How Northeast Ohio workplaces are improving Featured

8:01pm EDT July 31, 2011

A lot of the conversation the past few years has been around how the Northeast Ohio economy is struggling, and as a result, employees across the region are seeing cuts in their workplaces.

While it’s true that the recession hasn’t been the kindest to employers in the region, what’s promising are the results of the 2010 ERC/Smart Business workplace practices survey. For the first time since 2007, survey respondents did not list “poor economy” as their biggest challenge.

As a result of the recession, many of the survey results for the past few years have indicated that salaries were holding steady or declining, benefits were getting cut, and resources for hiring and training were rapidly drying up. Those declining trends seem to be changing. While some numbers stayed about the same, you may be surprised to see others indicating that trends are starting to improve again.

Cyndi McCabe is the president of the board of directors for the Northeast Ohio Human Resource Planning Society, and she says that many workplaces are starting to change focus from surviving to thriving.

“There’s certainly an enhanced emphasis on innovation — encouraging all employees to have a renewed voice in the organization to help find new, efficient ways of doing business,” she says. “There’s also more of an emphasis on employee engagement and ensuring that everyone is in tune with the organization and is valued.”

The survey results support that, especially when it comes to financially encouraging employees. The average percent base-pay increase that was projected for salaried employees increased from 2.6 percent last year to 3 percent this year. On top of that, the percentage of both management and nonmanagement receiving cash bonuses both increased, as well.

It’s been difficult in recent years for companies to financially reward their employees, and many workplaces have become more frugal in an effort to show their staffs that they’re not just asking them to make cuts without trying to cut in other areas themselves. McCabe says that while the economy is improving, that mindset of frugality is likely to continue.

“There’s also a re-emphasis on identifying and maintaining and leveraging best practices, too,” she says. “We’re just needing to do more with less. Even though I think things are starting to come back, I think [we’ll see] a re-emphasis on being frugal or being more questioning of what we’re doing.”

One realm that’s most affected by this continued mindset is that of recruiting and training. According to the survey results, companies are opening their wallets in terms of both, with 77.8 percent of respondents using Internet job boards to find candidates this year, which is up from 71.5 percent last year. The results also indicate that more of companies’ recruiting budgets are being allocated toward online ads — 33.7 percent, up from 28.5 percent last year. In addition to simply going online to find qualified employees, companies will likely be using cheaper and free resources, as well.

“Certainly, there’s still the reliance on word-of-mouth and networking and relationships, but certainly you’re seeing more of an emphasis on some of the technology — some of the recruiting software packages that are out there — and certainly there is more emphasis on social networking tools such as the use of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn,” McCabe says. “You’re seeing more use of those as ways of identifying and sourcing candidates and perhaps screening candidates.”

Not only does the Internet and social media provide some cost savings for your organization, but it has other benefits, as well.

“Using some of these tools opens up some doors that weren’t open before,” she says. “It’s not just the cost factor — it’s also the fact that it’s just creating a larger pool of talent.”

This is extremely helpful since survey respondents indicated that hiring and retaining employees was their biggest challenge, and this topic has been in the top-five challenges list the past 10 years.

Beyond increased efforts toward recruiting and new ways of recruiting, the survey results also indicated that companies will put more resources toward training employees.

“There’s certainly a heightened interest in on-boarding and ensuring that people come into the organization the right way and that they have a good grasp on expectations and the culture and the environment,” McCabe says. “There’s also a focus on the right training to do the job right now, so really asking the question, ‘What kind of training does a person need to be successful right now, and what does that look like?’”

The survey results indicate that 90.7 percent of respondents intend to provide financial assistance to employees to upgrade their skills, up from 81.5 percent last year. Additionally, the amount of participants utilizing Web-based training increased from 62.9 percent last year to 71 percent this year.

“Instead of long-term training, it may be segments of training — what do I need now to do the job kind of chunking of information,” McCabe says. … “If a person can do some training at their desk or in a slow period of time or do it in more segments rather than taking a whole day or a half a day to do training, there’s certainly some cost benefits there.”

With renewed efforts toward people, it also creates needs on the back end. In addition to businesses opening up their wallets for the more obvious things like training and benefits, they’re also starting to upgrade human resources systems and processes. Brenda Leisinger is the president of the board of directors for the Cleveland chapter of the International Association for Human Resource Information Management. The organization is composed of people who work on HR technology as well as vendors and consultants, and it focuses on people implementing new technologies and systems.

“There seems to be a lot of pent-up demand over the last couple of years, meaning there would be requests for projects at companies, but they’ve been put on hold because of the economy, and we’re seeing a lot more of those projects starting up this year and coming off a hold and actually being funded,” Leisinger says.

The encouraging aspect to this trend is that once these projects get started, they can last as long as three years, so they tend to be fully completed. The types of projects she’s seeing increasingly start also support the survey results for where companies are focusing.

“One of the hottest topics we see right now is the talent management side related to recruiting and succession planning,” she says. “Talent management can mean a variety of things, but it usually always means recruiting. There can be a lot of other stuff in there including performance management, compensation management, succession planning — anything related to acquiring, training and equipping their people to be successful in their current roles and then equipping them to take on more senior level roles. The name of the game is to keep the employees that are most valuable to an organization.”

With all of these new projects starting up, it’s also good for the employment outlook.

“Because things are improving and projects are coming off of hold and starting up, it’s actually making more job opportunities available,” Leisinger says. “Whether you’re a consultant or you want to be hired in as an employee, there’s a lot more in terms of technology projects to choose from right now.”

As 2011 starts to fade and companies begin planning for 2012, experts are confident that this year’s positive signs aren’t just temporary.

“Our expectation is that it will continue to grow,” Leisinger says of the increase in HR technology projects. …“Once a company has committed to moving forward, I rarely see any projects stop.”

As the economy improves and companies become more confident in their recoveries, it’s going to mean better things for all of Northeast Ohio’s workplaces.

How to reach: International Association for Human Resource Information Management- Cleveland Chapter, clevelandihrim.wordpress.com; Employers Resource Council, www.ercnet.org; Northeast Ohio Human Resource Planning Society, www.nohrps.org