If you look at research studies and books on success, a key finding will emerge: More is not always better. The business world in which you operate is relentlessly demanding.
Some leaders see the future as a frantic race. Successful senior managers seem to envision it as a marathon and not as a sprint. The best example of a “sprint-oriented” senior manager is currently residing in the White House. The sprint causes short-term impacts; the marathon leader builds excitement and success over a longer period and confronts barriers as the marathon proceeds.
One example of the uncertainty the sprinter creates: the current hearings and tweets and their discussion from Washington. What is the impact in the non-Beltway hinterlands at worksites galore? Consider the marine industry.
The April issue of this publication arrived in my mailbox on April 1, just as I was finishing my copy for the May issue. I looked through it, and what I read caused me to modify what I had planned. First, let me call attention to items in the April issue that grabbed my attention (in case you did not catch them):
- From both industry insiders and observers there seems to be a vision of optimism for future business, but with some restraint — maybe a little bit of uncertainty based on variation from normal Washington politics;
- Jack Atzinger provides a valuable number of data points to illustrate the guarded-optimism attitude; go back and read it and note the Fed chairman’s careful pronouncement;
- Several articles/references to industry concerns over restrictions on free trade, which may be the Washington direction;
- Did you read the marketing column by Michael Sciulla? Go back and read it again, and check his illustrations/references. There is a lot to digest — it is not easy to think as a teenager, either, but they are into social media and will be targets for sales in a few years;
- Bill Sisson suggests that we keep our eye on the ball and be alert to changes, but to “make hay while the sun is out.”
With these points in mind, consider possible troublesome areas (which the marathon runner can see ahead): job uncertainty, health insurance, job satisfaction and visualizing retirement. Each area presents potential challenges that may offset the previously noted cautious optimism. What might you and your company, large or small, do to remediate the employees’ anxiety in each area?
Job uncertainty: This is not a new issue; it has been a forefront issue since the late 20th century. The continual loss of jobs to Mexico became an election issue and continues to be a major news issue; jobs are still leaving the United States, and not only for Mexico. These are jobs of machine operators and predominantly low-skill positions that easily can be transferred, boosting profits.
To this, add research projections from Price Waterhouse Coopers, published in the Los Angeles Times, that will affect a broad spectrum of American jobs. PwC posits that more than a third of U.S. jobs could be at high risk of automation by 2030. This is because of the rapid pace of robotic growth and advances in artificial intelligence. Those with less education will feel the brunt of this transformation.
Couple this trend with research findings of a continual decline in worker satisfaction in the United States by the Gallup organization.
There are reasons to address such concerns now. How can this be done in a timely and affordable manner? Naturally, many research firms can provide such service. What other avenues could be more affordable? It does depend on the availability of expertise in your community. I would suggest you consider expertise at community colleges, universities and even some high schools. All these possible sources of expertise are looking at business as sources of internship placements. The high schools in my county are requiring that all students participate in an internship before graduation. Within a few years this will be a national trend, and you can expect to be included in such an outreach program.
So why not reach out to these institutions to help you locate local expertise in the job satisfaction area. These may be found in most universities in such departments as management, marketing (motivation) and human resources, as well as in psychology and industrial and systems engineering. In smaller colleges, most of these areas may be found under economics and business administration and psychology. Who in your senior management may know a professor, a department head, a dean or even a president at a local college? And don’t overlook the local school superintendent, principals, school board members. You will find that most professors in relevant areas are looking for business organizations in which students may hone their research skills and prepare valuable reports. I know this from my own professorial experience. This could be a project spearheaded by a manager in waiting for an opportunity to excel and maybe move up the ranks. You?
Health insurance: Yes, this has been in the news lately. And the fallout may well have caused more of a problem for employees than the legislative battle itself. During almost the past decade the public has been taught by politicians that “Obamacare” is bad and must be destroyed to save the insured from catastrophe. Then when proposed changes were made public, the public rose up and appeared not to know that “Obamacare” and the Affordable Care Act were one and the same. The result now is that employees may be more careful in allowing changes.
Some readers probably are covered by group health policies that their companies offer; others, however, are doubtless covered by health exchanges under the ACA. It is clear that the loss of any coverage now being received will make many people unhappy. Are your employees covered under a group plan? If so, it behooves you now to be sure they understand their coverage and what is not covered.
The whole family needs to understand the coverage and what gaps are there. Policies are often written in legalese and easily misunderstood. Knowledgeable people from your company should meet in small groups to explain and answer. If your employees are mainly covered by ACA exchange policies, they will also need reassurance. Speakers should use care and avoid evaluative statements and responses. Your honesty will be helpful and likely offer a basis for improved job satisfaction because the company cared.
Retirement: Although the physical process of menopause is often discussed between a female patient and her physician, the process poses emotional and mental challenges. Less discussed is a possible “male menopause” process, which begins at about age 50. This process may begin when a man looks in the mirror as the shaving process begins. Oops. What is that? A wrinkle. Then another. “Oh dear, I am getting old.”
At this point the man in the mirror begins to think about what will happen in the next chapter of life. If this person’s family is like that of most marine industry employees, little thought has been given to retirement. A mortgage, children, the band, family expenses and college (hopefully) have absorbed his attention, and the children may even have moved back in. Research by many organizations finds that savings are minimal at this point and lower than in the past. And associated research shows that debt is higher, especially credit card debt.
Panic erupts. How can we save enough to live on in retirement? Until the 1980s most businesses provided a retirement fund based on years of service and the last few years of salary. Today few work settings, other than government agencies, offer such a retirement program; today many work organizations offer a 401(k) program in which the employer may match the employee contribution up to a set percentage of pay.
Often the problem is that employees may not participate, or do so only with minimal deductions. Consider the current TV ad we have seen over and over, which tells us we need to contribute just 1 percent more to our retirement account to make a significant difference. Of course that is better advice for a 25-year-old than a 50-year-old.
What can management do to minimize the impact of employee retirement worries? There is no one answer I can see. One possibility is personal financial planning classes for employees at an area high school or community college. Retirement planning would be helpful for people at various lengths of time before retirement. Both of these options also should be open to spouses. For people who are about five years from retirement, the company could make available free counseling about facing retirement. What will you do when you retire — hobbies? Part-time work? Budgeting?
This may seem like paternalistic behavior. Rather it is seeks to protect the company’s bottom line and see it as more green, rather than bleeding because of dissatisfaction related to non-work issues. Companies that try these ideas may wish to share with others facing the same external factors.
Jerald F. Robinson, Ph.D., is professor emeritus, international management, at the Pamplin College of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. He can be reached at (540) 449-5870 or by e-mail: JFR@vt.edu.
This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue.