Our client, or employer, actually wants to do more than attract and retain the best and the brightest. The intelligent employer wants leadership, passion, creativity, and a commitment to exceptional customer service. However, before proposing any strategy, find out if they are willing to invest time and money in solving the problem.

If you get top-level buy-in, form an employee advisory group who can help determine what approaches will increase employee motivation. Be mindful that the associates’ reality is there is no job security nor company loyalty to the employee.

Be willing to think outside the box — outside your traditional role — as you search for solutions. For example: Walking, running, or biking "across America" to win T-shirts or premiums may be fine for the 20% to 25% of the population who are committed exercisers, but you may reach the other 75% to 80% with programs like "How to Create More Balance in Your Life," "How to Simplify Your Life," "Effective Parenting Skills," "Money Management," "Self-Esteem," or "Vacation Travel on a Budget."

Look at the office environment. Is it comfortable? Inviting? Does it minimize stress? Does it encourage individual expression and creativity?

Air quality, lighting, and water also affect attitude, energy level, the ability to think and comfort level. Full-spectrum lighting (as opposed to standard fluorescent lighting) reduces vulnerability to stress and depression — and it also reduces power bills. Putting in water filters and encouraging water consumption, as opposed to caffeine, also creates a more calm environment and sustained energy.

Management style also has a tremendous impact on employee motivation, loyalty, and the work environment. Accordingly, supervisors need to be reminded to "catch people doing something right." Give recognition for achievement. Ask for input in decision making so people have a sense of project and company ownership. Encourage people to present new ideas and approaches. Supervisors should treat each positive suggestion as a gift, and recognize the effort the associate made to improve the organization.

Discussing supervision

As a wellness professional, you probably won’t be conducting the supervisory training yourself. However, you can discuss the impact supervision has on the work environment with the training or human resource departments. You can also look for ways to reinforce the skills managers learn from these training programs. If you examine this area in your company carefully, you will be shocked by the number of managers and supervisors who have poor people skills and alienate employees.

As we enter the new millennium, the demand and war for talent will significantly escalate. If you can help your company create an environment where people are stimulated, feel cared about, and enjoy coming to work, your company will prosper. More important for you, your company will view your work as having a direct impact on the bottom line.

[Lewis Schiffman is a health and performance consultant, trainer, and president of Atlanta Health Systems. He can be reached at (404) 636-9437.]