Out With The Old
The old rules--the ones you and even your parents grew up with--are no longer applicable when it comes to creating a company people want to work for. "We are well into a massive shift that is challenging everything we once knew about the workplace," says Roger Herman, a Greensboro, North Carolina, futurist who specializes in workplace issues.
This is partly because the downsizing epidemic shattered the bonds of company loyalty. When its cornerstone, the promise of a job for life, was broken by massive layoffs, workers knew the rules had changed. But other forces are in play, too. Global competition means every business, no matter where it is, has to operate smarter and with higher productivity.
At the same time, workers are insisting they have lives to pursue outside the office. Considering this, along with the Internet's demanding presence and increasing violence in our society, and the stark conclusion is that the turn-of-the-century workplace will scarcely resemble the businesses that thrived 50 years ago.
Where are we headed? Herman, author of Lean and Meaningful (Oakhill Press), gives us a head start by identifying key trends that will shape tomorrow's workplaces. At least one of these trends is unsettling; the others loom as opportunities for hiring and holding on to top performers. But the major point is, "You've got to be aware of what's going on today and what that means for tomorrow," says Herman. "That's how you'll stay competitive."
Here's a look at workplace trends you can't afford to ignore as your business approaches the millennium:
- Workplace violence. The bad news is that workplace violence touches more than 1 million U.S. workers every year, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). NIOSH also reports that 20 workers are murdered on the job each week. A sizable share of the violent acts are committed by worker against worker or against a boss. The worst news? "Workplace violence will increase," Herman predicts. "There's so much enmity between employees and their bosses. Remember the movie "Network"? Many workers are mad as hell, and they aren't going to take it anymore. Workers are angry, and they feel alienated."
Strikes are another symptom of the problem, as is workplace sabotage--which is now easily accomplished, as sensitive computers more frequently function as a business's brain. "The daily news tells us there are more strikes, and although unreported in the press, we're hearing ever more stories about sabotage," says Herman. "Today's employees are very stressed, and they're taking action."
What's gone wrong? "Businesses have demanded more work from their employees, but they haven't listened to their employees' needs," says Herman. That makes the issue clear and simple: Keep pushing workers to reach ever-higher productivity levels, and the likely upshots, says Herman, will be more violence, more unrest and more sabotage. "But listen to what they need and give them some of it," he says, "and the results will be much better."
- Flextime. Listen up, bosses: "Workers are saying loud and clear that they're willing to work hard, but they also want a life. They want time off," says Herman. "Wise bosses are making sure their employees can achieve work-life balance because when you do this, the chances that you will attract and hold good people escalate."
A key trend is flextime. "This will continue to grow in importance," predicts Herman. "Workers will [be allowed] more ability to vary their hours, perhaps starting the day earlier or later than normal. We'll see more companies letting employees work four 10-hour days, because employees are saying they want more three-day weekends and more time with their families."
Traditionally, businesses set their hours based solely on what worked best for the business. But not anymore. "Now you've got to take into account what works best for employees as individuals," says Herman. "That's become a critical trend."
What should your workplace hours be? Ask your workers--and build in at least some of the flexibility they ask for. That's a simple way to boost employee morale and to show you recognize that they have lives outside the office.
- Wealth sharing. "We're seeing more stock option plans offered to more employees in all kinds of businesses, and that will continue," says Herman. "Employees want a piece of the profits--and it's important to give them this opportunity."
Although they're now widely used, especially in high-tech businesses, stock options are not the only tool that works to give employees a stake in the business's future--and future riches. There are stories aplenty of high-tech entrepreneurs who make a billion dollars in a few years (as the founders of Yahoo! and Amazon.com have done, for instance), but in many other industries, mere shares of stock, particularly in a nonpublic company, may lack sizzle.
What should you do? "Offer profit-sharing or performance bonuses that are awarded when specific company objectives are met," suggests Herman. Whatever your method, the larger lesson is this: When the business's pot bubbles over with success, make sure employees get a few spoonfuls of the tasty stew--that's become essential in building businesses that last.
Employees have been working harder--rising productivity levels are proof--but what they aren't getting are signs of appreciation. "Whether it's a package of stock options, a Friday afternoon pizza party or just a sincere `thank you' from the boss, employees need to get appreciation for their labors," says Herman. "And when they don't get it, they'll look elsewhere for jobs."
- Internet recruiting. Unemployment levels are dipping to new lows, and good workers are getting harder to find. How can a small business compete against huge, heavily monied corporate behemoths? The intimacy a small business offers can be a big plus, but only if you get the word out, and, says Herman, "More companies are finding that the Internet is a great tool for recruiting."
From The Monster Board (,a href=http://www.monster.com>http://www.monster.com,/a>), a vast collection of thousands of job openings nationwide, to specialized sites that list only jobs for computer programmers in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Web is home to thousands of sites that let employers list openings at little or no cost. Hunt down Web sites that suit your business and location, and whenever you have an opening, get it listed. Then watch the resumes roll in.
You can even go a step further, says Herman. "Post job openings on your own Web site, too," he advises. "Many job hunters are looking at business sites for just this type of information." You'll get the best results if you use your site to inform visitors how and why your company is a good place to work, says Herman. Unlike a classified ad, where every word costs money, Web space is essentially free. Use it to build an argument for working at your company.
"In a tight labor market, companies have to work hard to get the right employees," says Herman. "The Web is an important tool. Use it."
You're not sure these trends will apply in your workplace? Herman's research derives from studying hundreds of businesses, large and small, so these ideas will probably work for you, too. But there is a way to double-check: "Get out from behind your desk, talk to your employees and do a lot of listening," says Herman. "Listen, and you'll know what your people really want. This is hard for many bosses to do, but it's so important that you do it--regularly." Your business survival could depend on it.
Robert McGarvey writes on business, psychology and management topics for several national publications. To reach him online with your questions or comments, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
The Herman Group, (800) 227-3566, email@example.com
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