What it means to be an ‘employer of choice’

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When you hear the phrase “employer of choice,” a few companies may come to mind, including cool fun companies like Google, Apple or Zappos.  For those of us living in the commonwealth, we may think of other organizations closer to home that create a “wow” experience for their employees, such as Advanced Auto Parts, Amerigroup, Booz Allen Hamilton or Capital One Financial Corp..

Being an employer of choice means that the company has carefully thought about creating an environment where people want to work and have long-lasting careers.  Management has created a place where people choose to work over other competing organizations because of what they believe the company will offer them in terms of the whole experience — compensation, benefits, training, perks, opportunities, development and purpose for being.

Roger E. Herman and Joyce L. Gioia have written a book on this topic called, “How to Become an Employer of Choice.” In it, they define an employer of choice as “any employer of any size in the public, private or not-for–profit sector that attracts, optimizes and holds top talent for long tenure … because the employees choose to be there.”  Being selected as one of these elite organizations can save the company money in addition to bringing it recognition.  Because of its strong employment brand, an employer of choice can reduce recruiting costs because of a lower turnover rate, and its higher engagement levels result in greater productivity.  The interest in achieving employer of choice label has grown tremendously in the past several years as companies vie for the opportunity to be included.  They have realized that earning this honor greatly strengthens their employment brand in addition to improving employee retention. 

A good deal of research has been conducted to define specifically what an employer of choice looks like.  Today it goes way beyond just having an onsite gym or daycare center to providing employees a truly satisfying work experience on all levels that in turn, results in a highly engaged and energized work force. 

Towers Perrin conducted a Global Workforce Study of more than 90,000 employees in 2008. The study’s results identified what employees need from their employers to feel engaged and motivated.  They uncovered the top 10 items that drive employee engagement around the world:

  • Senior management’s sincere interest in employee well-being.
  • Opportunities for employees to improve skills and capabilities.
  • The organization’s reputation for social responsibility.
  • Opportunities for employees to have input in their departments’ decision making.
  • The organization’s ability to quickly resolve customer concerns.
  • An employee’s readiness to set high personal standards.
  • Excellent career advancement opportunities.
  • An employee’s interest in challenging work assignments.
  • An individual’s relationship with his or her supervisor.
  • The organization’s encouragement of innovative thinking.

These top 10 drivers are the key to unlocking an employee’s engagement and are directly correlated to an employee’s level of satisfaction with his employer, a key driver of being an employer of choice.

So what are some things that companies should work on if they want to become an employer of choice?  Bob Carden, CEO of Richmond-based Virginia Blood Services, says that that when he joined VBS, its turnover was 65 percent annually, a rate that was costing the organization a fortune.  “From a morale standpoint, no one believed that we were capable of being any better than we were — and where we were was not acceptable,” he says.  “We were importing blood because we couldn’t meet our customer needs, for example.” 

A consultant told Carden that VBS couldn’t become an employer of choice because it was a “tin-cup company.” That harsh comment challenged Carden to correct the course.
He focused on a number of strategies, including:

  1. Offering meaningful work
    Prospective employees want to know what is important to the company and how those principles align with their personal values.  Younger employees especially are looking for companies that are really committed to being “green.”  They also want to know where they fit into the company’s big picture or vision.  Other important components include opportunities to collaborate with others, flexibility with work schedules and job content, personal growth, and community and social responsibility.
  2. Providing training and development
    Fortune’s top 100 best employers typically offer more training and development than companies that don’t make the list. The top 10 companies provide 32 to 135 hours of training each year per employee.  Some companies will identify discrete roles or projects that give employees the new skills or will send them to external management training programs to groom them for future roles. Successful talent management motivates employees, particularly when they see a career path and know how to move along it.
  3. Rewarding employees with fair and competitive compensation and benefits
    Compensation is a basic foundation that companies need to get right so it doesn’t become an issue.  How do you know if you are paying competitively?  Get data and find out where you stack up against your market.  Align your reward strategy with your business strategy.  Ask your employees what benefits they need and design your benefits programs to match your company’s demographics and desires.
  4. Inspiring employees with great managers and leaders
    Most employees do not leave a company; they quit their manager.  Take the time to invest in hiring and training great managers.  They, in turn, will develop great employees.  Ensure senior management includes people who communicate well and are representative of your work force.
  5. Creating the culture you want
    Unfortunately, in most companies, corporate culture just happens.  However, at employers of choice, management takes control to build and nurture the culture it wants.  Carden believes that ”the best strategy is a good culture.  Satisfied employees produce good results that, in return, generate the results that are being sought financially and otherwise.”

After a persistent focus on these strategies, VBS twice was named Employer of Choice by the Richmond Society for Human Resource Management.  Your firm can strive to earn this kind of recognition. The first step is finding out what is important to your employees. 

Genevieve Roberts is a partner at the human resources firm Titan Group LLC in Richmond. 
You can reach her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or (8,04) 741-2390.

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