Marcia Passos Duffy

Saturday, 26 May 2007 20:00

Blackberry etiquette

An e-mail comes in on your PDA device during a meeting. Is it OK to read it? To type out an answer?

Like cell phones, PDAs (personal digital assistants) can be the bane of business planners.

While cell phone etiquette has generally been established during business meetings (cell phones generally get turned off or put on “vibrate”), the verdict is still out on PDA e-mail etiquette, according to a survey developed by Robert Half Management Resources, the world’s premier provider of senior-level accounting and finance professionals on a project and interim basis. The national poll included responses from 150 senior executives — including those from human resources, finance and marketing departments — with the nation’s 1,000 largest companies.

“While our survey found that it is common for those attending business meetings to look at and answer e-mails, not all executives were certain that it is a good practice,” says Chuck Cave, vice president of Robert Half Management Resources in Cleveland.

Smart Business spoke with Cave about survey results and some tips on PDA etiquette during business meetings.

What did executives in your survey have to say about PDA use during meetings?

The verdict is still out on whether or not it is OK to check e-mail during business meetings, although many executives are doing it. The majority (86 percent) of senior executives say it’s common for professionals they work with to read and respond to e-mail messages on their mobile devices during meetings.

Still, 31 percent of respondents said it’s ‘never OK’ to check e-mail during meetings, 37 percent feel it’s acceptable to respond to urgent messages, and another 23 percent said using portable e-mail devices during a gathering is fine, as long as it is done outside of the room.

What kind of signal does it send to meeting participants if someone checks e-mail during the meeting?

It can be difficult to know what is considered acceptable as new technologies emerge. As with cell phones, it takes people a while to learn what is and is not appropriate. If you are focused on other tasks, you risk sending the message that you do not find the meeting’s topics important. Further, you could end up distracting other participants.

Because of technology, do companies expect executives to be available around the clock?

According to an article in the December 2006 issue of the Harvard Business Review, 45 percent of high-earning managers in large multinational corporations have jobs that demand more than 60 hours of work a week, large amounts of travel, unpredictable work flows, round-the-clock availability and heavy responsibility. They believe that 10 percent of these managers work more than 80 hours a week.

Globalization has increased the need for corporate officers to travel and communicate, compelling executives to be available outside normal working hours in their time zone. Advances in communication technology have made the middle-ofthe-night international conference call or e-mail both cheap and easy.

How should you handle an urgent e-mail during a meeting?

Alert your meeting host that you may have to respond to an urgent e-mail on your mobile device during the meeting. Be as unobtrusive as possible. Quietly excuse yourself from the meeting.

What is the best way to conduct a meeting so that people will feel disinclined to use a mobile device?

Preparation is key. Devote sufficient time to keep the conversation on topic and on schedule. Prepare an agenda to keep the meeting on track. Start and end the meeting on time. Resist the urge to invite people who have little or nothing to do with the topic. Encourage open discussion and watch how the group interacts. Groups that will be meeting regularly should be collaborating.

Also, if you’re running a meeting and someone is disrupting the meeting by responding to e-mail, you can discreetly ask the meeting participant to either stop e-mailing or leave the meeting, attend to the issue and then return.

CHUCK CAVE is the vice president of Robert Half Management Resources in Cleveland. Reach him at (216) 765-8367 or Chuck.cave@rhi.com.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007 20:00

Company assets

Accounting and finance careers are hot — but what career paths look particularly promising for 2007?

Robert Half International, the world’s first and largest staffing services firm specializing in accounting and finance, recently pinpointed five specialties positioned for the biggest jump in growth based on research from the company’s 2007 Salary Guide, actual candidate placements and discussions with hiring managers throughout the United States.

“Business expansion and ongoing compliance requirements will drive the demand for skilled accounting and finance professionals and intensify recruitment challenges,” says Alan Reisinger, Cleveland branch manager of Robert Half International. “So salaries for many specialties are on the rise, with a national average increase in base compensation of 3.8 percent projected for 2007.”

Smart Business spoke with Reisinger about the opportunities available for experienced accounting and finance professionals in today’s marketplace.

How would you describe the current hiring environment?

The hiring of skilled accounting and finance professionals remains steady mainly because business expansion, rising workloads and ongoing compliance initiatives continue to drive hiring.

Many firms are having difficulty finding skilled accounting and finance professionals. As a result, the competition for top talent has intensified. For the right candidates, employers are willing to expedite the hiring process and offer premium compensation to avoid losing these individuals to other offers.

What are the top five accounting and finance positions for this year?

Research shows that compliance professionals, internal and external auditors, financial analysts and public accountants are among those expected to see the greatest gains in base pay. Chief compliance officers at large companies (more than $250 million in sales) are expected to see increases in base pay of 14.4 percent. Internal auditors could see gains as high as 5.8 percent, while starting salaries for financial analysts are expected to increase up to 5.9 percent. Salaries in public accounting are projected to rise as much as 8.1 percent.

What are the reasons these positions are in high demand?

Compliance executives with U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission reporting experience are needed to help companies meet ongoing corporate governance requirements. Internal auditors, particularly those who possess the certified internal auditor (CIA) certification, are being hired to help improve internal controls and meet the compliance mandates of such regulations as Sarbanes-Oxley.

Firms are also hiring financial analysts to assist with budgeting and forecasting activities and to identify how their organizations can become more profitable.

Accountants who are CPAs and have at least three years of experience, including in public accounting, are needed for projects ranging from maintaining general ledger accounts and preparing financial statements to developing budgets.

What skills are in demand for accounting and finance professionals?

Employers are looking for accounting and finance professionals with a broad range of abilities, including strong strategic decision-making, communication and technology skills.

Professionals can distinguish themselves by earning industry-recognized designations, such as certified public accountant (CPA) and certified internal auditor (CIA). These accreditations can have financial rewards as well. According to the 2007 Salary Guide, professionals with industry-recognized certifications can earn starting salaries up to 10 percent above the market average.

What advice do you have for job seekers?

Understand which skill sets are in demand and highlight your strengths in these areas in your résumé and during job interviews. Also take steps — such as pursuing additional coursework and relevant certifications — to enhance your expertise in these areas.

Candidates should target firms where they’d like to work rather than waiting for want ads to appear. Many companies may be filling positions they haven’t yet advertised.

And vary your search. If you’re spending the bulk of your job-search time online, try to attend some industry events and schedule informational interviews in an effort to expand your network. During an interview and on your résumé, it's important to show you know the value of a dollar. Hiring managers like to see concrete examples of how you have saved time and money and enhanced productivity in previous positions.

ALAN REISINGER is the Cleveland branch manager for Robert Half International (www.rhi.com). Reach Reisinger at (216) 781-8367 or alan.reisinger@rhi.com.

Monday, 26 March 2007 20:00

Long-term savings

Businesses have been dealing with the burden of rising health care premiums for many years. However, the good news is that in the past couple of years, health benefit premiums are no longer seeing the double-digit increases of the past decade, and have slowed to a more manageable single-digit increase, says Shawn F. Barger, Pharm.D., director of clinical pharmacy management at AvMed Health Plans in Gainsville, Fla. Part of the reason that health benefits costs have slowed, interestingly enough, is because of the advances in the pharmaceutical industry.

“Yes, prescription drug costs have skyrocketed, but that is because there are more advanced therapies that did not exist 10 years ago,” he says. “But the benefit of these drugs is that they manage to rein in even more expensive hospitalizations and physician treatments.”

Smart Business spoke with Barger about these new trends in health care that may spell relief for companies that have been burdened with high health care premiums.

What are some of these drugs and why are they so expensive?

There are now specialty injectable or infusion products for diseases that are increasing quality of life; rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, asthma, hereditary diseases and diabetes. It is important to note that prior to these treatments coming out, many people — particularly those with rheumatoid arthritis — had a horrible quality of life. These new treatments can stop the progression of a disease and prevent the person from having to go on disability. So, while the treatments are very expensive to produce, they are having a huge impact on quality of life and the ability for a person to continue working.

How much do prescriptions drugs account for in an employer’s health care expenditures?

Roughly 15 percent. While it is not the majority of total costs, this percentage is increasing every year. The goal, of course, is that the more expensive drug therapies will decrease expenses of hospitalizations and emergency room visits. More companies — both businesses and pharmaceutical companies — are looking at what’s called ‘pharma-economics,’ in which the cost of higher drug therapies are offset by decreased visits to the ER and hospitals.

Is the increased availability of generic drugs helping to keep costs down?

Yes. The three categories of drugs that have been in the top five for drug spending have been statins (for high cholesterol such as Zocor and Pravachol), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs (anti-depressants such as Prozac and Zoloft), and proton pump inhibitors (such as Prilosec for gastroesophageal reflux disease/GERD).

The good news is that these drugs, which have been brand-only in the past, now have generics as alternatives to the brand, which has been a huge help in keeping costs down.

What are some ways that companies can work to rein in the costs of health benefits?

It is important for employers to remember, given what we just discussed, that managing prescription costs doesn’t always mean lowering costs. If employees are taking their prescriptions the way they should, the use of prescription medication will go up. But what might costs be if the employee did not take the medication? Would the employee take more time off because he or she is sick more often? Would he or she go on disability? Would visits to the ER increase? The employer needs to look at the big picture.

The way many companies are dealing with the rise in pharmacy costs is to raise the co-pays to offset the increase in prescription drug spending. But you can only do that to a certain point until it becomes a barrier to buying the medication and employees opt not to buy it — which can have many negative consequences. Co-pays should not be a barrier to getting needed medication.

What are some available cost-controlling tools that won’t jeopardize employee health?

Four major initiatives allow greater access to medications, which will show savings in hospitalizations over the long term.

  • 90-day supply of medication at retail pharmacies instead of just mail-order

  • Co-pay holidays if members switch to generics

  • Development of medication adherence programs

  • Removing prior authorizations and quality limits on certain medications

SHAWN F. BARGER, Pharm.D. is the director of clinical pharmacy management at AvMed Health Plans (www.AvMed.org) based in Gainesville. Reach Barger at (352) 337-8517 or Shawn.barger@avmed.org.

Wednesday, 28 February 2007 19:00

Consulting before retirement

Anew survey shows that the move from full-time work to full-time retirement will be a gradual one for many technology executives. Nearly half (46 percent) of chief information officers (CIOs) say they are likely to consider consulting or project work as a way to transition to retirement. This national poll includes responses from more than 1,400 CIOs from a sample of U.S. companies with 100 or more employees and was developed by Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of information technology professionals on a project and full-time basis.

“Retirement for baby boomer IT professionals does not mean leaving the work force entirely,” says Heidi Higgins, branch manager for Robert Half Technology in Columbus. “The bridge to retirement for these IT professionals is consulting work.”

Smart Business spoke with Higgins about the implications of the impeding legions of baby boomers moving out of full-time work, and what the consulting trend means for both workers and employers.

Is it surprising that CIOs prefer easing into retirement with consulting work rather than leaving the work force altogether?

Not at all. According to labor statistics, up to 64 million baby boomers, or more than 40 percent of the U.S. labor force, will be preparing to retire by the end of the decade. (The oldest baby boomers are now turning 60 years old).

Based on these numbers, it makes sense that as our average life expectancy increases, executives will want to be engaged in fulfilling projects — more so than in generations past.

Why would CIOs, or executives in general, be interested in consulting work?

Consulting work gives these IT professionals the flexibility to work on the technology projects they find most interesting, with fewer responsibilities, such as staff management and the politics often associated with it. The part-time work allows time to pursue other personal/professional interests that these busy executives may have put off during their intense working years because of time pressures.

Working as a consultant also allows people to continue to feel productive and give back to a field in which they have a lot of experience. It allows them to play the critical role of mentoring the next generation of IT professionals.

And I want to mention that it does provide a significant supplemental income, even working part-time.

What kind of benefits can companies reap from this trend?

One benefit is the tremendous assistance these partially-retired consultants can offer to a company to mentor the next generation of IT workers. This group requires less training and hand-holding when stepping into a company for the first time.

Companies are also turning to this group for help in managing legacy systems — that is, older applications such as ASP and VB6 applications that were precursors to dot-net technology. However, not all companies have the newer technology and not all entry-level IT workers know the older applications. So these semi-retired IT consultants are a perfect fit for these companies.

Are companies receptive to hiring retired workers or those nearing retirement?

Yes, because there are tangible benefits to hiring seasoned IT workers to a firm such as those mentioned. In fact, many companies are now offering incentives to attract these professionals — and offering perks that are advantageous to these workers, such as flexible work arrangements, telecommuting and work/life balance programs.

How can companies find qualified retired IT workers for consulting?

They can look inside their own company for CIOs or IT directors who are approaching retirement age and suggest doing consulting work with the company upon retirement. Another option is to contact a staffing company that specializes in placing high-quality, experienced IT consultants.

HEIDI HIGGINS is the branch manager for Robert Half International in Columbus (www.rhi.com), a leading provider of technology professionals for initiatives ranging from web development and multiplatform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. Reach her at (614) 854-0020 or heidi.higgins@rhi.com.

Wednesday, 31 January 2007 19:00

Positive environment

Are businesses more or less confident these days? Robert Half Management Resources recently took the pulse of U.S. companies and discovered that 40 percent of chief financial officers (CFOs) were more confident in their companies’ technology capabilities today than three years ago. One-third (34 percent) said they also are more optimistic about the accuracy of their companies’ financial reporting, and 28 percent were more confident about the loyalty of their employees.

The survey, developed by Robert Half Management Resources, was conducted by an independent research firm and included responses from 1,400 CFOs from a random sample of U.S. companies with 20 or more employees.

“Four or five years ago, companies would not have responded this way,” says Cecil Gregg, president of Robert Half International’s Southwest District, based in Houston. “The economy has been doing well and businesses are benefiting. Overall, businesses can spend more to support their accounting and technology departments and also are able to compensate their employees competitively.”

Smart Business spoke with Gregg about the reasons companies are feeling a surge of confidence in the areas of technology, financial reporting and employee loyalty, and how businesses can best take advantage of this positive environment.

Confidence in technology ranked the highest in the survey (40 percent). What factors have contributed this?

With economic downturn in 2000 and 2001, there were many technology initiatives. The problem was that businesses were not in a position to be able to afford new technology. Today, not only is there a better economic environment, but advanced technology now allows for greater customization.

In years past, software firms would come out with a package that would be very generic, but now so many of the tools are expected to have the ability to be customized to an individual business.

Businesses have been able to drive this innovation, and there is no question that businesses have the money now to buy it. So as businesses purchase these customized tools, they are feeling more confident about the way technology is implemented in their companies.

Another factor is that companies are growing and they need to accommodate the increase in personnel, particularly in finance and accounting because of the increased need to meet compliance regulations brought about by the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation. As a result, there has been a need to upgrade computer systems.

How are companies improving to ensure greater accuracy in financial reporting?

Because of Sarbanes-Oxley, all public — and some private — companies have worked to improve best practices, including the way they handle and track purchasing, inventory, credit management, collection, disbursement and accounts receivables. Old processes have been meticulously reviewed and improved in order to avoid costly errors and fraud. This is happening across the board in not only a company’s internal network but with vendors and clients as well.

Why do you think 28 percent of CFOs are more confident about employee loyalty in today’s market?

Businesses are acutely aware of the increased competition for financial and accounting talent. In fact, the demand for these professionals has never been higher.

With that said, we are definitely seeing that more companies are becoming savvy in attracting and retaining employees and have increased pay and bonus packages, training commitment and working options (such as flex time and telecommuting). The 28 percent that do feel confident have stepped up to the plate and are doing what it takes to attract and retain the best people.

In light of the competitive employment market, how are employers improving their retention practices?

Employers are putting more measuring tools in place and giving enhanced recognition to outstanding performance. The recognition can be done in a number of ways — for individuals, a team or departments, and can be given monthly, quarterly or annually. We are seeing employers offer more tangible rewards, such as iPods, cash and vacation getaways. We’re also seeing cash bonuses at year-end being enhanced or augmented.

Managers need to make sure their staff is not overloaded with work. Some companies bring in consultants to buffer the workload and augment the staff during busy or stressful times.

Having work-life balance is very important to today’s professionals, so offering benefits such as flexible schedules, telecommuting and additional time off can be an excellent retention strategy.

Another key practice is for company managers to sit down with their employees on a regular basis to make sure that job satisfaction is understood and supported.

CECIL GREGG is the president of the Southwest District of Robert Half International. Robert Half International (www.rhi.com) is the world's first and largest specialized consulting and staffing services firm with six branches in the Houston area. Contact Gregg at Cecil.gregg@rhi.com or 281-296-2812.

Wednesday, 03 January 2007 05:39

Hiring and compensation trends

The demand for finance and accounting professionals is high, yet the talent pool is shrinking: a surefire recipe for higher compensationand perks for those in these professions. Still, employees don’t realize how much negotiating power they have, according to a recentEmployment Dynamics and Growth Expectations (EDGE) report, which included survey responses from more than 1,000 hiring managers and 3,000 workers. The survey was developed by Robert Half International (RHI), the world’s largest specialized staffing firm, andCareerBuilder.com, the United States’ largest online job site.

According to the survey, 55 percent of hiring managers said it was difficult to find qualified candidates a year ago; 81 percent said thatit was just as difficult, or more so, today. But while the balance of power has shifted to favor highly skilled workers, the majority ofemployees surveyed said they are still feeling cautious about the job market and not very willing to negotiate higher salaries. “Hiring managers may be aware of the shortage in finance and accounting talent, but that reality has not yet made it on the radar screenof job seekers,” says Alfred Patawaran, division director for Robert Half Finance and Accounting in Cleveland.

Smart Business spoke with Patawaran about this curious discrepancy and what it means for both workers and employers.

Could you explain the reason for the talent shortage in finance and accounting?

Right now, many of the most skilled professionals are already employed, and there’s a more shallow talent pool to draw from.Additionally, with large numbers of baby boomers expected to retire, there simply aren’t enough highly skilled replacement workers todraw from in the Gen X and Gen Y work force.

If jobs are plentiful, why are workers proceeding with caution when taking a new job? And why are they hesitant to ask for more money?

Although the job market is currently in the employees’ favor, our report indicates that workers are still cautious about the market andare less willing to negotiate higher salaries. Seventy-four percent of those surveyed said they are not looking for a new job.

The layoffs and workplace uncertainty from a few years ago are still fresh in people’s minds, and many employees are hesitant to testthe job market when they have the security of a job. Additionally, although 45 percent of workers reported their compensation hasincreased in the last year, a much smaller number is willing to ask for a better deal due to insecurities about the U.S. economy and jobmarket.

What should workers do in this environment? Should they ask for more money, better benefits?

Employees certainly can afford to be a bit more assertive when discussing compensation. There are more job opportunities today, andbusinesses face a shrinking labor pool. Workers, particularly those with in-demand skills who are not maximizing the earning potentialof these opportunities, are selling themselves short.

It’s also important for employers to recognize that while competitive compensation is important, few employees are apt to leave a positive, supportive work environment for a modest pay increase, so retention efforts are paramount.

Still, isn’t it only a matter of time until workers realize they are more in demand than they realize?

Most likely, but our results indicate a shift that is subtle and gradual. While employees continue to view the job market as somewhatchallenging, their impression of it seems to be improving. Rising payroll numbers and demand for qualified talent paint a picture ofgradually improving opportunities.

What should employers do in this environment?

Employers not only need to streamline and speed up their recruitment process, but also look for innovative methods to retain the staffthey already have in place. Employers also need to realize the fact that the task of attracting and retaining will not be as easy as it has inthe past. Tried-and-true methods — salary increases, bonuses and flexible work schedules — are always good to implement.

But another important way to keep good employees is to make them feel valued. Most employees won’t jump ship over a modest salaryincrease if their work environment is pleasant and they feel that what they do is valued and appreciated.

Managers do need to take a real interest in their team members and how these employees can reach their career goals. Employees areless apt to leave if there is a good work environment and they are compensated well for what they do.

ALFRED PATAWARAN is the division director for Robert Half Finance and Accounting in Cleveland. Reach Patawaran at Fred.patawaran@roberthalf.com or (216) 621-4253.

Friday, 24 November 2006 19:00

Smart strategies

One of the top reasons businesses hire temporary professionals is to help protect the jobs of a company’s full-time work force, suggests a new survey by Accountemps, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. More than one-third of 150 high-level executives (35 percent) recently surveyed said the most important benefit of using interim workers is to help avoid the cycle of overstaffing followed by layoffs.

“This reveals that businesses are trying to avoid the costly consequences of over hiring, which include layoffs,” says Tyra Olson, branch manager of Accountemps in Houston. “It is a smart strategy to fill a short-term need with a short-term hire, rather than putting a full-time employee on board.”

Smart Business spoke with Olson about the various reasons companies should use temporary personnel, from avoiding gaps in productivity during peak periods, to evaluating prospective full-time employees.

Your survey revealed that companies are using temporary personnel to avoid layoffs. Is this a new way of using temporary help?

It is not a new way, but more companies are using temporary help for this purpose. Business executives are finding that crunch times — when there isn’t enough staff to complete a project — are not the best time to hire full-time employees. The workload often recedes after the project is over, and the company ends up with extra people on the payroll who need to be dismissed. This is not good for morale and does not make economic sense, since unemployment benefits often need to be paid for these employees.

Another factor is what these crunch times do to the employees of a company. If there isn’t enough staff, burnout is high and risk of employees leaving increases. Companies are finding that using tempo-

rary professionals during this time is an ideal arrangement. The company benefits from skilled professionals, and employees are happy because they can either work on a special project — and their day-to-day duties are completed by the temporary help — or the temporary staff does the special project and employees are not burdened by the extra work.

What other ways can temporary staff help a business?

Twenty-three percent of the executives surveyed said they use temporary help to, in effect, audition a potential new employee. This is a win-win for both the employer and the potential employee. At times, employers are hesitant to hire because — while a potential employee may look good on paper and do well in an interview — it is difficult to evaluate how that person will perform in a corporate culture, or how he or she will work under pressure. Hiring a person as a temporary professional is a perfect way to make that kind of evaluation. It is also a plus for the temporary worker, who can evaluate if the environment and work are a good fit.

What other ways can a business use temporary hires to ease staffing challenges?

Special project work is ideal for temporary professionals. They fill in where the company needs it most, leaving full-time employees free to either learn a new skill set with a project or work unimpeded at their job while the temporary worker takes on the additional project.

Another way to utilize temporary workers is to bring them in during a peak time of year, such as hiring extra financial personnel during tax season.

Temporary professionals can also help fill in for core employees out on medical or maternity leave, vacation, long-term disability or other leaves of absence.

What can managers do to help temporary workers better succeed at their jobs?

On the first day, it’s helpful if the manager reviews the temporary worker’s responsibilities and sets expectations. Other ways to ensure success are to discuss the firm’s culture and procedures, encourage questions and provide the temporary employee with the necessary resources to succeed. It’s important for managers to provide ongoing feedback and tell the employee if he or she performed well.

Saying thank you for a job well done goes a long way. There may be times when the temporary worker needs to hit the ground running at the start of an assignment, but making time for these steps will ensure a successful project and a happier, more productive work environment for all.

TYRA OLSON is the branch manager of Accountemps in downtown Houston. Accountemps (www.accountemps.com) is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals, with more than 350 offices worldwide. Reach Olson at (713) 658-1772 or tyra.olson@rhi.com.

Friday, 24 November 2006 19:00

Strategic hiring

One of the top reasons companies hire temporary professionals is to help protect the jobs of its full-time work force, suggests a new survey by Accountemps, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. More than one-third of 150 high-level executives (35 percent) recently surveyed said the most important benefit of using interim workers is to help avoid the cycle of over-staffing followed by layoffs.

“Companies are staffing more strategically, and hiring a temporary professional is certainly a wise strategy to avoid the consequences of over-hiring,” says Randy Wolf, branch manager of Accountemps in Chicago. “It is becoming more common among businesses to fill a short-term need with a short-term hire, so they can make use of specialized skill sets on an as-needed basis.”

Smart Business spoke with Wolf about the various reasons companies should use temporary personnel, from avoiding gaps in productivity during peak periods to evaluating prospective full-time employees.

The survey revealed that companies are using temporary personnel to avoid layoffs. Is this a new way of using temporary help?

It is not a new way, but more companies are using temporary help for this purpose. Business executives are finding that crunch times — when there isn’t enough staff to complete a project — are not the best time to hire full-time employees. The workload often recedes after the project is over, and the company ends up with extra people on the payroll who need to be dismissed. This is not good for morale and does not make economic sense, since unemployment benefits often need to be paid for these employees.

Another factor is what these ‘crunch times’ do to the employees of a company. If there isn’t enough staff, burnout is high and risk of employees leaving increases. Companies are finding that using temporary professionals during this time is an ideal arrangement. The company benefits from skilled professionals, and employees are happy because they can either work on a special project or the temporary staff does the special project and employees are not burdened by the extra work.

What other ways can temporary staff help a business?

It not only takes the burden off existing employees and diminishes overtime among permanent staff, but it is an excellent way to find potential new employees.

Twenty-three percent of the executives surveyed said they use temporary help to, in effect, audition a potential new employee. This is a win-win for both the employer and the potential employee. At times, employers are hesitant to hire because — while a potential employee may look good on paper and do well in an interview — it is difficult to evaluate how that person will perform in a corporate culture, or how he or she will work under pressure. It allows the company to curb costs associated with poor hiring decisions, including start-up costs, insurance and unemployment benefits (as a result of the employee leaving).

Hiring a person as a temporary professional is an ideal way to evaluate the person’s job performance and overall fit with the company.

What other ways can a business use temporary hires?

Special project work is ideal for tem- porary professionals. They fill in where the company needs it most, leaving full-time employees free to either learn a new skill set with a project or work unimpeded at their job while the temporary worker takes on the additional project.

Another benefit is hiring temporary workers at peak times of year, particularly when there is a surge in seasonal work. Temporary professionals can fill in for core employees out on medical or maternity leave, vacation, long-term disability or other leaves of absence.

What can managers do to help temporary workers better succeed at their jobs?

On the first day, it’s helpful if the manager reviews the temporary worker’s responsibilities and sets expectations. Other ways to ensure success are to discuss the firm’s culture and procedures, encourage questions, and provide the temporary employee with the necessary resources to succeed.

It’s important for managers to provide ongoing feedback and tell the employee if he or she performed well.

RANDY WOLF is the branch manager of Accountemps in Chicago. Accountemps (www.accountemps.com) is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals, with more than which 350 offices worldwide. Reach Wolf at (312) 616-8200 or randy.wolf@accountemps.com.

Thursday, 21 September 2006 20:00

Recruitment branding

Nike, Starbucks, Disney. Mention a brand and one can instantly conjure up a product, a reputation and an experience. If your firm is like many others, you may spend all your marketing focus and budget on promoting your qualities to potential clients. But are your potential employees impressed with your brand?

“Winning the talent battle is directly related to a company’s recruitment brand,” says Sunita Iyengar, vice president of the Clinical Division of Devon Consulting, a professional staffing firm serving the IT and clinical trial industries. “A company’s capability to successfully attract, engage and retain its targeted employees hinges greatly on its recruitment brand”.

Smart Business spoke with Iyengar about being an “employer of choice” and how companies could develop a recruitment brand.

Could you define ‘recruitment brand’?
A recruitment brand communicates to employees and prospective employees what your company stands for and why they should work for you. Word-of-mouth reputation, though important, may not be complete or accurate. Recruitment branding is a more sophisticated and integrated effort to create and deliver a credible and honest message about the employment experience in your company. Recruitment branding is not just a vision or a promise; it has to stem from and be consistent with your company’s reality. Honesty is key.

Why is it important to invest in a recruitment brand?
Competition for talent today is fierce, and it will get more challenging. Local talent is scarce. Hence, it is imperative to get a consistent message to talent, regardless of their location. Intangibles, like the culture of the company, have as much influence as tangibles. This means creating and communicating a compelling and unique perception of your company in the minds of target candidates and employees. A good place to begin this would be to ask, ‘Why would people want to work here, and what would keep them here?’

How does recruitment branding differ from a company’s product (or services) branding?
Ideally, a company’s recruitment brand should be integrated and aligned with the company’s corporate brand. People trust brands and consistency grows trust. Much of recruitment branding is a positive reflection of the company’s strengths and culture back into the marketplace of potential candidates.

What are the benefits of a recruitment brand?

  • Motivation for employees to choose you as an employer over competition.

 

  • Assistance for applicants to screen themselves in or out of consideration by helping candidates to evaluate the opportunity better.

 

  • Improved awareness and clarity of expectations lead to better alignment with and commitment to organization goals, causing higher employee retention.

 

  • Increased employee empowerment and motivation, which in turn results in better word of mouth reputation.

 

  • More referrals, shorter time to fill open positions.

 

  • Reduced recruitment costs, including cost of time spent in screening and hiring.

What are the steps to building a recruitment brand?
Assess and articulate your company’s strengths: Identify the top 5 to 10 things you would like target employees to know about your company. These should include any special advantages that employees may gain by working for your organization, such as room for advancement, opportunities to work on cutting-edge technology, opportunities to contribute towards a cause, and special perks like telecommuting and flex hours. Another way to garner this information would be to survey employees. Some questions to ask are: Who are we as a company? What do we stand for? What is our culture? Why do you enjoy working here? You can also elicit valuable information through exit interviews.

Identify the needs of the target employees: Your best employees are a good sample to study, understand and answer questions such as: What about work is important to you? What attracted you to our company? What do you like most about working here? Was the reality of the job consistent with your expectations? What makes our company a great place to work?

Exclusive message: Communicate how your benefits match employees’ needs. And if those are not offered by anyone else, you have created an exclusive and targeted message. You will also have to ensure that the message is consistently used across multiple forums — advertisements, direct mail, company Web site, recruitment videos, print material and other media.

Develop your branding message for a target group, not everyone at large. And the message has to be a way for your target audience to positively differentiate you from others. Successful recruitment branding is not static. It is important to frequently reappraise the brand and its effectiveness in the minds of employees and prospects.

SUNITA IYENGAR is vice president of the Clinical Division at Devon Consulting (www.devonconsulting.com), a professional staffing firm serving the IT and clinical trial industries. Reach Iyengar at (610) 964-5749 or siyengar@devonconsulting.com.

Thursday, 21 September 2006 12:35

Retaining top tech talent

Businesses today can successfully use creative strategies to persuade valued technology staff to stay on board. These strategies, surprisingly, don’t necessarily require hefty bonus checks, according to a recent study by Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of information technology professionals. While bonus and equity incentives are certainly on the tech employee’s radar screen, what is deemed most important among IT staff is for the company to provide professional development opportunities. The study found that next-most important were flexible schedules, followed by compensation.

“In today’s highly competitive IT market — where the demand for talent exceeds the supply of technology workers — companies are focusing not only on compensation, but also on perks like training and professional development and flexible scheduling to allow their IT employees to maintain a work/life balance,” says Heidi Higgins, branch manager at Robert Half Technology in Columbus.

Smart Business spoke with Higgins about strategies today’s businesses can use to keep their technology workers happy and prevent turnover.

What are the most effective strategies in keeping IT personnel?
The best strategy is to introduce initiatives to improve internal career opportunities, support work/life balance, and create an attractive and interesting work environment. These elements alone can significantly increase retention rates. The overall aim is to create a ‘great place to work’ or to become an ‘employer of choice.’

What is it that employees value the most about their jobs that keeps them loyal and prevents them from leaving?
Managers today are beginning to realize that company culture and manager-employee relationships matter just as much as compensation. If employees don’t look forward to coming to work each day, they’re apt to leave sooner or later, even if they’re well paid.

What do you recommend to businesses trying to retain their top high-tech employees?
One place to start is by providing career growth and training opportunities. IT professionals are always looking for ways to keep their skills up to date so they remain marketable to prospective clients. Companies that offer professional development opportunities demonstrate that they support the long-term success of their workers. At the same time, they’re working to improve the organization by investing in future leaders.

Another step companies can take is to empower employees to generate and implement their ideas. It’s important to let individuals take ownership of some tasks and to show trust in them.

As mentioned earlier, offering flexible work hours and/or telecommuting options is a step many companies in our area are taking to retain their top talent. While these options were once only offered by the most progressive companies, they are becoming commonplace, as organizations acknowledge the work/life balance needs of their employees.

Promoting activities that build rapport among staff members is another great way to help your company’s retention efforts. Employees who have friends at work and have positive interactions with their managers and coworkers are typically more satisfied. They may pass up attractive job offers to avoid sacrificing the relationships they’ve developed at work.

Is there anything specific to the technology field that could cause an IT worker to leave?
Technology is a high-burnout field, and it is important that managers address this pro-actively. This can be done by promoting realistic workloads, encouraging employees to ask for help, and tackling morale issues immediately can help prevent employees from feeling stressed and unhappy. Bringing in professionals on a project basis when full-time employees are at capacity is one way to mitigate the ‘burn-out’ factor that is common in the IT field.

How else can business owners and managers implement smart retention strategies?
Simply because compensation ranked third on our study doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. If your company’s salary levels aren’t competitive, you risk sending the message that your employees aren’t valuable to the organization’s success. Take the time to stay up to date on compensation trends by reviewing salary surveys and government data regularly. You might also consider offering performance-based bonuses to employees who have done an exceptional job.

If your company does not have a professional development program, consider providing tuition reimbursement. This encourages employees to seek further education or certification, which in turn benefits your company.

Other valued perks such as subsidized parking fees, health club memberships or meals also can be great places to start.

HEIDI HIGGINS is a branch manager with Robert Half Technology in Columbus. With more than 100 locations in North America and Europe, Robert Half Technology (www.rht.com) is a leading provider of technology professionals for initiatives ranging from Web development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. Reach Higgins at (614) 854-0020 or heidi.higgins@rht.com.