Rebuilding The American Dream, Part II
In a previous article, “How Can We Rebuild the Path to the American Dream?” I explored the impact the “Great Recession” has had on the changing employment relationship for contemporary workers and employers.
Now, Towers Watson’s newly released 2010 Global Workforce Study provides additional insight into the evolution of the employment relationship.
As a refresher, here’s the core of my earlier post:
“We’ve all experienced tremendous impact to our personal finances (and net reduced worth) from this devastating recession. We believed that if we chose to follow a prescribed path and live our lives in a responsible manner, our futures would be financially secure. The generally accepted path to a secure retirement included earning a college degree, additional professional certifications and/or advanced degrees, having a good corporate job,maxing out 401K contributions over decades of continued, steady employment, and buying our own homes.
It was the path to realize the American Dream. Like little soldiers, many of us lined up and drank the Kool Aid.
Following the downfall of the economy at large and its destruction of the housing and job markets, we no longer believe that following this path will secure our futures in retirement, or that it’s even possible anymore. Nor do we believe that the job we landed just out of college will be there until retirement, that there are many employment options for people at all levels and capabilities, or that our homes will continue to increase in value over time.
We’ve learned the hard way that paternalistic employers are a thing of the past. So many of our beliefs have been shaken to their very core!
We find ourselves living through a time of enormous transition in the employment relationship. Trust in our employer to look out for us evaporated as millions of jobs were eliminated, benefits reduced and salaries frozen during this recession. Even now, employers continue to continually reduce expenses to become more competitive on a global basis, further reducing their employee’s take home pay.
We know where we’ve been as employers, but where is the employment relationship going? Where will it land? How much can we continue to cut total rewards and still retain necessary talent in our organizations?”
Towers Watson’s 2010 Global Workforce Study’s key findings closely follow key points I made last October to reveal how employees now view their relationship with their employer. Among their key findings:
1. The desire for security trumps everything.
2. Employees understand they are responsible for their long-term financial and physical health but they doubt their ability to take on this role.
3. Mobility is at a decade-long low point, and many are sacrificing career growth for a secure job.
4. Confidence in leaders and managers is disturbingly low.
They conclude their results with the following assessment: “The pressures in today’s work environment will continue to alter how businesses operate and how people connect to their companies and work. At one end of the spectrum, few employers can sustain the kind of paternalistic employment proposition that has long held sway in industrialized countries. At the other end, it’s clear that technology will continue to revolutionize not only how work gets done, but also how people access their work and each other. In short, “business as usual” on the people front is not an option now and won’t be in the future, even when recovery fully takes hold.”
So what’s a progressive HR Exec to do? Apparently, there’s lots of opportunity to provide support through providing information and training. Here are a few examples of what you could do now at your company to build value:
1. Keep employees informed about the current status of the business. Hold quarterly meetings inviting all employees to learn how the organization is doing, how it’s shifting in response to market or environmental dynamics, and how their job relates to the organizational goals.
2. If employees now understand that they’re personally responsible for their financial and health care well-being, give them the tools they need in order to accomplish those objectives. Bring in 401K providers, financial advisors, health care benefits brokers, etc. to offer a series of informational brown bag lunches. For higher tiered performers or by level (i.e., manager, director, etc.), offer company sponsored, customized one-on-one financial consulting for the employee and their spouse.
3. Even though employees aren’t likely to leave due to lack of employment opportunities elsewhere, if they become frustrated at their lack of mobility they may demonstrate diminished performance. Keep ‘em engaged through cross-training, special assignments, and similar opportunities that let them learn something new to build additional skills.
4. The lack of confidence in leaders and managers found in this report is troubling. But it’s worth digging deeper in your organization to find the trouble spots and then build leadership training programs for senior management teams or individuals to enhance managerial and leadership ability.
There’s no doubt that the employment relationship between workers and employers is undergoing a tremendous shift from paternalism to personal responsibility. Because of that change, HR is receiving yet another opportunity to identify organizational issues and respond to those needs. Add your comments about how your employees have been affected and what your company is doing to respond to the evolving traditional employment relationship.