LAS VEGAS—It's not a question you'll likely see dissected on ``The Jerry Springer Show,'' since ``What do my employees want?'' simply isn't that sexy a topic. Unless, of course, you operate a business. Then you're swimming in somewhat perilous waters when addressing that loaded question.
After all, there's a slew of books on the market dealing with topics about what women and men want. But when it comes to workers, it's not as easy to find an all-inclusive text you can refer to for answers.
In today's work environment, experts say an employer must almost be a blend of boss, communicator, psychologist, counselor, confessor and confidant when juggling the needs—and ideosyncrasies—of individual staffers.
On a worker's short list of desires are the obvious: job security, decent pay and benefits, and challenging work. Yet, depending on age group, those demands can differ.
Employers who hope to keep their companies successfully humming along had better be in tune with those dissimilarities, advises Bob Losyk, president of Innovative Training Solutions Inc. in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and author of Managing a changing workforce. He presented a seminar entitled, ``How to get your young techs and tire bangers to be more productive,'' at the International Tire Expo '98 last November in Las Vegas.
He offered dealers tips designed to reduce costly employee turnover, which he called a critical problem in dealerships and automotive repair facilities.
Quoting that eminent philosopher, Yogi Berra—who said, ``People leave because they don't want to stay''—Mr. Losyk told his audience that when an employee splits, they need to find out why. One good way is by conducting ``exit interviews'' in which workers are free to discuss their employment at the company.
``The younger generation today is a different breed,'' he noted to accompanying nods from many in the room. When he asked dealers for some characteristics or stereotypes of the 15- to 33-somethings comprising the so-called ``Generation X,'' they offered several. Persons in that age group tend to:
Stay at home longer;
Have a negative view of the world;
Place importance on having fun;
Want to be ``well off,'' but unless it's their own business, they don't want to work extra hours to be successful;
Like to ``keep their options open'';
Always question the boss; and
Want freedom on the job and challenging work.
Much of Mr. Losyk's seminar involved give and take with his audience. At least a half-dozen dealers of the almost 60 persons in attendance acknowledged they currently had problems with young employees who, in many cases, had to be terminated.
Those difficulties included laziness, a low opinion of the job, the employee didn't like the work, or said it's too hard, too dirty, too restrictive or too stressful.
Employee turnover ``is costing you a lot,'' Mr. Losyk said, outlining some of the overt and hidden expenditures, such as:
Training time and pay;
Cost of bad service and lost customers while a worker is being replaced;
Recruiting and advertising costs;
Orientation and training time for the new person;
Salary before a new worker is 100-percent situated in the job;
Extra time spent with a worker;
Cost of mistakes; and
Loss of knowledge the person took with them.
Much the same as older-generation employees, today's young workers want a decent living wage, job security and a promotion/growth/career path, he said.
But they are also demanding dignity/respect; flexible management; the latest technology and training; freedom/individuality; creativity/challenging work; personal satisfaction; and rewards and recognition.
Satisfying those requirements involves ``empowerment.''
A quick definition of that word means a worker ``feels free to make decisions when you're not there,'' Mr. Losyk told owners.
They begin to feel a sense of ownership in the business when given a certain amount of leeway. That can be accomplished by:
Encouraging spontaneity and creativity.
Allowing others to run meetings or projects.
Using team decision-making.
Asking for employee input.
Becoming an information sharer.
Clarifying all responsibilities and accountabilities.
Establishing individual and team goals.
Giving people recognition.
Asking employees to identify the barriers that prevent them from performing.
Asking employees what they can do better for the company.
Cross-training people for different jobs.
One key to effectively dealing with employees, he said, is for a boss to become a good listener, while acknowledging that diverse groups have distinct communication styles.
``When employees have a difficult personal situation,'' he added, ``show your support.''
He suggested the ``praise-to-criticism ratio'' be kept at about 3:1, and that owners recognize achievement, progress, and attempts at change and improvement.
Rather than react harshly to blunders, a better approach is to praise intelligent mistakes—which can show initiative on the part of an employee.
However, a system should be established to warn employees when there is nonperformance or negative behavior.
An advocate of a team approach to maintaining a work force, Mr. Losyk nonetheless admitted conflicts can arise within groups.
He proposed a number of ways to resolve differences, beginning with bringing the dissenting parties together. Question each person, he said, while the other listens:
1. What is the problem as you understand it?
2. What is creating the problem?
3. What do you want to do about it?
4. How are you adding to the problem?
5. What first steps can be taken to solve it?
Discuss the problem until there is a mutual understanding of it, Mr. Losyk said, then get the parties to discuss possible solutions. Once a solution is mutually agreed upon, have the parties agree on action steps that need to be taken.
Any agreements and actions should be put into writing and signed.
Mr. Losyk also provided dealers with a couple ``self evaluation'' forms that underscore behaviors that affect employee service, motivation, productivity and morale.
Under the negative behavior ledger are such actions as monopolizing a conversation; interrupting; throwing verbal barbs at others; using nonverbal put-downs; criticizing excessively; demanding one's own way while refusing to negotiate or compromise; making others feel guilty; losing one's temper frequently; disagreeing routinely; flattering others insincerely; joking at inappropriate times; bragging; and using crude, obscene or vulgar language.
Positive behaviors include giving others a chance to express views or share information; listening attentively; giving suggestions constructively; compromising, negotiating and helping others succeed; treating others as equals whenever possible; stating one's needs and desires honestly; questioning others openly and honestly, asking straight-forward, non-loaded questions; keeping the confidences of others; truly showing you care about employees; and giving honest praise, even when an employee's attempts have failed.
Adhering to the positives rather than the negatives obviously contributes to a more harmonious work environment. But Mr. Losyk said trying to meet employees' needs can save a dealership money when faced with the alternative: a shop full of unhappy, unproductive workers waiting to create problems or abandon ship for better opportunities.