In the battle to balance the bottom line with the need to attract the best, companies have innovated – and sometimes stumbled – in very public ways.
Many have implemented intelligent, pliable arrangements that allow greater work-life balance, such as working from home, flexible working hours and other benefits that often allow women in particular to combine parenthood with a career. But others more recently have gone the opposite way, rescinding established work arrangements in an attempt to raise profits, and in turn, generating a mass of negative publicity.
At the very least these public skirmishes over workplace benefits and business costs have generated widespread discussion. At worst, they’ve generated furore from employees believing they deserve better, taking their views to social media and casting doubt in the minds of consumers, interested in selecting brands on the basis of corporate reputation.
But while it may generate reputational damage to companies involved in such tussles, such furore also highlights the tenuous nature of another aspect of employee relations – what the experts like to call the Employee Value Proposition (EVP). Better described as ‘the give and the get’. It’s a concept that’s been around for a while now but one which has been brought more sharply into focus by the raised expectations of today’s employees.
As countless studies have shown, today, more than at any other time in history, employees want to feel they are working for something extra. For instance, I am sure that’s how some employees feel about the opportunity to work from home – that it is something of the get that makes the give all the easier. I also suspect that any company that dares to remove it after years of accepting the practice might leave employees feeling short-changed, particularly if a boss changes the deal without discussion and seemingly without recompense.
And that’s where most EVPs are merely window-dressing: the ‘give’ is well spelt out and policed, but the ‘get’ is somewhat more ephemeral.
Here’s what we are doing. We’re spelling out to our people what we expect from them, and it pretty much boils down to hard work, enthusiasm, excitement, hard work, creativity, individualism, teamwork – and more hard work.
So far so normal, but we’re also spelling out just what we are giving in return.
We have found that while the best and the brightest relish the opportunity to work on big brands and exciting campaigns, they also want to feel they’re getting better at their profession and not just aping what their immediate boss has done during his/her career.
Surveys show that prospective employees rate very highly having the opportunity to learn and improve their working skills, so we have a heavy emphasis on training. Last year we ran more than 30 lunchtime talks on subjects ranging from budgeting to the state of the media to the use of memes.
There’s other things we’ve added to ensure the ‘get’ matches the ‘give’ –global seminars, overseas transfers (where appropriate and possible), loyalty leave, small gifts that get bigger for each year of service, generous maternity leave, time off in lieu of long hours, access to mentors, and working from home.
We require our leaders to take the time to coach, guide, value and support an employee’s progress and, importantly, we are making sure that happens through regular staff reviews and feedback. It’s not perfect, and we’re not suggesting it’s something that every agency can do. But it’s worth explaining why we’ve chosen this path.
Some business people talk about employees being a company’s greatest asset, but we don’t like to think of people as assets. Assets are an item on a balance sheet. People think and feel and constantly surprise us with their insight, imagination and passion. People respond. They want to be challenged and to be allowed to challenge. They want to work hard but still have fun.
Jack Welch, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric, perhaps put it best. He said: “The best companies now know, without a doubt where productivity – real and limitless productivity – comes from. It comes from challenged, empowered, excited, rewarded teams of people. It comes from engaging every single kind in the organisation, making everyone part of the action and allowing everyone to have a voice in the success of the enterprise.”
And we are also doing it because we believe our internal brand is important. There was a time in the ‘90s when employees were referred to as brand ambassadors and were trained to represent the brand. But the trouble was that such programs were ordained from on high: this is our brand and this is how you live the brand.
We believe when you have a compelling EVP, the alignment between the ‘give’ and the ‘get’ is better understood by all.
That means we start by attracting the right sort of people – those who accept the balance. For those who are already here, we communicate our EVP often – so they can choose to accept it, or they choose somewhere else. Either way, we get the best, most engaged employees. More importantly, we are asking our people to keep us to our promises.
Our brand is what our people make it. In this age of social media, that reputation will be passed on by countless voices through many channels.
Kieran Moore is CEO at Ogilvy PR and is a finalist in B&T’s inaugural Women in Media Awards, which will be announced during MAD Week next week.