King for the day

If named president of their companies, executives say they would make the office a better place for employees. Twenty-six percent of senior managers said creating an employee-friendly work environment would top their to-do lists; 17 percent would improve communication. One in four respondents said they were happy with the ways things were going and would not change a thing.

“The overarching message in this survey was that if employees were ‘king for the day’ they would put their time and effort into creating a work environment that was conducive to achieving a work-life balance,” says Pam Miller, district director for Robert Half Management Resources in Cleveland. The company, a provider of senior-level accounting and finance professionals on a project and interim basis, conducted the survey of 150 executives — including those from human resources, finance and marketing departments — with the nation’s 1,000 largest companies.

Smart Business spoke with Miller about what employees really want from their workplace and how employers can help.

Could you tell us a little about the survey and what the participants wanted most to change about their work environment?
Twenty-six percent said that they wanted to create an employee-friendly environment. They suggested a wide range of things such as offering telecommuting options, allowing staff to wear business casual attire all the time, increasing the number of vacation days, tuition and mileage reimbursements, making things more exciting in the workplace, promoting entrepreneurship, and even simple suggestions such as celebrating more often and thanking individuals for their accomplishments.

These suggestions are in line with what we expected: that there’s always an element that things can improve and get better. This also underscores that the work-life balance issue is a very hot topic within companies these days.

Did anything revealed in the survey surprise you?
We were surprised at the high percentage — 26 percent — who said they would not change anything in the company if they were president. This may indicate that the climate in companies has changed. Organizations have flexed, bent and have made a lot of these work-life balance adjustments already. This suggests that many employees are happy with their company’s leadership and that things were working for them in a satisfactory way.

What can companies learn from this survey?
One key observation is that improving communications is a key issue among employees. Regardless of hard or tumultuous times, employees want to know what it going on at all times — even if that means bad news. Employees would rather know than be kept in the dark. This is also key to keeping morale high in a business. Keeping employees in the loop is critical to maintaining a loyal staff.

What other things can companies do to improve their work environment for employees?
It is important to note that some of the responses seemed like small changes, but were things that meant a lot to employees. For example, one respondent said that the lunch time allotted ought to be increased because there were no lunch spots nearby, and many employees had to travel if they wanted to eat lunch at a restaurant. This problem certainly could be remedied with very little cost to the employer, but would make a big difference in the employee/employer relationship. Think about it — the employee would feel understood and certainly appreciative if the lunch time was increased by 10 minutes.

What can be changed is often very individualized, which leads to the point that employers need to communicate with — and listen to — their employees.

Any suggestions on how companies can get their own input from their employees, and if a similar survey would be valuable internally to find out what the concerns are?
Yes. It could be done very effectively right now, when companies are ready to close out their business year.

Pool groups of people together in a task force and take a temperature of employee morale. It all comes down to asking. And if some employees are uncomfortable stepping up and revealing problems, business owners ought to make sure there is an anonymous way to get this information.

This is all important, because, hands down, happy and satisfied employees are far more productive than unhappy ones. If, at end of the day, people are working more effectively, it will help company’s bottom line and retention, and that’s ultimately what every business wants.

PAM MILLER is the district director for Robert Half Management Resources in Cleveland. Reach her at (614) 224-1660 or [email protected].