Kiss and Tell

Fall in love with your workforce this Valentine's Day—and declare your affection to the world.

A suggestion for business leaders this Valentine’s Day: don’t just focus on your honey. Get sweet on your workforce as well. And tell anyone who’ll listen how much you love your people.
Appreciating workers is age-old advice, but it comes with contemporary twists as Feb. 14 approaches. For one thing, a number of signs indicate the balance of power is shifting toward employees and away from employers. Highly skilled positions are getting harder to fill, overall job growth is continuing, and the economy is in general expanding—albeit in fits and starts.
What’s more, as we discuss in our upcoming February cover story, “re-shoring” is under way. That is, U.S. employers are recognizing limits to the shift of work to lower-wage locations offshore. Manufacturing and service-sector jobs are returning to or being generated in America, for reasons including long-distance communications challenges, higher wage rates in the developing world and steep transportation costs.
Ravin Jesuthasan, global practice leader for talent management at consulting firm Towers Watson, says organizations in some cases rushed to send work overseas and didn’t recognize the downsides. Now there’s growing interest in bringing some operations back to America’s shores. We’re “reaching a point of balance with offshoring,” Jesuthasan says.
All this means U.S. employers are going to have to woo workers more than they have over the past five years or so. But as you romance your recruits, the formula for success today is not the same as it was decades ago. The employee satisfaction focus of the 1950s and ’60s alone won’t cut it in today’s cut-throat global business climate. A new employer-employee relationship is in order. It’s a kind of tough love, where companies are exacting about their expectations and clear that jobs are far from guaranteed even as they foster a caring, inspiring culture.
In other words, admit that decisions about whether to offshore some operations and jobs will be based on hard numbers such as costs. And push people to work hard. But do that in part by giving them a stirring vision to pursue. That’s a rarity today, with only 4 percent of employees saying they are inspired by values and a commitment to a mission and purpose.
What’s more, offer generous severance packages if jobs are lost and show concern for workers’ long-term well-being by investing in training—which typically helps both employee and employer.
And share the wealth if things are going well. Consider giving a box of bonus bonbons akin to what Random House’s CEO gave his employees in the wake of the success of Fifty Shades of Grey.
Showing genuine affection and generosity for employees matters more than ever these days, because company cultures are exposed as never before. Feedback site Glassdoor offers a window into how workers are treated, as do other sites and the continuous stream of social media posts by workers everywhere.
Ahead-of-the-curve companies are entering the conversations about what they’re like to work at. They are showcasing their cultures through their own websites and encouraging employees to be brand ambassadors who talk about prized programs like software company SAP’s “social sabbatical” that allows high-potential employees to help out businesses in developing countries. In effect, these companies are loud and proud about how much their employees mean to them.
Valentine’s Day is a time to rekindle the spark. Why not use it as an occasion to shower your employees with affection? Fall in love in a modern way, and don’t be shy about how much you adore your workforce.
Ed Frauenheim is senior editor at Workforce. Comment below or email efrauenheim@workforce.com.