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#SHRM13 Day Three: Some Random Observations

Happy Workers—Happy World; Save Workers, Save Money; DJ Jazzy Jeff Rules; Putting a Shine on Good Work.

June 18, 2013
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Related Topics: Career Development, Generations, Retention
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The first few days of the annual Society for Human Resource Management conference here in Chicago have left me inspired.

Some of the uplifting takeaways:

  • People management can make the world happy. Seriously. Consultant Richard Finnegan's session Monday about retention challenges in China ended with this intriguing, encouraging nugget: the greatest source of happiness for people around the world is a good job. Finnegan cited research from Gallup finding that a good job outranked health, intimacy, love and respect, and money. Striking, but it also makes sense. People want to be useful, to do meaningful work. And a good job—as opposed to a boring or abusive or damage-doing job—can contribute to other happiness factors like health, respect and money. People management matters to our collective contentment.
  • If you save your workers, you save big bucks. Finnegan's talk had some other gems. Although his "Climbing China's Great Wall of Employee Turnover" talk didn't focus on China-specific strategies like I expected, Finnegan made a strong case that retention everywhere is an overlooked business problem. That turnover costs companies millions annually, and that it can be reduced significantly. How? The key, he said, is to home in on managers. Figure out the cost of turnover for each manager's team. Track it. Set goals. Have managers conduct "stay interviews" with each of their people to make them feel connected. Stop trying to solve the retention problem with "programs" like employee of the month, town hall meetings and brown bag career development lunches. "We can't 'out-program' a jerk boss," Finnegan said.

I can dig it—to a point. It seems to me that broader company culture is increasingly part of the attrition equation. More and more, people want to work for a place that is inspiring and does good in the world. Millennials especially. Managers can play a part in that. But senior executives set the tone. If those at the top fail to lead effectively—or worse, behave unethically--it makes workers want to leave. To tweak Finnegan's line, "We can't out-manage a jerk CEO."

  • DJ Jazzy Jeff Knows How to Retain a Dance Floor. On a lighter note, my colleagues and I had a blast dancing to the grooves of DJ Jazzy Jeff last night. At a party thrown by worker feedback and recruiting services company Glassdoor, Jazzy Jeff kept the HR crowd bouncing for hours to a mix of songs from at least four decades. I was surprised by how much fun I had. Before heading to the event, I kept thinking that Jazzy Jeff must feel resentful that his one-time hip-hop partner The Fresh Prince—a.k.a. Will Smith—has gone on to megastardom as a movie and music celebrity. I figured Jazzy Jeff—Jeffrey Allen Townes—might be cynical about playing to a bunch of conventioneers. Well, I don't know how Jazzy Jeff feels about the greater fame of his old partner. But he showed no signs of bitterness in spinning tunes to us. To the contrary, he was dancing along with the crowd as he seamlessly connected songs and genres and generations. A Michael Jackson tribute. Some 90s club music. Nirvana. Al Green. Adele.

One bothersome feature of the show was that early in the evening especially, Jazzy Jeff's front man spent a lot of time exhorting the crowd to give it up for DJ Jazzy Jeff, "the greatest." Thankfully, this self-promotion died down as the DJ picked up steam. And by the end, I was willing to give it up for Jazzy Jeff. Maybe he is one of the best DJs out there.

  • Scratching Records, Shining Shoes. To the extent that DJ Jazzy Jeff is great, it clearly has something to do with how much he loves what he does. Even if he's not as rich and famous as Will Smith, he's still got a pretty cool job. He gets to be creative, he probably makes decent money, and he inspires people to jump with joy. This connection between a good job and happiness struck me as I reflected on another encounter I had here at SHRM. It was an exchange with someone on the other end of the celebrity spectrum—a shoeshine man at the McCormick Place convention center. As I got my scuffed up shoes polished, the fellow working on my loafers wore a hat with the number "37" on it. I asked him about it, and he told me 37 was the number of years another shoeshiner had worked there before retiring. Then he pointed over to the cash register. There sat the retiree, silver haired but natty in a bowtie. As I paid him, he smiled and chatted me up about Oakland and San Francisco, where I live. Seems he couldn't stop coming to work he enjoyed.

If only we could make it so everyone had a good job they liked. Maybe we can.

Ed Frauenheim is associate editorial director of Human Capital Media, the parent organization of Workforce. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Frauenheim on Twitter at @edfrauenheim.

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