Unlocking the “Employer of Choice” Dilemma: Six Keys to Success

Deanne DeMarco

Companies around the globe are starting
to experience labor shortages and are having a difficult time retaining quality
workers. The competition for key talent is quickly becoming a battleground.

One answer lies in your organization’s
ability to have a culture where people actually want to work—in other
words, you need to become an employer of choice. Numerous studies have
discovered that corporations that are viewed as a great place to work outshine
their competitors in retaining talent, market share, behavioral success, and
bottom line.

Employers of choice have corporate
cultures where the working climate is supportive and genuinely appealing—often
referred to as a “warm climate.” Many corporate objectives state the desire to
be an “employer of choice” and delegate the sole task to the human resources
department. Unfortunately, corporate officials overlook the basic issues needed
in creating a supportive corporate culture. The result is a company with
improved benefits, which on the surface makes sense; however, good benefits
alone do not create an employer of choice.

Regrettably, many companies have cold
climates versus warm ones. And while the Baby Boomers have tolerated cold
climate organizations as “just the way it is,” Generation X workers are putting
their foot down: either the company’s climate changes or the Gen-Xers change

When given the choice, Gen-Xers want to
be a part of companies with a warm, pleasant, and supportive climate and reject
a cold, stressful, unpleasant one. They want to work for companies that display
loyalty, pride, trust, respect, strong relationships, and open communication.
When at work, they want to feel supported, included, challenged, rewarded, and
encouraged to think up new and diverse ideas. They abhor such things as
defensiveness, blame-game tactics, alienation, and managers being closed to
ideas. If you want to keep Gen-X workers on your team, you need to create an
inviting climate.

What exactly influences the company’s
working cultural climate? Two things: 1) The attitude from the top filters down
into the organization, which includes the parent organization’s political
situation and organizational systems, and 2) Effective communication and
leadership skills of managers and team leaders. That is why you may have a
company with a cold climate and a corresponding culture, but you see pockets
within that company where people think it’s a great place to work. Everyone
wants to work in a certain person’s department because that manager created a
warm climate.

But having “pockets” of warmth within
your company isn’t enough. Corporate officials must ensure a warm climate
permeates every department and touches every employee in order to retain
quality talent, improve productivity, and reap bottom line success. Following
are some suggestions to help you accomplish precisely that.

Key # 1: Be Descriptive:

When you communicate with others, describe situations without judging the right or
wrongness of something. For example, when someone comes up with an idea that
you don’t like or think won’t work, the cold and natural response is, “No.
That’ll never work.” But such a response breeds defensiveness and resentment.
To communicate warmly, a better response would be something like, “Let’s talk
more about that idea. What do you think the impact of your suggestion would be
on our sales department?”

Managers need to involve employees in
decisions and demonstrate a safe environment, even with opinions contrary to
their own. When you’re descriptive and specific, you’re encouraging a
conversation about the idea and not shooting someone down. And if the idea
really won’t work, your conversation will bring that to light in a natural and
non-confrontational way.

Key # 2: Engage Your People:

Many companies say they solve problems as a team, but in reality the manager
proposes a solution, and that’s it. No one challenges the manager, either
because they know from past experience not to, or because the manager doesn’t
ask for feedback in an open way. Rather, he or she states the solution and then
asks, “Does anyone have a problem with that?” Of course, no one raises a hand.
Employees are not actively encouraged to submit ideas, counter suggestions, or
speak honestly. Gen-Xers want to give their input and opinions. And when you
hear them out, you’ll likely have a better solution and will foster a warmer
climate in your group.

Key # 3: Collaborative Style:

When managers communicate with a pre-conceived end result or action, they make people
withdraw and create distrust. For example, a manager may gather the team
together to brainstorm a new marketing approach. The manager enters the meeting
with an idea for the new marketing message. Even though the team collaborates
and comes up with a great idea, when the final marketing piece is revealed, the
manager’s marketing message is the one featured. In this case employees will
feel manipulated. When managers act spontaneously and collaboratively without
hidden agendas and motivations, employees develop feelings of ownership, pride,
and enthusiasm for corporate goals. So always put any pre-conceived ideas aside
and let the group synergy work.

Key # 4: Take Heart:

Employees want managers who have empathy for their situation. Realize that many Gen-Xers
are marrying and having kids a decade later than the Boomers typically did. So
Gen-Xers are in the workforce in high-profile jobs, and they have the added
responsibility of a baby at home or aging parents who need their help.
Additionally, since most Gen-X families are two-income households, when a
family emergency comes up, there’s no one at home to take care of it. The
employee needs the time off. When managers convey a lack of concern or respond
to time off requests in an angry manner, they create resentment in their
employees. Remember, Gen-Xers value productivity more so than hours spent on a
job. Get assurance that their deadlines will be met (they will meet
them), and then let them attend to whatever they have to do.

Key # 5: Fairness Rules:

Fairness is a fundamental building block in creating a supportive culture; it creates
diverse thinking and ideas, and sends the message that each employee is as
important and valuable as the next. Gen-Xers want to feel that they are valued
and respected in the company. In order to make that happen, managers need to
drop any “status and favoritism” practices they may have. If your company is to
keep up with the times and stay competitive, managers need the workers’
perspective on the marketplace and their opinions on corporate products and
services. So value the ideas and opinions of employees. Seek differences in
opinion, engage in open dialogue, and recognize and support everyone’s point of

Key # 6: Be a Facilitator:

Facilitation is more than just running a meeting. It’s about asking the right questions. One
of the most powerful questions in the facilitative approach is the “what”
question, as it helps the conversation focus on discovery. “What” questions
help with identifying issues and probing for details. They also get the other
person involved with the discussion. Unfortunately, many leaders use questions
that begin with the word “why,” which often prompts defensive behavior from
others. “Why” questions are often interpreted as criticism, whether intended or
not. To avoid this, change your “why” questions to “what” questions. Instead of
asking, “Why did you do that?” ask, “What are the reasons behind your actions?”
or “What caused you to act that way?” Using a facilitative approach can help a
team solve problems, make effective decisions and improve work processes.

Reaping the Rewards:

As you make these changes to improve your corporate climate, you’ll quickly notice
a marked improvement in your workforce. Employees will be happier at work, more
productive, and eager to advance the organization’s mission and goals. And
remember, working in a warm climate isn’t just for Gen-Xers. All your employees
will feel a greater sense of job satisfaction, regardless of their age or
generation identification. In short, a warm climate may be just what your
company needs to improve profits and long-term growth.


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