How to Become an Employer of Choice

Times are a-changing. Brexit, internalisation of the labour market, removal of Employment Tribunal fees, continually increasing use of the Internet and ongoing economic recovery mean that the day of the employee is fast approaching. All the signs of what is to come from an HR perspective are already there. Just last week fruit growers were complaining of labour shortages. It is only going to get worse for employers so becoming an “employer of choice” will soon have real meaning. 

During a recession making a key hire -or indeed any hire- is always easier. Employers can be far more choosy in terms of who they will interview and they also have a far stronger negotiating position when it comes to terms and conditions of employment. Employment offers can often be a “take it or leave it” scenario for even the most capable employee. For unscrupulous employers recessions can be a very positive experience from an exploitation of employees perspective.

But as with all situations in life, the wheel always turns. When the simple supply and demand of labour turns from plentiful supply but limited demand to high demand and limited supply the reputation an employer holds -and what they can offer the employee in exchange for his or her services- becomes a key consideration.

A common term of reference in the HR profession is “employer of choice”. But what does this actually mean? Is it about paying the most money? Is it about giving out the most promotions? Or is it something else. As with all the topics I look at there is a no silver bullet. But employers can help improve their appeal to existing and prospective employees in many ways including the following:

1. Develop a culture built upon integrity | Building a culture of “doing the right thing” and “doing what we say we will do” is a key consideration in developing a high trust culture. High trust cultures engage employees and enshrine the psychological contract between employee and employer. From this flows commitment, discretionary effort and lower levels of all conceivable negative HR measures.

Interestingly, my experience of business leaders with far higher levels of integrity is that they are much more likely to value HR and seek to work with it proactively. The irony being that those business leaders who think they can lead but often can’t generally lack integrity and see no place for HR in the fog of their narcissistic tendencies. It’s a supreme paradox by any measure. 

2. Create a reward and development culture based on individual contribution | In far too many businesses of all sizes the way in which people are rewarded and developed is based on the wrong metrics. At best this can be where metrics focus upon the wrong areas or data. At worst this can be due to a “face fits” culture where decisions are based upon managerial preferences linked to conscious and subconscious bias. Both approaches will almost certainly be discriminatory at some stage.

If a face fits culture of any type emerges the organisation in question is on course for a bumpy ride from an HR perspective. It will certainly struggle to be seen as an employer by choice amongst existing and future potential employees. In such an environment worker deviancy will develop, productivity will fall and those joining the organisation will quickly assimilate in to bad practices once onboarded in to the workforce.

3. Communicate good AND BAD news honestly and consistently | Businesses are political in nature and subject to constant change. Employees accept that there is no such thing as a job for life nowadays and that the jobs they have may well be subject to change. Some may even have express clauses in their employment contracts to this effect. What no employee will take in good faith is being misled or, worse still, lied to.

I have worked with some employers who have been keen to alter messages to make them more acceptable to the target audience. This is not necessarily a problem UNLESS the content is varied to such an extent that it becomes misleading. The truth will always come out and employees are very good at getting to it in my experience.

The way in which a message is delivered is also important. From time to time we hear of truly awful stories where employees received notice of intended redundancies by text message and similar. An employer needs to ask itself one simple question . . . how would I feel if I were treated like this? Moreover, would an employer of choice behave in this way. It certainly wouldn’t be my preferred employer.

4. Look beyond the immediate impact of actions | Where unpopular HR actions are concerned many employers give little or no thought to the organisational trauma that is caused after the action has been taken. If an employee leaves under a settlement agreement, a dismissal or due to redundancy the preferred response is often to say absolutely nothing. It is almost always the wrong approach in my experience.

Whilst settlement agreements always contain confidentiality clauses there is still a need to tell employees who remain that another employee has left. If it was “by mutual agreement” then say so and leave it at that. If an employee is dismissed due to gross misconduct or because redundancies were needed to save other jobs then also provide an appropriate explanation. 

Human nature dictates that if we don’t understand something we will generally fear it. A culture of “I could be next” is deeply corrosive from an HR perspective and an employer of choice will always seek to avoid this. Tell employees why a particular course of action was adopted and if a negative one explain succinctly why it was necessary. Saying nothing creates a vacuum and employees will invariably fill this with negatives.

5. Pull employees to the centre | Many years ago I was told about the principle of “mushroom management”. It had supposed benefits and involved the notion of managers covering employees in something vulgar and keeping them in the dark. It makes them easier to manage. So went the theory.

The reality is that organisations who adopt mushroom management will end up with one thing . . . mushrooms. It doesn’t work and the many employers who still persist with this approach will never become an employer of choice. 

An employer of choice will seek to understand the issues that are important to their employees. For example a workforce with a younger age profile may value certain social activities compared to an older one who may prefer flexibility with childcare. All employees value the ability to feedback and engage with business leaders. Indeed, solutions to even the most complex business problems can be found if a meaningful dialogue and associated engagement strategy exists within the organisation.

All too often I hear the statement “employees are our biggest asset”. Yet closer inspection often also reveals that employees of these organisations do not feel valued by the organisations they work for.

At Reach Higher Human Resources™ we have worked with numerous organisations helping them improving the employment journey and make the organisation save money, increase revenue and reduce risk™ and become a true employer of choice.

In time it is likely that an industry standard will develop that will articulate what an employer of choice actually is in practical terms. Something akin to an ISO accreditation, Ofsted report or Investors in People accreditation perhaps. For now employers need to think very carefully about how they will prepare for the battle for talent that awaits. At Reach Higher Human Resources™ we are ready and able to point them in the right direction.

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