Job security centrestage
The conventional wisdom is that job security is something only 50-somethings care about; for younger workers, it is way down the priority list. In that sense, the findings of the Towers Watson Global Workforce Study, released earlier this week, are a surprise. According to the survey, which covers those below 30, job security ranks first as a driver of attraction. The larger trend that emerges is that employees now evaluate just how good the security blanket employers set up is. Even the reputation of the organisation is now being perceived as a surrogate of trust, rather than the badge of value it represented earlier. Stress and anxiety about the future are common, as over half the respondents agreed retirement security is more important today than just a few years ago. That’s a completely new idiom for India Inc which, till recently, was grappling with a high rate of attrition and wasn’t quite sure whether an employee leaving work today would come back tomorrow.
Many human resources experts, however, are not surprised by the study findings — considering it inevitable that a global slowdown, a listless economy and uncertain job markets affect employees’ mindsets. And despite exceptions such as employees in China and Japan ranking job security much lower, at fifth, this is largely true worldwide. The Towers Watson study itself says security is taking precedence over almost everything all over the world, and most employees would trade a smaller salary increase or bonus for a guaranteed retirement benefit that doesn’t rise or fall with the market (in other words, a defined benefit). More than half want to stay with their current employer until they retire. Salary and job security top the list of what people want when considering a job, followed by the opportunity to learn new skills and build a career — which are, of course, also routes to a higher salary and long-term security.
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It would be dangerous if many Indian employers see in this an opportunity to get even with employees who seemed to have had the upper hand when the going was good and when companies were forced to hire anyone with an arm and a leg. That would be myopic. The winners would be the ones who use this time to develop employee engagement — which may have begun life as a corporate buzzword, but over the last decade has been widely acknowledged as a critical element in drawing out greater effort from employees. Studies at a number of organisations have shown a clear relationship between workers’ willingness and ability to go the extra mile and improved financial and operational results. And high-engagement companies have been found to have operating margins three times higher than those with the lowest levels, have 6.5 fewer days lost per year per employee, and a 41 per cent lower retention risk.
If a company cuts jobs without being transparent and perceptibly fair, when the clouds over the economy lift it will be left with the ones it didn’t want to keep in the first place. The most talented will jump ship at the first available opportunity, simply because no one wants to work for employers they don’t trust. You can’t run a 21st-century business with 20th-century workplace practices and programmes. If anyone tries, cracks in the foundation will show up. It is difficult to disagree with Towers Watson that retaining those employees you want depends most on the quality of employees’ relationship with their managers, their trust in senior leadership and their ability to manage stress on the job.