Breaking through the competition – how to make your company appeal to prospective employees
In a previous article, I talked about how Agile practices and pool tables are no longer enough to attract and retain employees on their own. But how do you make your company attractive and different for employees and prospective employees? In the last couple of weeks, tech companies have come under increasing criticism for providing meaningless “perks” such as pool tables and Friday drinks instead of real benefits that make a difference to their employees lives and engagement.
Providing useful and meaningful benefits to your employees is essential for keeping your staff on board – and equally essential is a company’s culture.
Without a good, positive culture, retaining and attracting top talent is tough. Great benefits and high salaries will take you so far, but if your company culture is negative or even poisonous it will come across in interviews to prospective employees and will cause your staff to leave.
How do you build a fantastic and positive culture? Culture comes from the top. Managers must be respectful of their staff and encourage them. Sure, this can be hard occasionally, especially if they are engaged on an arduous task (and let’s face it, every company encounters that sometimes) or if the company is going through a difficult period, but managers at all levels must look beyond this to the future to keep motivation up. I was recently asked how one motivates staff if they have to do an arduous and boring task. As a manager you need to remove as much of their pain as possible – not by doing their work for them, but identifying those pain points and working out how to reduce them, and by encouraging your team to work through the ennui as quickly as possible. Pizza may help.
Differences in culture and diversity must be embraced, not mocked – this sounds so obvious, but it’s remarkable how many organisations fail to do this – and allow some employees to bully others. No matter how important and valued someone’s contributions are, no matter how senior someone is – if they don’t contribute to a positive environment they poison that environment. Its effect, and the legacy of cleaning it up, has been felt in several high-profile companies recently (Uber, The Silicon Valley Community Foundation to name but two). Doing this can seriously distract from a company’s main mission and purpose – and that’s not to mention the negative publicity that can accompany such problems. To top it off, it’s been consistently proven that diverse companies are more successful, as the greater spread of cultures and experience leads to greater productivity and growth.
But what sort of culture do you want? Do you want a company where your employees are hungry and driven, or do you want one where they are empowered and work collectively? This will often depend on the structure of your company – one dominated by its sales team is more likely to develop a culture focused on individual success and performance; one driven by its development team may be more focused on collaboration and more holistic goals.
Flexible working is a divisive subject among many of my clients. For some, it enables them to reach a far greater talent pool than if they insisted on 9-5 in the office five days a week; for others, employees in disparate locations and working at different times is a barrier to successful collaboration and ideas sharing and may hinder practices such as pair programming.
In my experience, companies that embrace flexible working able to attract top talent considerably more easily and are more likely to retain their staff. It can also help them manage real estate costs effectively – occupancy surveys in companies that have introduced flexible work policies normally find that they can grow their companies without buying additional office space. Collaboration and creativity can continue to be stimulated through apps such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Join.me, to name but a few.
Why is flexible working attractive? It can reduce commuting costs and time, both of which raise employee satisfaction with their work/life balance, it can enable people to concentrate on their tasks without the constant distractions of a busy office, and it gives them the flexibility to manage their lives around work more effectively (which can help companies recruit a more diverse workforce).
Flexible working is often something that companies struggle with – and it’s not appropriate for everyone. But, and especially with the help of technology like Slack or Hangouts, and using cloud-based systems – it can work well. Flexibility doesn’t have to mean full remote working with the sort of extreme flexi-time embraced by some government departments; variable start times and the option to work from home one or two days a week can have a real impact on attraction and retention rates – it also can help improve diversity as candidates (especially women) are more likely to apply for roles where this is an option.
One client introduced a highly popular bonus scheme. Instead of financial rewards, the company introduced bespoke incentives – a bike and cycling accessories for a mountain bike fanatic, a new TV and games console for an online games enthusiast. Why was this popular? Financial bonuses often disappear into the household purse (and given that my last bonus went towards new carpets, I can sympathise), whilst specific material items or experiences are longer associated with success and may not otherwise be purchased. Such a scheme may actually be cheaper than conventional financial bonuses. Benefits always have a cost to the company, but some are more expensive than others. Doing a cost-benefit analysis is vital as it will identify which benefits employees will value, and which are a dead cost.
Additional holiday entitlements are a good, cheap way of extending benefits – and will help give your workers a greater chance to unwind and de-stress. In my experience, relatively few employees take all their holiday allowance when given more than the minimum, and so increasing holiday entitlements can have a lower cost impact than you might expect. Holiday entitlement can also be increased with length of service to encourage retention, or staff can be enabled to buy extra leave – this latter option is more complex and most suited to larger organisations.
Duvet days (when an employee can take a day off for any reason without notice) are also very popular with people, and can be particularly useful for people dealing with stress. It’s sensible to incorporate any such policy with holiday entitlements to avoid too much staff absence.
Upskilling benefits everyone, but not all companies are prepared to invest in training their staff. Yet if you talk to any employee, they want their employer to support them in developing their skills – but so many don’t. Being prepared to train your staff builds their loyalty – and widens your talent pool.
Working with your employees to understand what they value is essential to ensure that you provide the environment and incentives that they are interested in. Often the smallest things can make a difference – allowing people to work with music on, for example. Some come at a low cost (or given the savings on office space that truly flexible working can provide, even a cost saving), but the merit of even a more costly scheme can be well worth it in the savings through staff retention and reduced time to hire.