King for the day Featured

10:56am EDT October 29, 2006
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 that 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.

“This survey acknowledges what we’re seeing in the work force, which is that workers place value on work-life balance,” says Rachel Caviness, division director for Robert Half Management Resources in Columbus.

Half, the 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 Caviness about what employees really want from their workplace and how employers can help.

Twenty-six percent of those executives surveyed said that they would create an employee-friendly environment. Did the responses go into detail on what exactly that would look like?
We got quite a number of ideas, many of which had to do with achieving a good work-life balance. Some of the responses included: supporting more flexible programs such telecommuting options; allowing staff to wear business casual attire all the time; increasing vacation days; reimbursing for tuition and mileage; making things more exciting and promoting entrepreneurship; celebrating more often; and offering individual thank-yous for accomplishments.

These comments acknowledge what we already have seen and heard in the work force, particularly with Generation Y (those in their 20s and 30s), that they place more value in balancing work-life, rather than working 24/7 at a company. And even baby boomers are looking for flexible schedules and consulting projects as they near retirement age.

Did anything in the survey surprise you?
It was surprising that 26 percent of those surveyed said they wouldn’t change a thing about their work environment. What that says to us is that we are seeing more of the work-life balance already addressed in some companies. In Columbus, for example, we’re seeing more companies touting work-life balance (including telecommuting options and extra vacation time) when recruiting employees.

What can business owners take away from this survey?
The survey highlights some of the things it takes to attract and retain talent in today’s markets. It is important to understand the need of today’s workers — the need to telecommute sometimes, or have job-sharing opportunities, and stick with the 40-hour work week instead of burning out employees with an 80-hour-a-week work load.

The survey also revealed that 17 percent would improve communications. That is very important, because employees do value clear and honest communication in their workplace.

How can business owners and executives communication more effectively with their workers?
Survey comments included:

  • Improve internal communication so everyone is on the same page.

  • Have senior management do more walk-arounds so that people feel a natural connection with those leading the company. It puts a face to a title.

  • Improve the company vision so everyone is aligned with where the company is going.

  • Be more frank with employees about what is going on with the company.

  • Listen to employees more.

Would it be valuable for a business owner to create its own survey of its employees to find out what the gripes are in the company?
It is always valuable to ask employees how they can improve the workplace. Even more important is to ask what the key concerns are in a company. This is often not easy to achieve since there is the confidentiality factor.

If a business owner does conduct a survey, it must be clear that it is confidential. And it must be measurable.

What is more important than conducting a survey is for business owners and key executives to keep an open line of communication with their employees. You won’t know what is ailing employees unless you talk to them. Remember that employees want to hear from top executives about how the company is performing and most want to be asked about their ideas on improvements that benefit the business and the workplace.

RACHEL CAVINESS is the division director for Robert Half Management Resources in Columbus. Reach her at (614) 224-1660 or Rachel.caviness@rhmr.com.