What makes a company great to work for?
What is it that makes some employers magnets for high-performing employees who want to spend their entire career there, and others places where good employees can’t find the door fast enough?
LIBN interviewed human resources professionals about which employer attributes are the most important to employee happiness. Here is what they had to say.
A common characteristic among people who are happy at work is that they like the people they work with and, in particular, their boss.
“The biggest differentiator is whether employees have a positive relationship with their direct supervisor,” said Christine Ippolito, founding principal of Compass Workforce Solutions, a human resources services company based in Deer Park. “You can have the best company in the world, but if your boss is not at the top of his or her game, it’s all for naught.”
CHRISTINE IPPOLITO: A positive relationship with their direct supervisor is the most important indicator of whether employees will be happy. || Photo by Bob Giglione
A positive relationship includes regular feedback, said Ippolito, who noted employees want to work for a supervisor “that really cares about them – not only about their work, but their general well-being – and that has empathy.”
Companies must carefully select their leaders, and then “invest in training their managers and supervisors on how to give constructive feedback and how to prevent and stop bullying and harassment in the workplace,” Ippolito said.
Training should include teaching supervisors how to respond to basic questions like “When am I eligible for a raise?” and “What opportunities are available for me at the company?”
“A lot of times supervisors aren’t comfortable answering these questions,” Ippolito said. “The supervisor can respond, ‘We are not giving merit increases at this time, but we are offering training opportunities to help you learn a new skill’ or ‘there may be opportunities for overtime.’ Not answering the question is worse than telling the employee that there will be no merit increases.”
Besides a positive relationship with their boss, people who are happy at work typically have friends at the office.
“A positive work environment with people who work well together, where there isn’t gossip and bullying and negativity, makes for happy employees,” Ippolito said.
Companies can strive for that type of environment by “having a good set of company values and reinforcing them and hiring to the values,” Ippolito said. “I see a lot of companies that hire people based on job skills, but their people or communication skills are very poor or they’re just not positive. If you hire negative people, who are not friendly or helpful, that’s the work environment you’re going to get. I would look at hiring human beings who get along with other human beings.”
A key part of keeping employees happy is paying them a salary that is “truly competitive” – appropriate to the skills and experience level required, the demands of the position and the geographic marketplace, said Keith Banks, president of Lloyd Staffing in Melville.
KEITH BANKS: Firms that retain top talent work hard on employee engagement. || Photo courtesy of Lloyd Staffing
“A company may want a ‘bargain’ but candidates don’t want to be that bargain,” Banks said.
“People need to feel that they are being paid fairly,” Ippolito concurred.
The best situation is when a company offers merit increases – paying for performance – as opposed to across-the-board increases where the superstar is earning the same as the low-performing employee.
Companies need to make a decision about how they want to benchmark themselves against their industry, Ippolito said.
“They may say they’ll pay at the 50th percentile or the 25th percentile and have other perks,” she said. “Pay must be looked at in totality as part of a total package; for instance if the company is making a match in the employee’s retirement savings plan, it’s part of the total compensation.”
Offering healthcare and other benefits is great, but employees want them at an affordable rate, said Christel Colón, president of the Society for Human Resource Management-Long Island Chapter.
“It’s one thing to offer good benefits and another to have employees go broke paying for them,” she said. “The benefits cost is as important as the scope of the benefits. Also, people want flexible benefits. It’s almost a return to what used to be called cafeteria-style benefits, where you can pick and choose what you want.”
Of course, many employers, especially smaller businesses, cannot afford to offer robust benefits programs. However, there are some low-cost perks, such as concierge services, that employees appreciate.
CHRISTEL COLÓN: Flexible work arrangements can go a long way in making employees happy.
“A lot of times, concierge services don’t cost an employer anything,” Colón said. “Where I work, a dry cleaner comes to the facility to pick up and drop off our dry cleaning, and I can’t begin to tell you what an amazing benefit it is.”
Some employers also participate in programs where employees receive discounted hotel rooms or concert or sporting event tickets, among other services.
“Partnerships with local businesses that offer employee discounts – such as a gym membership or car wash – are simple niceties that people appreciate,” Banks said.
Work that’s challenging – but not too challenging
A firm that advocates tenure and creates career path opportunities for its employees will be more successful at talent retention, Banks said.
“Employees want to see that there are opportunities for growth and training and development,” Ippolito said.
They also want work that is challenging and that will stretch them – but not break them.
“We hear in the exit interviews that we conduct [for clients] what turns employees off, and some of the things we hear often are constant changes in deadlines and deliverables, and having an unrealistic workload,” Ippolito said. “If people feel they can’t be successful, they’re not going to stay.”
Besides appropriate training and constructive feedback, setting employees up for success includes providing a clean, safe workplace with functioning office equipment and furniture, as well as contemporary technology.
“It doesn’t have to be state-of-the-art, but the technology needs to be a high enough level to allow them to do their work effectively,” Ippolito said.
Flexible work schedules
When it comes to keeping employees happy, “flexible work arrangements is a big one,” Colón said. “This includes having flexible hours during the day and providing options for telecommuting.”
Employees appreciate the ability to work from home one day a week or once in a while, Ippolito said. And offering flexible start-and-end times makes it possible for some employees to drop off their kids at school or daycare before coming to work or to avoid driving in rush hour traffic.
Having some work flexibility is particularly important to millennials, Banks said.
“They are looking for flexible hours and remote accessibility,” he said.
Firms that retain top talent work hard on engagement, Banks said.
“They do things like publicly praise good work, they inject some fun into the workplace, they are transparent about their mission and they have good channels of communication between management and employees,” he said.
Some organizations have “on-the-spot reward or recognition programs, where employees can nominate their peers for doing something good,” Colón said. “The reward can be cash, company merchandise or a gift card – a small token of recognition – for doing something that was above and beyond.”
Lloyd Staffing hears about some of the more popular employee engagement programs that its clients offer, and the company has adopted some of its favorites for its own use.
These include the occasional “Shake It Up Friday,” which features surprise milkshakes for the whole team.
“Food is appreciated whether it’s breakfast, snacks or cold water bottles always in the fridge,” Banks said.
A more relaxed dress code typically translates to happier employees, as does the company demonstrating “a concern for employee wellness, such as time off for annual exams that promote good health (and that doesn’t count toward time off or vacation days),” Banks said.
“Team walks or corporate social responsibility activities like building a house for Habitat for Humanity are the types of things that can go a long way with employees,” Colón said, noting that employees feel good about doing something good, and working for a company that gives back to the community.
“Today, the emphasis is on culture,” Banks said. “People have become more aware of brand reputation than ever before and whether or not an employer is sensitive to their employees and the community and whether they participate in social responsibility initiatives.”
Employees and job candidates care about how an employer is perceived.
“Does it have a mission they can identify with?” Banks said. “People always want a sense of purpose and a feeling of being needed, which is part of a culture and an understanding of their role within the company and how they will play a part.”