STAFDA 2014 Session Preview: Kathy Newton

Preparing for 2020: A Guide to the New Workforce.

Purdue and University of Industrial Distribution professor Dr. Kathy Newton will discuss "Preparing for 2020: A guide to the New Workforce" from 1:00 -2:30 and again from 3:00 -4:30 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014.

It’s often said that you just can’t find loyal employees anymore. I agree, you can’t find them — you have to build them. That’s just one of the ways that the new generation of employees is different from yesteryear’s. We are no longer in an era where all a manager has to do is hire good people and pay them a fair (or almost fair) wage to keep them working for you. A good manager must do that, plus provide a blend of benefits and company culture that work together to do what essentially boils down to keeping people happy.

Good examples of companies that have been successful at this can be found in each by examining “The 100 Best Companies to Work for” list published by Fortune. These companies have succeeded not only because they have high commitments to the products and services they provide, but because of the “employee friendly” workplaces they provide for their employees.

In particular, these companies have worked hard to provide what the Millennials want most (the fast-growing group of workers between age 18 and 35). Some examples include:

  • fair pay
  • having a say in decisions
  • competent management
  • socializing with coworkers
  • flexible schedule
  • dedication to philanthropy and community

Not convinced? Here’s a telling statistic — a Robert Half International Inc. survey found that nearly two-thirds of Americans said they would be willing to reduce both their work hours and their compensation in exchange for more “family or personal time.” It’s clear that Americans’ priorities have changed, and those managers who are progressive about meeting their needs will have a real advantage in the marketplace.

Adopt a Strategic Approach
Managing well today means managing strategically — taking the time and effort to make sure that each decision you make logically balances and supports the key objectives and operations of your company. The figure to the right illustrates the many areas that managers must balance in order keep employees happy and, most importantly, productive.

Unless a manager strategically plans for these components to work together, they may actually get “out of balance” and work against the very benefits that he/she hopes to get from them.

For example, the caliber of employees that any given company seeks to hire should match the overall management systems appropriate to hire and keep them. Sounds logical, but too often managers are interested in getting and keeping the best employees without exploring what the industry requires to attract and keep them.

Consider compensation. The best employees will always earn top dollar in any industry. Can your company’s current pay system  attract them? Your company likely fits into one of the following categories: a leader (pays better than average), a competitor (pays about average), or a laggard (pays below average). You really do “get what you pay for.”

And, if you are going to go after a high caliber employee and pay a leadership wage, you must also plan for the appropriate training systems that will support the career paths that a high caliber employee will expect. And, you must have well-developed measurement
systems and open communication so that employees will know the progress they are making and thereby, be motivated to continue working hard, and so on. Get the picture? Each area must support the others (think strategic).

I’m not suggesting that paying an above average salary is the only way to achieve a balanced management system. You can accomplish a balanced system with a competitive or a laggard pay scale as well, but you’ll have to be creative to make them work together to keep employees happy. I know of one company that pays a laggard wage purposefully. They use testing to identify intelligent, but under-skilled, employees and essentially “grow their own.”

But, they have invested heavily in education and training programs to support these employees, and have a strong incentive system and team environment to keep people motivated. Employees have a strong sense of purpose in the company and are given a lot of “ownership” in how they handle their own work. As you might expect, employees that develop successfully through this company are well paid, but they have earned it.

That is just one example of how a company can balance a system to meet the needs of today’s employees. Other companies are already competitive in their pay and benefits and are looking for other ways to keep their employees happy. Get in touch with what your best employees are looking for and find ways to help them achieve it. Again, you must ask yourself “are the culture and system components complementary?” Here are a few of the items you should be examining in your culture:

  • Internal competition among employees
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Self-confidence
  • Openness of communications
  • Employee and customer participation
  • Customer service orientation
  • Propensity for action and change
  • Security and seniority (who is leaving, and why?)
  • Respect for the individual

Once you have a clear idea of what your particular culture is currently providing your employees, you can begin to identify needed changes and develop strategies to meet your company’s goals.

As you consider how best to manage the new generation of employees, ask yourself this question: “Do I offer employees one of the best jobs in town?” If the answer is no, you need to identify what’s missing and go about correcting it. Remember that there is a supply and demand relationship for the best employees in town, and the top 20 percent of employees in any given market will always have a job. Your job is to make sure they are working for you! CS

Dr. Kathy Newton is a professor at Purdue and the University of Industrial Distribution. Reach her at