With the unemployment rate below 5 percent and employers continually bemoaning a talent shortage that is, in the words of ADP Vice President of Strategic Advisory Services Susan Hanold, “lasting longer than anyone expected,” HR departments are feeling the pressure to increase both hiring and retention rates.
You’d think that the tight labor market would be driving up wages but, as many have observed, that’s not the case. According to the May unemployment report, wages rose just 2.5 percent over that last 12 months, “the same annual rate they have been stuck near since late 2015,” observed the Dow Jones News Service. “That is weak compared with the unemployment rate.”
Andrew Gadomski, managing director at hiring consultant Aspen Advisors, told Dow Jones that he believes stinginess with raises is holding back hiring. He called employers’ complaints that they can’t find enough workers, “code for ’I can find talent, I just don’t want to pay them as much as they cost.’”
The reluctance to raise pay is certainly a big reason HR is so focused on employee engagement. According to Gallup, the most engaged 25 percent of workers are 21 percent more profitable and 17 percent more productive than their co-workers in the least-engaged quartile. The least engaged employees have a 41 percent higher rate of absenteeism, and are 40 percent more likely to produce defective work. So it’s clear that engagement matters to the business. But Gallup estimates just 33 percent of U.S. employees are consider themselves engaged.
That impacts retention as well as performance. Most employees view professional development as a piece of engagement. Yet, according to ADP, 49 percent of workers believe they’ll have to leave their current job in order to advance their careers. Forty-four percent would jump to another job that offered the same, or even less, salary if it offered better opportunities for development. And more than 70 percent would prefer to grow at their current employer but don’t feel they’re getting enough support.
Taken together, those numbers don’t paint a particularly appetizing picture for HR leaders concerned about retention. Indeed, Hanold told WorkHuman that in terms of research, “the biggest thing we’re going to focus on next year is retention.” The reason: “Retention is becoming a business issue.”
Who’s Left Behind?
Not surprisingly, HR is looking at technology to play a major role in enhancing its engagement. Globoforce, which stages WorkHuman, provides a rewards and recognition platform that allows employees to recognize one another’s performance. LifeWorks encourages workers to participate in wellness programs by offering features such as social recognition and social networking. TINYPulse facilitates employee feedback, coaching and recognition. All of these products strive to provide users with the consumer-like experience demanded by employees while providing a wealth of data to HR and managers on the back end.
Most of these products often have some kind of rewards and recognition features embedded into them, thus adding more engagement components to the mix. Since pretty much everyone uses a smartphone these days, it’s not surprising that they’re nearly all mobile-focused. Indeed, throughout WorkHuman, two basic assumptions were at play: Technology plays a central role in developing an engaging culture, and access to technology is a given.
When an audience member asked Hanold about how technology-based programs can engage “deskless workers,” the entire room went quiet. Of the roughly 200 people attending the session, no one even reached for an answer. Indeed, from the look on their faces, few people seemed to have ever considered the issue at all.
In the hallways, the instinctive answer was, “everybody has a smartphone these days.” That may be true, but not everyone is given a smartphone by their employer and, the BYOD movement aside, there are employees out there who don’t like the idea of mixing work-related apps with their personal lives. And even if that’s not an issue, are assembly line workers, field technicians, hospital floor staff and others without a designated workplace given the time to use these apps, or is it assumed they’ll “engage” on their own time?
So it’s worth considering this: Enough tools are out there to keep employees in the loop wherever they happen to be working, whether it’s through texting services like Slack, customized apps or cloud-based communications systems that simplify the process of messaging, attending remote meetings via video, document sharing and the like. It may be that the engagement of the deskless worker isn’t an issue of technology, so much as policy.
It’s a fascinating issue, which we’ll be returning to soon.
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