Keeping staff members 'happy as clams'

RECRUITMENT

BY PAUL CAPANO

Building an organization involves recruiting "A-level" talent. But more importantly, it involves retaining that talent once they are on board. "Culture" is the trump card of today's high-technology startup. When a startup is on an equal playing field with other companies as far as vision, focus, and products are concerned, having an internal culture superior to other startups enables the company to not only attract "A-level" talent, but most important, also retain that talent. A conscious and strategic management decision must be made to maintain an environment supportive of employees and their families.

In the past, senior executives simply did not devote time to discussions on how they could help their employees become more satisfied at work. There were no debates over whether to provide additional top-of-the-line technical tools for employees, memberships in health clubs, sports teams sponsorships, on-site massages, bonuses for design awards, competitive paid time off, or holiday programs. In the mid-1980s, human resource managers would try to lobby for a variety of programs similar to these. In most cases, it didn't work.

Understandably, startups need to manage cash flow. In the past, most tended to ignore benefit incentives, preferring to bet on a horse called "good pay and stock options" to retain top staff. Now, with the challenges of creating new technology and increased competition to get products to market as quickly as possible, startups must make changes to retain their A-level employees.

A quick search of the Internet reveals that many startups today provide most of the major employee benefits that traditionally were only offered by large organizations. These quality-of-life benefits have often been one of the reasons employees stay at or search out companies that are well established. Conventional wisdom says that is good, since all that really matters at the end of the day is family. However, the consequence of this dated philosophy creates employees who are dissatisfied with their careers. Employees spend a majority of their lives at work, and if they truly do not enjoy their positions, their dissatisfaction can turn to resentment.

A-level employees now expect to be able to select from multiple-tier HMOs, preferred provider organizations, and traditional health coverage plans (medical, dental, and vision); long- and short-term disability insurance; life insurance of at least twice their annual salaries; 401K plans with matching contribution; health club sponsorships; fun days for the whole family; lunch and dinners brought in weekly (if not daily); on-site massages; dry cleaning pickup; training tools; and more-in an effort to create a positive work atmosphere.

Human resource departments are also changing. Instead of human resources (HR) being the place where employees hated to go for fear they would be viewed as troublesome, or felt they were called there to be put on report, HR is becoming a "human relations" resource.

A company can only service the needs of its employees if HR is aware of their wants. All of that requires much dedication and increased work for the HR team, but the rewards can be substantial. It can be rewarding when an employee comes by and comments, "It is so great to have an HR department committed to us and our families."

An example of how HR is helpful is health coverage. At World Wide Packets, health coverage starts on day one. That creates an administrative challenge, as health cards are not sent out during the employee's first few weeks on the job. However, if an employee or family member has a doctor appointment, the standard "old company" philosophy is for the employee to pay "out of pocket" and be reimbursed by the health plan administrator. It leaves an indelible first impression when a company goes the extra mile to facilitate the medical visit.

The company's involvement starts by securing the date of the appointment and the doctor's name and then notifying the health administrator to make sure the employee's family has been officially enrolled in the plan. Then the doctors involved are called and informed of the upcoming visit and the coverage provided. When the employee or family member shows up for the appointment, all they are asked to do is provide their co-pay, just as if they had their card.

Providing this service for employees sounds simple, but it requires coordination and effort above the call of duty. The HR team will prioritize the employees' needs to make sure immediate service was provided, which relieves stress and allows employees to focus on their critical work tasks.

People are the only real capital an organization has, and therefore it's important to make the work environment productive and fun. People spend a considerable amount of their lives at work, and so it should be a worthwhile experience.

Paul Capano is vice president of human resources at World Wide Packets (Veradale, WA). He can be reached via the company's Website, www.worldwidepackets.com.

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