The New Customer: Your Workforce

April 1, 2006

Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-04-01-2006, Volume 0, Issue 0

What does it take to keep your employees on board? In the 1980s, employees looked for performance pay. In the 1990s, they wanted job security. Employees' needs have changed as society has, yet one thing has remained the same: Employees are always looking for something more out of their jobs. They want better quality of life at work.

What does it take to keep your employees on board? In the 1980s, employees looked for performance pay. In the 1990s, they wanted job security. Employees' needs have changed as society has, yet one thing has remained the same: Employees are always looking for something more out of their jobs. They want better quality of life at work.

Emergent Life Cycle: 8 Stage Diagram

Need a solution? Treat your workforce the way you treat your customers. When you think about improving your customers' quality of life, what do you picture? Someone who lives optimally, achieves goals, and reaches full potential. Now envision your employees in those terms. Are your employees satisfied enough to stay with your company? Quality of life at work helps unlock the door to employee retention—firms that do not align work with employee needs increase the likelihood of able employees quitting, and leaving less talented staff behind.

The following is a guide on how to understand and capitalize on your employee-firm relationship. Remember, retention starts before recruitment, not at resignation.

Causes of Turnover

Many companies view turnover as an inherent cost of operating a business, but a high turnover rate is a red flag that indicates things are not going well. Employers need to pinpoint the breakdowns in the relationship with employees. So, what do these breakdowns look like?

  • Poor job descriptions

  • Unrealistic expectations set by recruiter

  • Team members not prepared for new hire on first day

  • No employee recognition

  • Inflexible work schedules

  • Delayed performance appraisals.

Some of these instances may be easier to pinpoint than others, but the following are more concrete signs that indicate your employee may be leaving:

  • Frequent talk about "burnout"

  • Withdrawal from coworkers or team

  • Reduction or shift in work hours

  • Unusual change in behavior patterns, such as atypical attire or odd lunch hours

  • Loss of interest in work-related areas

  • Reduced productivity

  • Revisting past complaints

  • Increased absenteeism.

Although it is critical to recognize potential breakdowns and signs, the real goal is to find solutions. The mapping of these key phases should be seen as a guide for creating strategic—and sustainable—retention plans.

Employee Life Cycle

The "Emergent Life Cycle" is a retention model and a map that provides a framework for understanding contact between employees and the organization. The following eight stages are the crucial points for helping a firm make favorable impressions on future and current employees, and for formulating a strong retention strategy.

Attraction This first phase is the time when potential employees seek out open positions. Consider what attracts you to other people—confidence, authority, and personality. Employees looking at your company are looking for those same qualities. Just as they want a firm with a strong reputation and a solid work environment, you want a candidate with the appropriate character. Finding someone who fits in with your company culture will be beneficial to both parties in the long run.

Recruitment Think about the way American Idol chooses its candidates. The show picks from a pool of thousands and has to get down to that one final contestant. If the judges chose a winner from a select pool of trained or naturally gifted vocalists, then they could get to their next singing star much easier. But along the way, the judges have to sift through hundreds of unqualified wannabes.

Recruiters at pharmaceutical companies face a similar situation. During the time from open position to hire, recruiters are faced with large pools of candidates. This means the ability to pick and choose, but it also means sifting through lots of unqualified candidates. The goal during this period should be identifying candidates whose values align with your company's culture.

A note of caution, though: Top talent at one company doesn't always translate at another. A job applicant whose skill set appears perfect on paper may not necessarily be the right fit at your organization. For example, if your company considers teamwork its highest priority, hiring a candidate whose previous firm valued competitiveness above all else could create a conflict.

Expectancy The period from hire to start can be overwhelming. To make it easier, fellow employees, or ideally, future team members, can help a new employee transition into the company and serve as catalysts for his success. Even a gesture as simple as introducing team members and their positions can be greatly beneficial; the employee will feel comfortable asking about future projects and assignments.

Formative Days Just because you held a welcome party on your new hire's first day doesn't mean your job is done. The first two weeks are a period of adjustment and growth. An orientation that informs your new employee of what he needs to work on is expected, but even more beneficial is an explanation of how to work and succeed at your company. Include team members in the orientation so they can demonstrate how the team works, and what tools are used to succeed. This way your new employee is prepared to do the job in a way that is in line with your needs.

Growth Enablement After six months, the new employee will no longer be "new" and the job may become routine and unchallenging. Create career development initiatives, such as job-related training and senior mentoring, to keep employees challenged. Employees are always looking to develop new skills, but if you don't provide the means, they will look elsewhere.

Development As the employee continues to grow with the company, it's crucial to provide constant encouragement and support. The six-to-24-month period is a time when employees develop greater job autonomy. It's a good idea to continue mentoring programs through this stage, to help the employee maintain good work habits. Bad habits are hard to break.

Work/Life Actualization You think that since employees have been with a company for two years they're in for the long haul? Not so. From this stage forward, you must continue working hard to give employees reason not to look elsewhere.

Companies are realizing how important it is to support an employee's personal growth. Tuition reimbursement, flextime, and on-site childcare are great ways to reward employees. This is the phase when it's most important to think about work/life balance; firms that do not understand this end up with staff members who are often dissatisfied, unmotivated, and disengaged.

Separation Regardless of the employee-firm relationship, you will have star employees who leave. Instead of dwelling on feelings of betrayal, identify the root causes of separation and use them to strengthen your future retention strategy. Employees complain about feeling cast off at the exit interview; use it as an opportunity to solidify a working relationship.

Strategies and Solutions

Gaps can exist at each stage so it helps to clarify which has the most impact on your workforce. Who better to ask than the people who are most directly affected? Employees know from the front lines what is going right and wrong, and what can be improved upon. Having in-person conversations with employees—hearing it from the horse's mouth, so to speak—can be a more efficient way of realizing systemic gaps, and formulating solutions.

Outside vendors are sometimes helpful, but be wary of canned solutions—answers to your retention issues must align with your company's unique goals.

Avoid problems by keeping strategies fresh. Periodically reassess your needs to ensure that your company is able to progressively change with the evolving workforce environment.

By focusing on all eight stages, you'll be able to retain a solid workforce and provide an environment that fosters productivity and commitment. With 77 million baby boomers on their way to retirement and only 44 million potential workers to replace them, how will the shortage of top talent affect your company? Don't wait to find out.

Chason Hecht is president of Retensa. He can be reached at chason@retensa.com