When people choose your organization as their preferred place to work, your organization saves money through employee retention, and makes money through increased productivity – as well as becomes more effective as the best of your job applicants choose to work for you. Due to these practical and financial consequences, being an Employer of Choice will be important to organizations for the foreseeable future.
Our employee survey research consistently shows that the degree of opportunity in the workplace affects employee attitudes and behaviors. Thus, opportunity plays a major role in becoming or remaining an Employer of Choice.
Related Employee Surveys
Employee Engagement Survey – Opportunities available at an organization can greatly affect employee engagement. Through an employee engagement survey, an organization can accurately evaluate its’ level of opportunity and its effects on employee engagement.
Employee Satisfaction Survey – Opportunity can also impact employee satisfaction. Detailed analysis of an employee satisfaction survey can lead to the identification of the root causes of your organization’s employee satisfaction levels.
View all Employee Surveys by NBRI.
What is Opportunity?
The problem is that there are different forms of opportunity. Although there are no firm “rules,” there do seem to be some trends in the opportunity preferred by employees of different ages.
Among younger employees, opportunity is more likely to relate to an opportunity for:
- increased income,
- promotions/advancement, and
- training (and/or job experience).
When an employer is perceived to be low in opportunity, we see comments on our employee surveys like the following excerpts:
Employee 20-25 years old:
[We need] equal opportunity for all members of the team i.e. projects, upward advancement or opportunities within the department. If we all do the same job and our classification denotes this, then why is favoritism, (discrimination) still shown. Only specific (chosen) employees receive assistance and coaching from their supervisor/manager to grow in their current job or for further advancement in the company. Yet many qualified employees have expressed interest via email or one-on-one, never to get feed back or help to grow.
Employee 20-25 years old:
I feel like we have great training programs that are not taken advantage of. For example, we are told about the training but never given the opportunity to take the class.
Older, more experienced employees still want the opportunity for increased income, but they consistently show greater interest in:
- increased autonomy,
- the opportunity to work on projects that are important or interesting for them, and
- the opportunity to balance work and family life.
While it may be obvious why they aren’t as keen to get more training, it seems that they are often less enamored with promotions – which are typically accompanied by greater bureaucracy (e.g., more time spent completing forms, attending meetings, and estimating budgets). Thus, their focus may be more on interesting projects than promotions per se.
Employee 30-39 years old:
It is difficult to effectively recruit IT talent because individuals have less opportunity for creativity, less freedom in lifestyle and work environment, and less compensation than they would with other organizations. It seems that [the company] is more dollar-oriented than culture-oriented these days. Employees in my department put up with average pay, cramped and impersonal workspaces, and projects that discourage innovation in favor of maintaining the status quo.
Although NBRI includes measures for pay, training, autonomy, and work/life balance in our employee surveys, our measures for “opportunity” typically focus on increased responsibility (including promotions and special projects).
Trap: Avoid stereotyping. Although there are consistencies within age groups – the variety among people will be greater than the consistencies within age groups (e.g. you will find young employees who are seeking interesting projects, rather than promotions).
Solution: You need to talk to people to find out what motivates them; there is no simple formula that will give you a complete answer.
Why is opportunity important?
Opportunity has direct and indirect effects on employee attitudes and behaviors.
Higher opportunity directly increases:
- job satisfaction and
- employees’ expectations that the organization will meet their long-term needs and goals.
Thus, opportunity directly affects satisfaction (a response to current job conditions), but also expectations about job conditions in the future.
Job satisfaction and long-term expectations have their own consequences. Thus, because opportunity directly affects job satisfaction and long-term expectations, it indirectly affects other factors that are influenced by job satisfaction and long-term expectations.
Thus, opportunity indirectly increases:
- employee engagement,
- employee commitment,
- desire to stay, and
- employee productivity.
Consequently, having adequate opportunity significantly affects organizations – not because opportunity, in and of itself, has inherent value. It gains importance because it is an “underlying cause” with multiple “symptoms.” It happens that those symptoms (e.g. engagement, job satisfaction, commitment, retention, productivity) are typically on the list of key factors that make organizations successful.
How can you manage opportunity?
Many organizations have become very creative with their compensation and benefits packages. A detailed discussion of these strategies is beyond the scope of this white paper. However, note that just as important as any specific dollar amount is the perception that the “formula” that organization uses to determine these packages is fair. Generous, but inconsistently applied offers have caused more problems for organizations than conservative, but fair programs.
Trap: Be cautious of expecting employees to have the patience to indefinitely wait for future opportunity. Some young, high-tech companies pay their employees very little for excessive work hours, but are generous with stock options. These organizations could suddenly see significant increases in turnover if their stock values fall, and employees leave for more dependable compensation for their time.
Note that the above example is consistent with the research findings presented here: Employees join the organization for perceived financial opportunity. If that opportunity vaporizes, the low financial opportunity will decrease the desire to stay and thus, increase turnover.
Lesson: As much as possible, employees should have more than a single motivation to work for, and be committed to your organization.
Beyond compensation and benefits, what else can be done?
The first thing to manage is information about your existing opportunities. Some organizations have experienced low scores in opportunity simply because they didn’t do a good job of informing employees about existing opportunities. This costs very little. Most companies currently post job openings, but few do the same for projects – which are more subject to favoritism.
Create Multiple Career Paths
Universities are a good example. Universities have always needed teaching faculty. In addition, they created a second path for those who preferred to work in administration. Some have even set up paths within faculty where some positions are mostly teaching with little research, others are mostly research with little teaching.
Hospitals have created similar dual career paths for nurses, allowing some to focus on patient care while others can take a more administrative path.
Create In-House Consultants or Liaisons
One way to give more challenge and variety to experienced employees is to allow them to work more independently with a broader range of problems and projects.
While large organizations often see these as “permanent” positions, this is not necessary. Other organizations have created these as rotating positions or even allowed people to define their jobs as having a certain percentage of their time devoted to in-house consulting.
It is easy to assume that this position must come from a technical department (e.g. IT), but at least one of our clients has successfully trained volunteer employees to be facilitators and problem-solvers independent of their department or location.
Size Doesn’t Matter
Opportunity is one area where large organizations do not have a distinct advantage. Smaller organizations can often be more flexible about job assignments and be more innovative – which can be extremely attractive to experienced applicants and employees.
Although this white paper can help illuminate important qualities of successful organizations, a quantitative diagnosis, or employee survey, is the only way to accurately identify the specific issues unique to your organization.