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Scott-Ladd, B., Travaglione, A., Perryer, C. & Pick, D. (2010). Attracting and Retaining Talent: Social Organisational Support as An Emergent Concept, Research and Practice in Human Resource Management, 18(2), 1-14.
Attracting and Retaining Talent: Social Organisational Support as An Emergent Concept
Similar to other developed nations the cultural and social demographic profile of Australia has changed considerably in the past three decades. This is likely to accelerate into the twenty first century. Employee expectations and social needs have changed and these changes impinge on organisations, which is resulting in an increasingly complex and demanding workplace environment that has implications for the attraction and retention of talent. This paper discusses an exploratory focus group study involving 35 managers from varying backgrounds. The paper identifies practical issues that concern managers and identifies they feel ill equipped to manage the social issues arising from changes in the workforce, with argument for a reevaluation of the role human resource practitioners and managers need to adopt to assist organisations in providing social support to employees. Implementing social organisational support will help define the more employee friendly workplaces and aid attraction and retention to assist organisations become employers of choice.
The 2010 Intergenerational Report, commissioned by the Australian Government, highlights that Australia faces real challenges for maintaining its work force into the future (Australian Government 2010) and halting declining productivity (Tanner 2010). An ageing population and increased diversity through migration will constrain living standards unless ways are found to keep older workers in the workforce longer and manage diversity (Australian Government 2010). So far researchers have failed to fully investigate what is needed (Bardoel, De Cieri & Santos 2008), but Burgess, Strachan and French (2010: 271) warn that “… more extensive and sophisticated …” responses are needed.
This paper has two purposes. The first is to report on the findings of a study conducted (OECD 2009) into the key social issues within organisations and the community that are likely to affect employee attraction and retention in the coming decade. The second purpose is to explore whether managers believed they were effective in supporting their organisation as an employer of choice. Australia, similar to other developed countries in needing to deal with more culturally diverse workforces, employs migration to fill both skilled and unskilled gaps in labour forces (OECD 2009). There is also the added stress of flexible labour markets, where some workers have good prospects and others, especially the poorly educated, have limited prospects (Australian Psychological Society 2009, WHO 2010). For other institutions and community groups, improved education and technology exposure has led to changing values, particularly among different generational cohorts (Twenge 2010).
These employment related issues raise concerns regarding workforce diversity. In addition, there are serious questions about work and family balance (Pocock 2005, Sheehan, Holland & DeCieri 2006) and how these can be managed in countries that are experiencing low birthrates and increasingly aging populations (OECD 2005, Verworn, Schwarz & Herstatt 2009). Early research into meeting diversity needs have taken a limited focus, and found considerable variation in terms of equity and implementation (Hall & Atkinson 2006). These and other relevant studies, into work and family balance, and gender, for example, have led to a call for improved communication in organisations and better training of managers based on an understanding of what employees need and value. Within the new world order the changing environments poses challenges for organisations and human resource management practitioners in attracting and retaining employees of choice. An Australian Human Resources Institute survey reported in 2006 that 76 per cent of over 1300 human resource managers saw the need for improved attraction and retention strategies (Sheehan, et al. 2006). The evidence was many companies were already working on improving recruitment processes and practice, however, retention strategies such as job design, employee engagement, diversity management and work life balance were receiving less attention, despite being considered important (Sheehan, et al. 2006). In addition, a recent benchmarking study commissioned by the Australian Government found many companies lacked “… people management skills …” (Green 2009: 12) and that “…effective people management is paramount, and is achieved when companies follow a structured and focused approach to the attraction, retention and development of talent …” (Green 2009: 12).
This paper reports on a focus group study where 35 practicing managers discussed and rated the issues and challenges they believe will accelerate in the coming decades. The paper starts by reviewing the importance of attracting and retaining quality employees and then discusses the theoretical frameworks that currently underpin the employer employee relationship. How the makeup of the workforce is changing, and the affects of changing values and expectations, as well as the challenges this creates for managers are discussed. The methodology details the qualitative approach before the results are explained. This section of the paper is followed by a discussion of the findings and the implications of these for practitioners and theoreticians. Finally, the paper proposes that organisations need to redefine the way they manage their social obligations to employees.
Organisations need to attract and retain effective employees for the good of the organisation (Cascio 2006). While this notion fits within the human resource management (HRM) role, more recent literature has focused on the importance of talent management. In its simplest form, talent management is the“… strategic management of the flow of talent through an organisation.” (Duttagupta, 2005: 2). It is about ensuring the organisation not only attracts quality employees but their potential is developed and these high performing employees are retained for the organisation’s benefit (Iles, Preece & Chuai 2010).However, employees also have expectations of organisations as the relationship is one of mutual obligation.
The belief that building and maintaining relationships benefits both the organisation and individual is the essence of social capital theory (Andriessen & Gubbins 2009). On the one hand, organisations need to address the conflicting expectations of various stakeholders (Donaldson & Preston 1995, Carroll & Buchholtz 2008), but they need to do so in a way that recognises the very strong ties that are part of the employee employer relationship. There is some debate about how this social relationship is defined. For example, Lin, Ensel and Vaughan (1981) claim it is related to relationships with shared content, activities or resources member’s value. Alternatively, Granovetter (1973) focuses more on the strength of the ties in the relationship, with greater social capital being associated with stronger ties. This analogy can be applied to a wider societal or communal setting, but social capital theory is focused on the bonds linking individuals (Adler & Kwon 2002). Cooperation and trust underpin and are fundamental for a reciprocal relationship and social exchange (Putnam 2000).
Social exchange theory (Blau 1964) predicts that, given certain conditions, people seek to respond positively to those who bring benefit to them (Bateman & Organ 1983). Applying this to the workplace, an organisation that acts in a positive way towards employees creates reciprocity so employees generally respond in positive ways that are beneficial to the organisation (Eder 2008) thus, establishing an exchange relationship (Settoon, Bennett & Liden 1996). Given that employees, especially in a booming economy, have more power, options and discretion over whether they stay with an organisation, it seems likely that employees, who feel the organisation has acted positively towards them, are more likely to be committed and remain with the organisation (Van Knippenberg 2006). Conversely, if the organisation has not acted positively towards an employee, the employee is less likely to want to remain (Chiu, et al. 2005, Maertz, et al. 2007).
One aspect of a positive and supportive organisational environment is an employee’s perceived organisational support (POS). This employee attitude is deemed by many organisations as valuable, as is evidenced by the many programmes they invest in to develop the POS of their employees (Riggle, Edmondson & Hansen 2009). POS can be defined as the overall extent to which employees believe that their organisation values their contribution and cares about their wellbeing (Eisenberger, et al. 1986). This aspect of an organisational environment can have a strong influence on an employee’s organisational commitment and trust (Perryer & Jordan 2005). The concepts of social exchange and the norm of reciprocity are often used by researchers to describe the motivation for employees to display positive behaviours, such as loyalty, which are not formally rewarded or contractually required by the organisation (Settoon, et al. 1996, Rhoades & Eisenberger 2002).
The authors of this paper suggest these theories do not go far enough. While they do highlight the importance of developing a relationship of mutual respect, this can only thrive if employees believe their needs are understood and met. The listed theories, which underpin the employer and employee social relationship, tend to focus on what happens within the organisation and fail to recognise that employee satisfaction and commitment can be eroded by events external to the organisation. It may be as simple as knowing that a single parent may need to start work at 9:15 am and finish at 3:15 pm every day, so that the parent can transport the children to and from school. It could also extend to more complex issues, such as, understanding a particular employees performance has declined because of a depressive episode or a personal struggle with drug abuse. A recent study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity in the US identified that line managers play the most critical role in facilitating and developing employees (Pace 2010). To do this effectively managers also need the skills to be able to handle the more complex issues, which underpins provision of social organisational support (SOS). Clearly, organisations need to understand the needs of, and the benefits desired, by an individual employee. Therefore, the authors define SOS as the organisation’s ability to support managers in responding appropriately to the multiple demands of an employee’s social needs and obligations to foster a beneficial, reciprocal relationship. HRM practitioners clearly have a role in facilitating SOS, but it seems imperative for good on the job relationships that these phenomena are fostered between managers and the staff they supervise.
The Changing workforce
Managers at all levels have to deal with changing organisational structures, work patterns and diversity management strategies if they are to retain ‘top talent’and become employers of choice. Even if current strategies, such as child are and family friendly work practices apply to a significant number of employees, will these strategies remain adequate for the future? Burgess, et al. (2010) argue that “… more extensive and sophisticated …” (Burgess, et al. 2010: 271) responses are required, but insufficient attention is being paid to this need, particularly as evidence already shows that work life balance initiatives boost an employee reputation as an employer of choice (Lansbury & Baird 2004, Pocock 2005).
Other issues that need to be considered are the changes that are emerging in the workforce. There are generational differences, increasing diversity through migration and labour market differences, all of which are expected to grow. Beck and Beck-Gernsheim (2009) argue that globalisation has seen the breakdown of individuals’lives into functional components, such as being a worker, voter, taxpayer and parent, and these functions then become part of our social identity. In this sense, social identity allows individuals to categorise themselves into many different ‘in groups’ as distinct from ‘out groups’ to help create a positive sense of belonging (George & Chattopadhyay 2002). Work forms a large part of this identity. An example of this is how intergenerational differences in attitudes towards such factors as work, authority, relationships, and behavioural standards (Loomis 2000,Twenge 2010) affect motivation, interests and reward expectations. For instance, baby boomers (born from 1945 to the 1965) are portrayed as being idealistic, optimistic and inner directed (Kupperschmidt 2000, Loomis 2000). Contexts have been advanced,for this and hence, these cohorts have attitudes and values that were shaped by such events as the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr, the ColdWar, the VietnamWar, the first lunar landing and the availability of the contraceptive pill. Generation X people (born between the mid 1960s and the early 1980s) are described as adaptable, team oriented, technologically competent and entrepreneurial, but at the same time, as cynical, sullen, contemptuous, naïve and arrogant (Jurkiewicz 2000, Ferres, Travaglione & Firns 2001). While exposed to extraordinary technological, economic and social change, this later born group were scarred by the restructuring and downsizing that occurred as they entered the workforce in the 1990s. GenerationY (born after the early 1980s) are generally described as smart, informal and view work as less central to their lives than previous generations.
Another social dimension is increased total diversity. Similar to other OECD countries Australia faces an ageing population and increasing migration (Australian Government 2010). Migration to fill labour shortages, and particularly high skilled shortages, is a common policy response in many developed countries (OECD 2009). Quite apart from the cultural differences, migrants are often also economically disadvantaged and so become socially disadvantaged by being located in poorer areas, which compounds other disadvantages such as limited language skills or support networks. Australia already relies heavily on overseas workers, such as backpackers, skilled migrants and short term visa holders (Australian Government 2010). Their diverse cultural heritages mean different values, language and communication barriers, lack of social and community support, and the possible increase in workplace discrimination and prejudice are more challenges for managers.
Another issue of increasing concern relates to psychological issues in the workplace. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (2007b) estimated that one in five Australians suffer from some form of mental disorder, which can range from stress, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression, to drug and alcohol abuse. An Australian Psychological Society (2009) survey into the impact of the global economic downturn on the currently employed revealed that 37 per cent reported being under financial strain, 20 per cent reported an increase to their workload and 27 per cent indicated moderate to extreme concern about job security. Work related factors, such as performance investigations, complaints, exposure to aggressive clients, conflict with colleagues, high workloads, poor management/supervisory skills, transfers and poor person-job fit all place psychological wellbeing at risk (Jackson & Clements 2006).
An additional compounding factor is the increased labour force flexibility. Australia has a core workforce, supplemented by a peripheral casual or contract labour market that makes up 27 per cent of the Australian workforce (ABS 2009a). The Survey of Employment Arrangements, Retirement and Superannuation (ABS 2007a), shows that one in four Australians are employed on a casual basis and 56 per cent of casual employees are women. This survey identified that some actively want the flexibility provided by part-time or casual work, whereas others would prefer more hours or certainty of work. Currently, approximately six per cent of all workers hold more than one job (ABS 2009a). The downside for casual employees is reduced benefits and entitlements, such as sick leave and annual leave, and in general, these workers have reduced job security and limited, or reduced, career opportunities. Organisations are being challenged to respond to these by instituting HRM policies and processes that allow managers to confidently deal with these complex issues that can negatively affect contemporary work settings.
What is needed is a construct that clearly focuses on the key skills a manager must develop to be considered relevant for an ever changing workforce. These skills centre on understanding the drivers of social engagement for employees in the modern workplace. As Burgess, et al. (2010), and Hicks, Basu and Sappey (2010) point out, greater acceptance is needed for the differing social drivers that facilitate employee engagement. There is merit in developing a role and definition for how managers can provide SOS, based on them understanding that generic problems can form the foundation for understanding the workplace they confront. SOS needs to capture the basic concept that managers must manage. By contrast, POS refers to employees’perceptions of the support that their organisation provides. Therefore, SOS refers to the organisation’s ability to support managers in responding appropriately to the multiple demands of employee social needs and obligations to foster a beneficial, reciprocal relationship. So what do we mean when we say managers must manage? This means that managers must be sufficiently self aware to recognise and understand how to manage the critical issues in an employee’s life that can impact their performance at work.There are many ways an organisation can display positive actions toward an employee to facilitate a positive reciprocation (Eisenberger, et al. 2001). The problem is that although there is anecdotal evidence and theoretical arguments surrounding these challenges and the changes being made, particularly in relation to work life balance, researchers have yet to substantiate the veracity of many of the responses being implemented (OECD 2005, Burgess, et al. 2010, Hicks, et al. 2010). One way of starting to unravel how managers can respond to these challenges is to explore the extent of these issues with practicing managers.
What skills and development will human resource practitioners enable in managers to develop to meet these competing needs and expectations and better operationalise retention strategies? Accepting that social drivers differ, organisations will need to develop an understanding of what drives social engagement if they really do want to retain their talent. Therefore, the purpose of this preliminary study was to identify some of the changes taking place, and whether managers felt they, or indeed their organisations, were equipped to deal with these in ways that maximised attraction and retention levers.
The first step was to identify the key internal and external social issues that are likely to affect attraction and retention levers in the coming decade. The second was to explore where managers believe they lacked skills to deal with these. The aim was not to test understanding, but to allow the respondents to surface issues of concern to them based on their understanding, experiences and the challenges they believe they face. Therefore, a constructivist approach was best as it allows knowledge to be drawn from the multiple realities of the various respondents (Denzin & Lincoln 2005). This in turn provides a rich foundation for building understanding (Cavana, Delahaye & Sekaran 2001, Sobh & Perry 2006). By utilising an interpretist ontology, understanding is developed based on the subjects’ understanding of reality (Ticehurst & Veal 2000) and can then be linked to the understanding drawn from the literature (Hesse-Biber & Leavy 2006).
Data were gathered from a focus group interview with 35 participants in an MBA programme in November 2009, which forms a preliminary step to a larger study. The participants were from a range of backgrounds; seven were general managers, 14 were departmental or line managers, three were supervisors, eight were professionals or consultants and three were waged employees, 24 were male and 11 were female. The group had a mixed ethnic background (Japan 1, South Africa 2, Central Africa 1, Caribbean 2, Europe 3, the Middle East 2, China 6, India 1, and Australia 17) and worked in a range of different industries, from mining to health and the public and service sectors. The age range included six from the baby boomer generation, 16 from generation X, and 13 from generation Y. This group was particularly suited to the study because of their diverse ages, work experiences and cultural backgrounds and because the majority worked full time and needed to juggle work, family, social and study commitments.
Respondents were asked to consider the social issues they were aware of, or anticipated in the workforce and then list these using a nominal group technique. This technique required each person to write down their thoughts before these were discussed among the group. An approach was taken to ensure that all individuals contributed from their own perspective in the initial stage and their views would not be contaminated or withheld because of other viewpoints. The next phase included collating all the items and inviting discussion among the group to allocate and condense all the issues into themes. The aim was to identify and explore commonalities across the group and encourage further discussion, rather than seek consensus or downplay the importance of individual concerns. Once the themes were identified, the group anonymously ranked the themes to identify which was considered of most concern. This was achieved by each respondent voting for the three items they considered most important using a technology based audience response system called ‘clickers’. The highest number of votes within each theme were counted to return a percentage allocation for each theme.
Participants expressed a range of concerns, many of which are interrelated and these are shown in Table 1. The themes viewed as the most important challenges needing addressing were ranked as follows. A total of 40 per cent of the respondents identified the need to address the balance between work and family as most important. Next, was the need to improve flexibility (20 per cent), followed by being time poor (17 per cent), cultural diversity (nine per cent), dealing with stress and health problems (both at seven per cent) and responding to an ageing workforce was rated lowest, with only three per cent viewing it as most important. This was surprising given concerns about the aging workforce, which is admittedly a less severe problem than in other developed countries. This finding may well reflect the age cohort of respondents and an expectation that people will continue working as they grow older.
There was considerable crossover between the themes and many of these are broadly related to work life balance. Clearly, however, the findings go well beyond provisions for flexibility in the Work Care Act of 2010 (Fair Work Ombudsman 2010). For example, being time poor affected the time spent with family, added to stress, reduced opportunities for eating healthily, and increased the pressure and need for greater flexibility. The examples cited ranged from being able to attend school functions and afterschool activities with children, to maintaining family and social obligations of visiting parents, meeting friends and having time for a ‘social life’. It became very clear that the respondents believed employees expectations were changing. As one Generation X male said, I can’t imagine my father asking for time off during the day to go and see a school play.
|Themes - Rated by importance (%)||Comments related to each theme|
|Work-life balance||40||Work can go on for 24/7 hours and interferes with personal life.
Dual careers makes it difficult to manage work life balance
There is conflict between work and personal commitments
Work means you have to give up personal time (family or leisure balance)
Dual careers makes it difficult to manage work and leisure
Dealing with short term or changing careers creates stress on the family
Continuing with fly in and fly out arrangements interferes with work life balance
Perceived importance of spending time with family has increased
Increasing telecommuting – reduces interaction with colleagues and interferes with home life – so affects both.
The need for increased domestic support to help balance work life
Working at a high pace 24/7 can be challenging and stimulating if you love the job (comment from a Gen X female participant).
|Need for increased flexibility||20||Increased demand the flexibility (to meet juggle work, family and leisure and meet customer needs – also related to globalisation)|
|Time poor||17||Time Poor – the “rat race” carries into our personal life
Time Poor means a reduction in healthy eating
Dual careers (more demands on time)
|Diversity and globalisation||9||Increased cultural diversity / languages / culture /expectations
The need for greater indigenous integration and acceptance
Increasing pressure to retain skill as competition increases
Increased decentralisation as the population grows
Dual economy – haves & have-nots – (i.e., W.A. resources versus services sector)
Competition raises safety issues – particularly for small work environments
Lack of daylight saving still interferes with national businesses
|Increasing stress||7||Stress related to lifestyle (European lifestyle not so stressed)
Health problems related to stress.
|Health problems||7||Health problems related to stress, diet, lifestyle and ageing|
|Ageing workforce||3||The retirement age likely to increase further – with many older workers and associated health and flexibility needs
Increased need for Elder Care support
Increased desire for part time work by older workers.
The respondents were then asked to consider the themes and identify and rank what they perceived as the primary drivers for changing employee expectations. A total of 64 per cent indicated that changing cultural values was the most significant driver, and that this was leading to associated changes in expectations. Also, 32 per cent believed change was driven by the need for greater flexibility by organisations and individuals, and five per cent believed it was because employees expected a better balance between work and family needs, even if they were unable to achieve this outcome. All respondents agreed that the current work environment was dynamic and societal expectations were changing and that managers would continue to face dealing with an escalation in complex and difficult issues. As an example, one general manager cited needing to deal with an employee who was suffering psychotic episodes in the workplace at the same time as being subjected to abuse and denigration on Facebook by a former employer who had an unfair dismissal claim rejected by the courts.
Some of the changing issues confronting workforces are being addressed with varying degrees of success, even though, as mentioned previously, the efficacy of the solutions being implemented have not been tested. The respondents rated balancing work and life as their highest concern, which substantiates previous findings in the literature (OECD 2005, Hicks, et al. 2010). This is consistent with OECD findings from 30 countries that suggests many working parents are not satisfied with the work and care balance; either because they financially cannot afford more children, have limited career prospects or have less flexibility than they would like (OECD 2007). Although flexibility has increased, the OECD research identifies considerable variation exists when in addressing the many factors that influence work family conflict and that overall substantial progress still needs to be made.
Increasing flexibility was suggested as a strategy that would address being time poor, although there were two sides to this argument. On the one hand, increasing flexibility was about giving individual employees more control over when and how they worked. However, the downside of this was that increased flexibility for the employer often limited flexibility for the employee as working hours expanded. Greater flexibility for employees can be seen in the increasing reliance on new forms of employment, such as telecommuting, virtual connections and teamwork. Telecommuting was not an issue for the group in this study, most likely because of their management roles and the work pressures placed on them. Their part time studies no doubt add to these as was evident in their concern with being time poor and stressed. What was of more concern was the expansion of working hours well beyond the traditional five days. Shift work, the compressed workweek, or working in remote regions, for example, in Australia where fly in, fly out (FIFO) arrangements also include time away from the family, affect many more people and a number in this group. This meant that flexibility had many different impacts, and even when flexibility was positive, there were often associated negative impacts.
Flexibility means individuals can work from many locations, within and across national boundaries (Sarkar & Singh 2006, Lee, Chu & Tseng 2009). This work arrangement increases diversity in the workforce. However, the respondents acknowledged this impinges on work life balance and creates added stress, and is in line with concerns about stress and other psychosocial being a major, and inadequately addressed, concern for organisations and societies in general (WHO 2010). Similarly, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (2005b) is concerned that changed work arrangements have blurred the boundaries between work and non work, which has seen more of these type of occupational health and safety, becoming the employer’s responsibility.
The findings also identified concern about stress and the impact of stress on psychological wellbeing. This concern, in part, matches the ABS evidence presented earlier regarding the extent of psychological ill health prevalent in Australia. Medibank Private (2008) research identified that stress related illness costs $14.81 billion annually and $10.11 billion of that is borne by employers in direct costs and productivity losses. This pattern is similar in other developed nations and a WHO (2010) report claims that 90 per cent of respondents across the European Union member states consider stress and its associated problems and causes is a major cause of disease and more appropriate responses need to be instituted to manage the associated occupational health risks. Providing social support is one strategy that does assist employees. For example, a recent Australian study into stress among police and public sector workers found that social exchange variables, like perceptions of fairness and peer support, were positive mitigating factors (Noblett & Rodwell 2009). To foster this type of support organisations must support changes in the skill levels and competence of managers so they can better manage the associated issues of bullying, stress, depression, sickness and other health problems (Noblett & Rodwell 2009). Another group that is vulnerable to these risks are migrant workers because they have the added complexity of cultural and language differences, isolation and skill deficits (WHO 2010).
Concerns about cultural differences were a concern for a small number of the group. Globalisation has lead to increased diversity in workforces in all developed countries and Australia is no exception, as was evident in population participating in the study. The ABS (2009b) reported that Australia’s population grew by 439,100 over the previous year, with over half (63 per cent) of this increase resulting from overseas migration, which is the highest influx of migrants since after the Second World War. Adding to the cultural mix was the generally acknowledgement among respondents that workplace attitudes are also changing as workplace diversity, generational differences and cultural differences make the workplace more complex. Managers in the study expressed concern that they lacked the repertoire of specific skills and knowledge to accommodate increasing numbers of staff who were struggling with acculturation. The extent to which employees engage in ‘ethical’behaviour does not simply depend on the values of the employees or the norms of the organisation. Evidence from the past decade involving high profile cases of corporations flagrantly ignoring their clear legal obligations demonstrate that this is also about values and culture (Howard 2010). Redefining what this means in a multicultural environment should be fundamental to considerations of SOS.
Respondents generally agreed that few organisations had effective policies for responding to the changing needs of an ageing workforce. On the other hand, one respondent provided the example of working in an organisation that had negotiated an agreement that allowed long term employees to access up to two years of fully paid sick leave for serious illnesses. This surprised many others in the group and while it was deemed a positive response to maintaining older workers, is clearly an exception to the usual benefits offered. Currently, Australian laws are based on the British ‘Roben’s Model’(ACCI 2005a) and employers are required to take all reasonable or practicable steps to ensure the health and safety of workers affected by the employers undertakings. Drug and alcohol problems are already built into the duty of care (DICH 2009) and while these were not of concern to the group, it was mentioned that the use of stringent measures and enforceable policies had reduced their use and improved safety on mine sites. Concern was expressed among the respondents about substance abuse in association with other workplace and community issues, such as perceived high stress levels, fatigue, work overload, working hours and the associated risks these bring, as has been identified as increasing risk factors by the ACCI (2005b). Respondents posed the question of why someone would choose to work, particularly older workers who may not need to work for financial reasons, unless specific strategies were implemented to make the work environment more conducive to retention.
These examples indicate new forms of management that are more socially responsive are needed, which backs up the claim by Burgess, et al. (2010), and the more responsive employers who adopt strategies to manage the broad range of issues, just as those who demonstrate other initiatives to balance work and family demands (Lansbury & Baird 2004) will become employers of choice. This link between effective human resources strategies and performance was borne out in a meta analysis of 65 studies that examined the relationships between motivation, skill enhancement and empowerment (Subramony 2009). Arguably, being able to better meet employees needs would enhance all of these. Another rationale for attracting and retaining the best talent is the financial imperatives. One argument that could be advanced, and surfaces in the Chamber of Commerce’s comments, is that responses may increase costs to employers. However, a significant proportion of social organisational support expenditure is‘built in’to managerial wages and payments, which are deductible, although admittedly not always easy to attribute these proportionally. Nonetheless, financial benefits are likely to accrue from productivity improvements and other benefits such as allowable tax deductions associated with labour costs (Millitzer 2007) or training (Flamholtz 1999). In addition, it seems reasonable that these benefits to employers should provide some return to employees. Deductible SOS oriented expenses include leave entitlements, disability benefits, entertainment and fitness, gratuities and sickness and accident premiums. If the community as a whole will benefit from improved management practices it seems reasonable to argue that other expenses, like sanctioned employee assistance programsme, could be allowable deductions.
Further research into the international arena has demonstrated that some countries have developed initiatives that partially address social support in the workplace. In the United Kingdom, the Department of Health and devolved administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland have funded the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), to deal with what they refer to as‘social care’(SCIE 2009). The Institute’s brief is to“… identify and spread knowledge about good practice to the large and diverse social care workforce and support the delivery of transformed, personalised social care services” (SCIE 2009) and this program extends to offering support and training for managers in the broader workforce. The Institute has a‘people management website’(SCIE 2009) which includes links to a comprehensive database of resources to inform managers of good practice. Although, as elsewhere, employee assistance programme providers are available and used in Australia, they fail to go beyond providing external counselling support to individual workers away from the workplace and do not extend to providing SOS. This finding clearly aligns with the OECD 2005 report.
Based on the evidence more needs to be done to address the impact of personal and social issues in the workplace. The managers in this study generally agreed that this was a neglected area of the managers’role and an area where they felt vulnerable. This raises the question: what skills do managers require to meet these competing needs and expectations? In line with the evidence, the approaches currently being taken are grounded in the past. Even if the strategies being applied, such as child care and family friendly work practices do apply to a significant number of employees, another question is how well current strategies will apply into the future. The respondents in this study agreed that demographic changes to the workforce mean that benefits desired by employees are changing over time and a better understanding of the social needs and the benefits desired by individual employees will improve talent attraction and retention. This goes beyond the concept of POS proposed by Eisenberger, et al. (1986). Organisations need to think beyond their boundaries and recognise the value of understanding the needs of the society and communities they operate within. Meeting this challenge will help them present as an employer of choice.
The study has some boundary conditions. Nonetheless, it also raises the very pertinent issue that a reevaluation of the role of organisations in providing social support to employees is long overdue. Human resources practitioners and theorists need to be ahead of the game and start thinking more seriously about how they will deal with the challenges posed by workforce diversity and work and family balance, as well as what this means for managers. Managers believe they will need to confront an increasing range of challenges in the coming decade. Firstly, a number of the respondents indicated they were ill equipped to deal with the changing expectations of employees and the blurring of boundaries between work and non work stresses. Secondly, the managers also believed that in many instances there is an inadequate balance between work and family needs and more needs to be done to redress the impact that this is having on communities and society as a whole. These findings have implications for attraction and retention of employees as resolving this conflict can help to make an organisation an employer of choice as skill shortages reemerge in the coming decade. Arguably, contemporary managers have significant workplace pressures placed on them and extensive complexities with which to deal. This study has important implications. Academically, it offers new directions for future research that will help fill some of the gaps in the diversity and talent management literature. It also serves as a wake up call for human resource managers and organisation’s to reconsider the aims of management training, the role of managers and the practical strategies they can implement to facilitate retention of talent. Implementing practices that smooth the way for employees to be more effective at work can only be good for employers, employees and the community.
The valuable comments from the Editors of RPHRM and constructive feedback from the anonymous reviewers on earlier drafts of this paper are gratefully acknowledged.
is an Associate Professor at the School of Management, Curtin University. She has published in the areas of change management, emotional intelligence, participation in decision making, gender issues and organisational learning.
holds the position of Professor and Head of the School of Management at Curtin University. He is recognised internationally as an expert in the area of leadership research. His current research on values driven leadership is funded by the Australian Research Council.
is an Assistant Professor at the University of Western Australia. He has published in the areas of leadership, perceived organisational support, organisational commitment, ethics, and generational cohorts.
is an Associate Professor in the School of Management, Curtin University. His research interests include teaching and learning, and examining the effects of neoliberalism and globalisation on policy and practice in the public and private sectors.
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