Changing Expectations in the Employment Relationship
by Teresa J. Blandford, Vice President, Corporate Human Resources
COBE Laboratories, Inc.

 
Teresa Blandford There's a great challenge facing business today: a basic shift in employment expectations both from the employee's and the company's perspectives. Both "the right person" and "the right job" are being redefined by changing values.

The Rules are Different
Potential employees, whether newly-graduated university applicants, transferees from other companies, or internal candidates, are looking for different things from their work life than they were a decade ago. Today's employees are looking for balance. Sixty-hour work weeks, extended travel schedules, dinner meetings, breakfast meetings, weekend training and work schedules must be put into perspective in relation to family life, community commitment and recreation.

Employees are looking for a synergistic approach to life. "Work" is a piece of a bigger picture. Companies that want to attract dedicated, creative employees need to offer more than competitive pay. Today, prospective employees look for benefits such as family leave, tuition reimbursement, employee assistance programs, flexible hours, job share opportunities and financial planning programs. "Soft" cultural values, such as a company's commitments to society, the environment and diversity, can sway top applicants' choice of an employer.

Companies' expectations have also changed. Employment ads now ask for "team players," "consensus builders" and "creative thinkers" along with the routine qualifications of computer literacy and specific experience. Employees at all levels are expected to know more and do more.

Flatter organizations offer fewer opportunities to climb the corporate ladder, but more potential for life-long learning through cross-functional teams, lateral moves, and corporate training programs. Reward systems must adapt to the new emphasis on knowledge. Performance evaluation processes are beginning to demand and reward personal development.

Knowledge Pays
Wages and salaries are still important incentives. Compensation is still an indication of an employee's value to the company and top applicants can demand top pay. However, compensation is increasingly tied to an employee's knowledge level, to their ability to apply learning, to their ability to extrapolate experience from one field to another. "Being there" is no longer enough. Longevity is only relevant if it is tied to contribution. Increasingly, experience is only rewarded if it is applied.

More companies are implementing team rewards. Profit sharing and bonuses are commonly paid on a team basis in acknowledgement of the fact that leadership implies collective effort and that following is not a mindless exercise. A follower is no longer a "yes, sir--yes, ma'am" puppet. Inherent in knowledge-based employment is the responsibility to question, to actively participate. Team work is being specifically mentioned in job descriptions, and accountability for applying team behaviors is being used as an evaluation measure.

What Are the Implications?
From a Human Resources outlook, the implications are mindboggling. Compensation and benefits are under constant revision to accommodate the changing work environment.

Pay and benefits must reflect the changing employee expectations in order to attract job candidates and also offer incentives for innovative workers to stay.

Everyday HR functions are driven by shifting values. For example, the interview process has become a two-way inquiry. Traditionally, the interview was a vehicle for an applicant to "sell" a prospective employer on their skills and talents. Now, the company is under the same obligation to "sell" its culture and vision to job applicants. The process itself is often structured as a team interview; few hiring decisions reside solely with one supervisor or manager.

Managers and supervisors often need additional training and resources to deal with changing workforce values. Interpersonal and behavioral skills, workshops and communication techniques seminars are increasingly offered to help translate changing workplace values into business practice.

Recognition programs are being revamped to reward behavioral and attitudinal successes. Employees are being recognized for team behaviors and initiative, rather than simply showing up and punching in and out.

Employee loyalty has been redefined. Loyalty is now interactive. Employees want to work at companies that offer opportunities to contribute and grow. Those companies that provide channels for personal contribution and growth, both within the corporate environment AND in "outside" endeavors, will attract the most qualified applicants and will retain their most resourceful employees.

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