Monthly Archives: July 2015

Employer’s weak points: The no-go Top 5

There is a phrase from the Lean management theory saying: If you want to change something to improve, first uncover the problems. This refers not only to the pure economic competitiveness of a company but also to the employer brand.

Employer Branding is a buzzword of our time. More and more companies want to appear attractive and that’s okay. I just wonder why hardly anyone has yet come up with the idea to ask employees what makes their employers unattractive to them. Well, recently someone actually did.

A company whose name reads in English Centre for Employment Branding (nomen est omen!) ordered a study about both positive and negative characteristics of employers. The survey was made by the Institute for Leadership and Human Resource Management at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. More than 16,000 executives and employees from around 100 companies were interviewed. They were asked to indicate what they like about their employer and what scared them away. Many of the results differed from the clichés and expectations.

Men very often stated that mutual trust and the best possible work life balance were among their most important criteria. Women put an inspiring, results-oriented leadership, learning opportunities and internal entrepreneurship on top of their choice. Perhaps less surprising but not less interesting is that, on average, the expectations of Generation X members come very close to those of the entity of men and the Generation Y’s wishes meet those of the entity of women.

But what are the top 5 killer topics of the employer branding? Number five is Age Discrimination. 5% of both of the oldest and the youngest workers often felt disadvantaged. Something called Corrosive Power climbed up to chart position four with 18% of votes. Corrosive Power means infighting and group coterie. A factor that slows down change and innovation.

The bronze medal of negative employer reviews went to Centralization with 24%. It stands for rigid hierarchies and lack of flexibility. Silver was received by 29% of the employers for a discipline called Resignation Dullness. Its accompaniments are frustration, indifference and inner retreat. The undesirable Gold finally was rewarded to 33% for the so-called Acceleration Trap. Namely for an overload of tasks in too little time. For multiple and continuous pressure loads and ill-defined priorities.

So let’s count down the charts in fast forward again: Age Discrimination, Corrosive Power, Centralization, Resignation Dullness and Acceleration Trap. The online media magazine Lead Digital quotes Silke Masurat, the managing director of studies’ sponsor Zeag: “Many HR management concepts greatly focus on the well-known figure of employer attractiveness. However, the factors that quickly tear down what has been laboriously built up are usually neglected. That’s why we were deliberately looking for these killers of attractiveness”.

By the way, the survey also revealed that the most attractive employers achieved 12% higher rates of innovation, 12% more customer delight and even 16% higher company performance. Doesn’t that make clear that being attractive also means to be lucrative?

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Time-out instead of burnout

The source for most mental disorders—especially for burnoutis the workplace. Recent studies reveal some of the most common weak points at work but also imply solutions for companies as well as employees.

Ver.di is Germany’s United Service Trade Union. Does it really surprise us, the result of a recently published study by ver.di? Not really, when we observe our colleagues day by day, but it scares us a little. One of five employees, so it says, take only a short lunch break per day, that’s less than required for physical or mental regeneration. Every tenth person even works through every day, nonstop, without any break at all!

Are these people still not aware of the universally known medical-psychological insights? Permanent productivity and power can only be achieved if you divide your work into separate focused units. This is nothing new, all learning lessons have just been 45, maximum 50 minutes long for centuries. The following lessons did never start before a break had been made. Sure, people know about it, in principle. But all too often the pressure to just perform seems to make the race in the people’s minds–be it the pressure to which they expose themselves or the compulsion created by their work environment.

What about closing the eyes from time to time? Or stretching out arms and legs, take a deep breath and gasp? Why not having a cup of coffee orthis should not be any tobacco advertising!a cigarette break? Talking with nice colleagues makes the team spirit rise. And for lunch: Eat healthy food and enjoy it slowly. Switch off the job and the stress for at least half an hour, better more. And if it’s a desktop or computer which occupies all your time, have a session of physical work in between, for instance in a gym. All time-outs pay off if the result is to prevent burnout.

The impression might even arise that today’s companies are more sensitive in terms of employee’s health than the employees themselves. After all: The number of employers seems to grow who want to secure the productivity and loyalty of their people by better working conditions. Recently the career portal Glassdoor published the result of a survey creating a ranking of the top 15 employers in Germany with the best work-life balance.

Who was voted number one? It’s the game software developer Goodgame Studios. On a scale of 1 to 5 they were rated 4.5. Goodgame was followed by the travel portal Trivago and the trusts BMW, Daimler, Bosch, Continental, Allianz, Siemens, Adidas and Telekom. What do they offer? For example, flexible working hours and models with individual options of workplace and times. Positive remarks were made about institutions such as child care, fitness programs or even “feel-good managers” which seem to become typical for larger startups. By the way: In an international comparison, the work-life balance opportunities of German workers in the study revealed to be even better than those of the French, British, Australians, Canadians and U.S. Americans. Among the compared nationalities, only the Dutch reported better conditions.

Another statistical figure indicates that more than 90 percent of all German employees regard it as one of their major life goals to have more time for families, partners and private occupations. So maybe the rest are the ten percent who have no breaks at all as the ver.di study says.

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Female managers and the “armored glass ceiling”

Equal opportunities? Not at all. In the management and supervisory boards of German companies women are still exotic, insulated or quota women. Germany is a developing country here. But how can that be––despite of a skills shortage and women being better educated? And, after all, what can women do?

One thing first: If bloggers or journalists are men and write on the working world subject, they easily forget that their gender represents only half of all humanity. Maybe just a small majority of professionals. The author of this article was no exception when he wrote about the workforce in general and in the last contribution in particular about men who wouldn’t want to retire although they were old enough. That post dealt with executives who still saw career prospects at more than 60 or even 70 years of age and therefore continued to work. Obviously, these executives were almost exclusively members of the male sex. Just as the author.

But … women? Recently, the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs published a study called “Female Managers 50plus”. Women in management or leadership positions were interviewed in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The result? Many female top managers get stopped by some kind of a “bullet-proof glass ceiling” around the age of 50, referring to an commenting interview in the magazine by the gender researcher Christiane Funken. The elevator to the very top floors seems to stop when they push the button …

What are these women all about? They are from the baby boomer generation. For the first time in history, they had better average training results than the men. They have been rising for decades and thought career was alone a question of power. They work 70, 80 hours a week just as their male colleagues. And suddenly they see how their male counterparts “overtake” them in promoting to the highest management and executive posts, as Christiane Funken points out. But why?

The gender scientist draws her conclusions. In the men’s culture of most companies, women were still excluded from the main decision-making and information channels. The basic decisions would be made on phone calls or at the bar before the meetings actually begin. But how can and how do women react?

Funken categorizes three types of women. The first ones are tireless fighters who, like Don Quixote, run against windmills and don’t seem to get discouraged (whether successfully or not is not mentioned in the interview). Then there are those who resign. They just could not leave because they often still had to feed a family, but they turn to do “work to rule”. The third group, Funken calls the dropouts. They either become self-employed e.g. as shop or café runners or with a hobby which they finally repurpose to job. Or they start to get engaged in political or honorary.

At least, the conservatism of society is in a way convenient to the dropouts group as can be inferred from statements by Christiane Funken. From man, most people still expect to be the family income provider. But a woman has well deserved a kind of retirement after a top career. So this a-bit-more-modern aspect of traditional (male) perspectives now widely accepts women’s careers. To a certain point.

Another advantage for “dropouts” is recognized by Ute Hagen. Many of her study and fellow alumni are in the same group of age. They get out of the “hamster wheel” of large enterprises and follow new ideals for the next phase of their lives. “We all wish to be able to still work professionally and active at 70 or 75. But we want to split our life energy better between professional and private,” as Ute Hagen says. She also points out that the members of her generation are increasingly having to worry about their very elderly parents. This role continues to be a classical daughter’s case and is not compatible with a 60- or 70-hour week. Finally Ute Hagen refers to yet another argument for dropouts: “We women know better than ever before how long we can stay healthy. And that will be better if we live our own lives and devote ourselves to our own passions.”

However, to achieve more equality and to prevent increasing shortage skills, it’s time to crack the “bullet-proof glass ceiling”.

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Pension? No thanks.

Retirement at 63––this bill that was passed last year gets criticized by many entrepreneurs as they loose irreplaceable professionals earlier than before. However, many of the supposed pensioners push that law to the point of absurdity.

The Germans are getting older because the individual life expectancy is increasing. Thus they can enjoy their retirement for longer, and according to the new pension-with-63-law, even two years earlier. But for quite some time we could observe a trend: More and more old employees do not want to stop working at all, be it at the age of 63, 65 or even older. And what was just to be estimated until now was actually revealed by a recent study of the Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft (IW Köln / Institute of German Economy).

According to the survey, the proportion of workers between 65 and 74 years of age has more than doubled within ten years. In 2003 their share of the workforce was just about four percent, in 2013 they were already 8.7 of all workers. Do they work because of too low pensions? Are these people in financial distress? Not at all, as the study says. Rather, the respondents justify their ongoing work by very good employment and income prospects. The majority of them are highly qualified professionals or work in leading positions. Self employment, too, was often cited as a reason. How much bigger would the lack of skilled workers be if these vital and competent old workers would actually give up at 63?

Recruiters already begin to hire these people for example on a project basis. Many larger companies have long known how much potential their “young old ones” have. For instance, they send them to build up foreign offices in the Far East or the emerging countries where German quality standards are to be introduced. It turns out that these people are much more flexible and open-minded than the young ones commonly think about them. After all, we are speaking of the flower power age group.

“For Generation Y workers there could be no better mentors. The relationship over two generations is usually better than over one. And the young people often respect the elderly more than supervisors in the problematic age of their parents,” says Ute Hagen. “Above all, as a living knowledge base, an ‘old hand’ is more valuable than any intranet system manual. If you’re new in a job, you often don’t know where to look up and how to ask the right questions.”

The old also love to pass on their knowledge. Because, in reverse, there is nothing more frustrating for an active person than to feel to be no longer needed. “If you have worked for almost all of your lifetime, retirement and the sudden nothing-more-to-do-feeling may pull the rug from under you.

Many of these reluctant retirees are dissatisfied and become insufferable husbands or wives even after decades of a happy partnership”, as Ute Hagen points out. “So why should work be forbidden to someone who has always been happy in his job?”.

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Retirement at 63: late enough or too early?

It has been discussed for a long time and now it came true: Employees can retire at the age of 63 instead of 65. Now, a year after that bill was passed, more and more employers start to complain about the aftermaths they fear or already suffer from.

In many other countries of Western Europe, regulations such as this have long since been existing. For a year now the Germans (who’s image is that of a hard-working people) can retire at 63 without cuts of pay as in the earlier retirement laws. The condition is that they have paid into the pension fund at least for 45 years.

“Finally, people who have toiled all their lives enjoy a little bit more of their retirement”, say the trade unions. But the supposed social blessing turns out to be deceptive. Particularly: Those who work hard physically usually retire much sooner, anyway. These are for example construction workers or roofers who can’t work until their mid-60’s because of physical diseases or illnesses. They quit at 56 or 58 and accept pension cuts even though their wages had been comparatively small.

It’s most of all skilled workers or executives who retire at 63. And now– –one year after the introduction– –more and more employers ring the alert. In more than eleven percent of all companies, employees have already gone in the earlier pension or have sent off requests on imminent farewell. Public administrations are even concerned by about 31 percent. Some 600,000 workers will leave the labor force earlier within the next three years.

The problem: In Germany, there is an increasing shortage of skilled. And what trade unionists had claimed for so long may prove to be a boomerang: namely, that the departure of the ancients would make their occupations free for the young generation.

Instead, the companies complain that they face economic damage because of losing executives. 45 or more years of professional experience, they say, can not be compensated especially in the SMEs. Today’s executives no longer have the typical skilled workers’ biographies of the 60+ generation people who had started as trainees at the age of 14 or 15 and have worked their way up. Current or future leaders study until they are 30. And after two or three years they leave the company again, taking their acquired know-how with them, too. And that’s simply because they take faster career leaps more likely with their next employment.

Many entrepreneurs had expected a retirement at 63 bill but not before 2018. As it turns out, political decisions are sometimes made faster than the economy believes. And this one single year since the law was passed was by far not enough enough time to train any apprentice.

Finally, the retirement age to 63 is also a social discrimination against women in a society that almost simultaneously discusses the introduction of quotas for women in leadership positions. Very few women were able to work the required 45 years for the pension fund especially due to their children and family obligations.

Now, is the retirement at 63 really so bad, despicable, a blunder? No, it was well intended. But it would have certainly required more flexible solutions.

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