Real Business 12/01/2010
Strikes and unrest are fuelling our national psyche of late, which spells trouble for employers. Poor pay is the justification for bin men leaving rubbish on the streets, Heinz workers canning it for the day and Newsquest Media Group failing to make the news. Of course, with the 2011 economic forecast looking challenging, businesses should not become complacent when it comes to their employees but, in my experience, employee happiness does not start and end with pay.
There are two schools of thought as to how to analyse striking staff. The first is that if your employees are willing to strike, they are not worth keeping. The second is to ask yourself if your duty as an employer is falling short – would you really want to work for you?
Solving unrest, griping staff or malcontent needs strong leadership but it doesn’t necessarily require heaps of time or cash; most employees aren’t just in it for the money. So here are five pearls of accumulated wisdom on the simple ways to ensure your employees stay off the picket lines in 2011.
1. Make sure you are the right company for your employees. It is all very well recruiting individuals you consider to be perfect, but the feeling must be mutual. If your company is not right for them, your staff will remain dissatisfied and unproductive. If you nail your recruitment strategy from the outset, you can attract employees who see a future with your company, rather than wage slaves whose only concern is pay day. I offer all new starters £1,000 to leave after two weeks if they don’t think we’re the right company for them. It saves a lot of wasted time and investment on both sides in the long run.
2. Give your workforce a voice. Encouraging your employees to contribute their opinions and ideas to the business not only unveils brilliant ideas but ensures the “team” actually feels like one. You could give your staff a quota to suggest two business improvements per month. If the cost is less than £100, let them go ahead and make improvements for the greater good. It will never cost any more than this in goodwill or settlements.
3. Make the workplace a positive space. Offices are the voluntary equivalent of a prison cell – sterile, cramped and claustrophobic environments in close quarters with people you may or may not enjoy sharing personal space with, never mind a conversation. Making your workspace more aesthetically agreeable improves employee productivity and efficiency. I’m not suggesting you bulk-buy the beanbags immediately, but employee involvement in improving the workplace is a small gesture that gets bigger returns. Our offices now have a miniature golf course and Nintendo Wii when it’s time for the staff to take five, and turnover at our place is definitely up and not down.
4. Small but effective perks. Pay rises are not always the best incentive for employees. Regular and thoughtful perks can be really effective. “Free Food” day on the last day of the month is quick and easy, beer o’clock on a Friday always welcomes the weekend in and free use of the mooring outside our office goes down well too.
5. When it’s not right, it’s just not right. Employers (not employees) are the cardinal sinners of failing to address the reality of working relationships. So introduce a weekly happy check – ask your employees to rate their happiness on a scale from one to three, and then speak to people if they are unhappy. It prevents problems escalating and lets your workforce know you care about their well-being. However, people are all different and sometimes, despite everyone’s best intentions, it just isn’t going to work. Employers convince themselves it might get better; trust me, it won’t. This year, businesses need to have an honest look at their teams – are they full of people you’d go to the pub with for a pint? If not, the fit isn’t right and these staff aren’t adding value in the right way to your customers. Take courage and confront the situation to do both sides a favour.
Making your company a desirable place to work is not rocket science, but it is how you keep staff happy and motivated. Simple changes can transform uninspired and bored employees into happy and productive ones. At the end of the day, your employees are not robots; work needs to be enjoyable. Find the key to this and your staff will never prefer to strike again, even without a pay rise.