Human Resources

Quality of work life
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    December 1969
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HR Resources Quality of “Work Life” HAVE YOU INVESTED IN YOUR ORGANIZATION’S FUTURE? B Y B R I A N B A L L O U, C PA , AND N O R M A N H . G O D W I N , C PA here are two trends in the global business community that show no signs of changing in the near future: Change is constant, and complexity is increasing. We have to look no further than almost any organization’s information technology processes to see firsthand the significant changes in the way corporations conduct business. For example, global competition is transforming business, and companies that adapt slowly can face severe consequences. Such a dynamic and complex environment places tremendous pressure on employers to be flexible, visionary, and innovative—all while maintaining profitability. One important corporate focus is increased attention to what we call “the quality of work life.” While T “quality of life” may describe a person or group’s standard of living, environment, public health and safety, and/or general surroundings, the quality of a person’s “work life” encompasses things that affect their well-being during the working day, such as salary and benefits, facilities, the potential for advancement, and work/life balance. In the traditional workplace model, employers have attempted to extract as much output as possible without much regard for employee satisfaction. But that model is quickly becoming obsolete, especially with the rise in stress caused by increased complexity in the business world. Many organizations are now spending significant time and resources on initiatives to elevate employee satisfaction. October 2007 I S T R AT E G I C F I N A N C E 41 The effort has gained enough prominence and momentum in corporate America that Fortune magazine now ranks companies annually on employee workplace quality. Each January for the past 10 years, Fortune has published its list of the “100 Best Companies to Work for in America.” According to representatives of firms on the 2007 list, inclusion is a proverbial feather in the cap. Bruce Chizen, CEO of 31st-ranked Adobe Systems, states that his company is “honored to be named…to this prestigious list.” Other CEOs agree, noting that they are “very pleased,” “delighted,” and “proud” to be nationally recognized as a top place to work. capital and/or the perceived attractiveness of the company to employees can lead to higher stock prices beyond increases attributed to profitability from increased productivity. Thus, by increasing the quality of work life for its employees, the organization is increasing the quality of investment for its stakeholders. ATTRACTION AND RETENTION The CEO of one highly ranked corporation believes that “the foundation of a great business is the people who work there every day.” Peter Roberts, CEO of 66th-ranked Jones Lang LaSalle Americas, agrees. “Both our culture and our company’s success demand that we attract talented people, provide them with the resources they need to be the best and serve our clients well, and keep them engaged, motivated, and satisfied throughout their careers.” Good leaders understand that the successful recruitment and retention of high-quality employees can translate into perhaps a company’s greatest asset: the intellectual capital of its workforce. While this asset doesn’t appear on the balance sheet, companies are quick to acknowledge the value of their workforces. Robert L. Bagby, chairman and CEO of 99th-ranked A.G. Edwards (which has appeared on all 10 lists), comments that he truly believes “the most important asset our company has is our people.” Bagby also recognizes that attracting and retaining employees takes significantly more effort than making employee-friendly statements. He continues that his company spends “a good deal of our time and resources on providing…training opportunities and exceptional benefits that make working here a rewarding experience.” Anecdotal evidence suggests that an increasingly important step toward attracting and retaining quality employees is to improve the quality of the organization’s work life. Jeffrey Swartz, president and CEO of consistently ranked Timberland, admits that his company has an “obligation to continue to earn” its status as a great place to work. There are many ways to do this. For example, a company might introduce flexible scheduling to attract and retain employees who might otherwise leave. A recent employer survey conducted by Watson Wyatt Worldwide indicated that flexible work schedules were a more effective retention tool than training, above-market pay, and stock options. ENHANCING VALUE? Widespread corporate activity on employee initiatives begs the question of whether organizations are acting rationally or irrationally from a business perspective. Investments in workplace quality consume resources that could be used in other ways, and most companies are under tremendous pressure to perform well in the short run. Are companies trading value for worker satisfaction? Anecdotal and empirical evidence suggests that the answer to this question is “no.” Many organizations no longer consider corporate value and employee satisfaction to be at odds with each other. Rather, they believe that expenditures to increase employee satisfaction are value enhancing, for several reasons. First, as the economy continues to evolve toward a service and information technology focus, an organization’s most valuable “assets” are often its employees, meaning that attracting and retaining them is very important. In particular, employees with expertise are critical for long-term success in managing a company’s complex, dynamic environment. Employee satisfaction is an important tool in attracting and retaining quality workers and developing them into an intellectual capital base that can provide a company with a competitive advantage. Second, organizations are learning that satisfied employees who believe that their employers care about them personally are more loyal and dedicated to working effectively and efficiently. This leads to a win-win situation: Organizations are more successful, and employees are more satisfied. Third, evidence suggests that creating a high quality of work life increases an organization’s value. For public companies, market values associated with intellectual S T R AT E G I C F I N A N C E ILLUSTRATION: WESLEY BEDROSIAN/WWW.WESLEYBEDROSIAN.COM 42 I October 2007 Figure 1: Growth in Year-End Closing Stock Price of Firms with High and Low Quality of Work Life 40.00% 30.00% 20.00% 10.00% 0.00% -10.00% -20.00% 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 Change in S tock Price Listed Firms Nonlisted Firms While having a high quality of work life is the first step, a second and perhaps equally important step in attracting and retaining quality employees is developing and maintaining a reputation for workplace quality. One means to develop this reputation is being included on a list of great places to work and then making such inclusion known. That is, companies can use a list as a benchmark for convincing current and prospective employees that a firm is committed to their needs. Mark Parker, president and CEO of 69th-ranked Nike, takes this position with regard to Fortune’s list. “Making the Fortune list of best places to work is a big competitive advantage for Nike. It validates the efforts we’re making to support our employees. It helps us recruit top talent. And it proves that we can continue to grow and still feel small and personal.” Isadore Sharp, chairman and CEO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, agrees, stating that being on the list year after year “has gone a long way to build our reputation as a top employer.” Consider how public accounting firms are using inclusion on workplace quality lists as a recruiting tool. Deloitte & Touche has been known to announce its ranking in full-page advertisements in several financial publications, including The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek. Ernst & Young once distributed a letter to accounting academics, stating that “[t]he firm’s Office of Retention has been extremely proactive in finding creative and productive ways to motivate our people to stay with [the firm]” and that investments in “recruiting and other people initiatives are shaping Ernst & Young into a remarkable forward-looking company.” PricewaterhouseCoopers has included reprints of Working Mother’s and Computerworld’s lists of best places for working mothers and information technology, respectively, in recruiting brochures for its consulting division. With the first-time listing of KPMG on the most recent list, a strong case can be made for public accounting’s concern for its employees, which should help in attracting talent. Karl Erik Sveiby argues in his 1997 book, The New Organizational Wealth, that, unlike depreciable capital assets, knowledge appreciates over time and that as the industrial age shifts into a new age driven by knowledgebased firms, such knowledge will become more critical to organizational success. Organizations such as Nike, Four Seasons, and the Big Four accounting firms appear to have recognized this and are making efforts to attract and retain quality employees to create a dynamic intellectual capital base that will provide competitive advantage for years to come. LOYALTY AND PRODUCTIVITY While there has long been debate about the link between employee satisfaction and workplace productivity, leaders of highly ranked firms seem to believe strongly that there’s a positive association between the two. After being ranked first, second, and third in the last three lists, Danny Wegman, CEO of Wegmans Food Markets, states, “People tell us they like shopping at Wegmans because our employees are happy, and that makes them happy. We have always believed that in order to be a great place to shop, we must first be a great place to work.” Matt Schuyler, chief human resources officer of Capital One, puts it this way: “Competitors can offer products we offer in this day and age, but we believe our people and our values make the difference….We provide a great work environment that enables our people to deliver excellence every day.” These beliefs aren’t unfounded. For example, take a 1998 Harvard Business Review article, “Work and Life: The End of the Zero-Sum Game,” in which Stewart Friedman, Perry Christensen, and Jessica DeGroot describe how structuring work environments to benefit employees’ needs increases an employer’s return. The authors examine several case studies and conclude that successful work and life balances increase employee loyalty and productivity. They recommend that organizations follow three important principles in developing such a balance: x Clearly emphasize the overall business priorities and objectives of the organization. x Recognize and support employees as “whole people” by openly “acknowledging and even celebrating the October 2007 I S T R AT E G I C F I N A N C E 43 employees. A June/July 2003 article in Journal of Business fact that they have roles outside the office.” x Continually experiment with the way work is done. Finance & Accounting examines the stock market’s reacprinciples encourage employees to be clear These tion to announcements that companies made the Fortune about personal interests, enable skills to be transferred “Best Companies to Work For” list. Greg Filbeck and from personal life to professional life, and assist in the Dianna Pierce find a positive abnormal market response development of approaches that enhance an organizato the announcements. In other words, the stock price of tion’s performance without preventing employees from companies on the list increased more than expected once spending time and energy on outside pursuits. the announcement was made. This indicates that According to, Capital One now provides investors value positively what the ranking represents. tremendous flexibility in its work We found the same positive effect Table 1: Common Benefits environment through its “Future of in our 2003 study published in of Companies on Accounting Horizons. We compared Work” project. Armed with a laptop, a Fortune’s “100 Best Commarket prices of ranked firms to a Blackberry, and an iPod, employees matched sample of firms not on the can visit offices from Boston to panies to Work For” Lists list. After controlling for other facKansas City and find open spaces [Most to Least Frequent] tors, we found that firms making the with desks, booths, couches, and “quiChild-care resource and referral list have higher market values than et zones” for undistracted work. Or Relocation services the others. We also found that highthey can work wherever they are. Career counseling er-ranked firms have higher market Since the company began this project Casual dress every day values than lower-ranked firms. We on a subset of employees, surveys Elder-care resource and referral concluded that investors recognize indicate a rise in employee satisfacStock options for every category the value of being a great place to tion of more than 40%. One featured of employee work and reward those companies employee celebrates the fact that she On-site ATM/Banking with higher market values. can now work at home before taking Adoption aid To see the potential effects longcare of her children and exercising. Mentoring programs term quality of work life investments That is, she celebrates a work/life balFlextime have on shareholder wealth, we ance enabled by her employer. Subsidized cafeterias recently examined the growth in Dry-cleaning services SATISFYING THE STAKEHOLDERS stock price of the 12 publicly traded Flextime case by case The bottom line of creating a higher companies that have appeared on all College-planning assistance quality of work life should ultimately 10 of Fortune’s lists. Fortune refers to Reduced-hour employment be, of course, the bottom line. While these and the additional six nonpub100% tuition reimbursement creating happy employees is a worthlic companies as All-Stars. Home-purchasing assistance while pursuit, investors probably We calculated the growth in the Unpaid educational sabbaticals won’t tolerate excessive perks in lieu year-end stock price for these compaOn-site child care of wealth-enhancing investments. nies and compared it to that of comCompressed workweek Thus, companies should ask thempanies with lower work life quality. Individual financial counseling selves whether quality of work life To identify lower-quality firms, we Group auto insurance investments will increase financial took each of the All-Stars and identiGroup homeowner’s insurance performance. Dan Amos, chairman fied the company in the same indusGroup prepaid legal services and CEO of 73rd-ranked Aflac, says try that was closest in size to the Job sharing the company’s commitment to being All-Star but wasn’t on the list (see Take-home meals a great place to work “not only makes Figure 1). Telecommuting Aflac an employer of choice, but ultiIn five of the seven years studied, No-layoff policy mately translates into maximizing the annual change in stock price was Paid educational sabbaticals shareholder value.” more positive for the All-Stars than Personal concierge services Recent research has produced for the other companies. While these Overnight dependent child care encouraging results for shareholders results are by no means conclusive, of companies investing in their they demonstrate again what prior 44 S T R AT E G I C F I N A N C E I October 2007 Table 2: Unusual Benefits of Companies on Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” Lists BENEFITS FIRM 20 days of free backup care for 3- to 6-month-olds On-site dentistry Paid week off for new grandparents Free restringing for tennis racquets Professionally made take-home dinners; cruises on the company yacht Pregnant employees can take a paid month off before their due date Every employee got a $250 gas card in 2006 Use of the company plane for family emergencies Dinner with the president and CEO after 10 years A free stay at any company-run hotel Free ride in jump seat of company planes Unlimited accumulation of unused vacation time Pet insurance 24-hour fitness center for workers and families Annual three-day kickoff event at a resort for all employees $4 on-site haircuts Health club reimbursement if you go three times a week $10,000 total benefit for infertility treatments and adoption aid $1,500 to $10,000 to employees who recommend a new hire 10 paid hours a month for volunteer work Free ice cream when team is in first place and increases lead 35 extra vacation days on 10th year and every fifth year after Free lunch every day for all employees at 60 Wall Street Child care for $200 per month and pianist in cafeteria Automatic contribution of up to 10% of pay every year 1,200-acre camping and recreational area for employee use $50 to take annual physical, $200 reward if vital signs are okay Life Cycle account of $10,000 to help employees cross major thresholds such as buying first house or paying tuition Goldman Sachs Station Casinos MBNA SAS Institute JM Family Enterprises Eli Lilly Methodist Hospital BE&K Cerner Four Seasons Federal Express Qualcomm Timberland 3COM mon benefits companies on Fortune’s lists offer include child- and elder-care resources, flextime, and career counseling (see Table 1). More unusual benefits include on-site dental care, cruises aboard the company yacht, and free restringing of tennis racquets (see Table 2). An interesting point is that some benefits, such as mentoring programs and casual dress, aren’t costly. The common element of the most popular benefits appears to be the reduction of the stress associated with balancing personal and company responsibilities. INVESTING IN THE FUTURE research shows and what many CEOs believe—that investment in employees creates shareholder value. Based on the anecdotal and empirical evidence, attention to quality of work Scitor life issues is increasing in corporate Worthington Industries America. Organizations of all types find Synovus it worthwhile to invest in employee satCMP Media isfaction, especially in an economy that Deloitte & Touche is perpetually increasing in complexity. Fannie Mae Such investments allow organizations Los Angeles to attract and retain quality employees, Dodgers develop an intellectual capital base, Moog motivate employees to be more producJ.P Morgan . tive, and garner higher value. As the SAS Institute financial press, researchers, analysts, Shell Oil and investors continue to follow these Steelcase developments, more concrete evidence Synovus should be generated that identifies the Xerox extent to which these investments add value. We would be surprised to find that quality of work life doesn’t play an important role in helping organizations of all types to prepare themselves to succeed in the near and distant future. s Brian Ballou, CPA, Ph.D., is professor and co-director of the Center for Governance, Risk Management, and Reporting at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. You can reach him at (513) 529-6213 or [email protected] Norman H. Godwin, CPA, Ph.D., is associate professor and director of the School of Accountancy at Auburn University in Auburn, Ala. His contact information is (334) 844-6225 and [email protected] October 2007 IMPROVING WORK LIFE QUALITY Providing a work environment that creates a real and/or perceived high quality of work life isn’t an easy task. Higher salaries don’t necessarily appear to be the answer. While workers certainly want to earn as much as possible, the stress of balancing work and home life, among other issues, generally causes much greater concerns. So, if providing higher salaries isn’t the answer, how is a company to address this issue? Some of the most com- I S T R AT E G I C F I N A N C E 45