MONEY Careers

Why Your Boss is Working Harder to Keep You Happy

Revolving Door
Your boss doesn't want you to head out the door. Exploit that. ONOKY - Photononstop—Alamy

With hiring and job turnover up, a new survey finds that companies are having trouble attracting and hanging on to talented workers. Use that to your advantage.

Boss brought in cupcakes for no particular reason? Sweet. Even sweeter? You might be seeing more morale boosters at work these days, whether in the form of baked goods or bonuses. A new survey finds that employers are having a tough time attracting and retaining top talent—and with a little smart negotiating, that could mean good things for your career.

According to the new Towers Watson Global Talent Management and Rewards Survey, hiring and turnover are on the rise in offices around the world, including in the U.S. And mobility has its downsides.

Of 1,637 companies surveyed worldwide, nearly two-thirds report difficulty attracting top performers (65%) and high-potential employees (64%), an increase from two years ago. More than half of employers surveyed say it is hard to hold on to high-potential employees (56%) and top performers (54%).

Pay to Stay

Of course, one approach to getting workers to stick around is to offer them more money. And employers know that. “The survey data would indicate that they understand compensation is an important retention driver,” says Laura Sejen, managing director at Towers Watson.

Just last week, a survey by a major business group found that employers are starting to expand payrolls and raise wages. After years of decline, sign-on bonus programs are at an all-time high, and retention bonuses are surging, according to an analysis of bonus programs and practices by WorldatWork released in June. Of the businesses WorldatWork surveyed, 74% used sign-on bonus programs this year and 51% used retention bonus programs this year.

What Money Can’t Buy

So how come bosses still can’t figure out how to hold on to their best workers? Another new Towers Watson survey suggests they’re a little out of touch when it comes to judging the importance of other factors, such as perceived job security and confidence in senior management. In a separate survey, the Towers Watson Global Workforce Study of 32,000 employees worldwide, the group found that employees rank job security and confidence in senior leadership among the most important reasons they stay with a company. But employers didn’t rank either factor as a key attraction or retention driver.

“Those are really important to employees,” says Sejen. “Employers don’t necessarily rank those as highly as they should.”

To get a better sense of what it takes to keep employees enthusiastic, some bosses are trying to listen more closely, says Rose Stanley, a Total Rewards practice leader for WorldatWork. “A lot of organizations will do satisfaction or engagement surveys,” says Stanley.

They’ll even conduct “stay interviews” (as opposed to exit interviews) to pick employees’ brains about how their rewards packages, schedule flexibility, and work environment could be improved to inspire them to stay.

“It’s a way to connect with employees and figure out what’s going on,” says Stanley.

How You Can Leverage the News

Even if your employer hasn’t reached out to you yet, come up with your own requests. If you’ve been craving a more flexible schedule or higher pay, now could be the right time to ask, says career consultant Maggie Mistal.

Mistal has noticed that many employees have lingering anxiety from the financial crisis and fail to realize their own worth to their employers. “Some folks I work with are in a mindset of ‘I’m just lucky to have a job,’ when in reality they’re the people bosses want to hold on to,” she says.

To improve your own situation, Mistal advises, first figure out what would improve your job and make you likelier to stick with your company. Once you have a good idea of your goals, let your boss know you’d like to talk.

“The magic term is: ‘I’d like to get your feedback on some ideas,’” says Mistal. “Managers are willing—and a lot of them are even excited—to have that conversation.”

Open your discussion with gratitude, emphasizing how much you enjoy working at your company or with your boss, advises career coach Roy L. Cohen. Then make your request clearly, with a positive angle. If you’d like to telecommute two days a week, for instance, highlight that a more flexible schedule could make you more productive.

“Focus on how you’re helping the company achieve even greater success,” says Cohen.

Instead of making an ultimatum, stay open to feedback from your boss, Mistal advises. If your boss isn’t sold on the idea of telecommuting, offer to check in periodically throughout the day, or to give your flexible schedule a two-week test run.

But don’t demand too much all at once. Even in an environment where your boss is working harder to hold on to great employees like you, you don’t want to come off as smug.

“Never be greedy,” says Cohen. “Greediness is always remembered. Even if you feel you’re worth it, make sure you can back up your request.”

MONEY Telecommuting

Telecommuting: What Marissa Mayer Got Right—and Wrong

Marissa Mayer on mobile phone
Marissa Mayer argued that speed and quality can be lost when people work from home. Jason Alden—Bloomberg via Getty Images

A new survey finds that working from home can be good for you and your employer--but only if you don't abuse the privilege.

A year-plus after Yahoo! chief Marissa Mayer made headlines by banning the company’s popular telecommuting policy to boost worker productivity, a recent study proved her right—and wrong. A Gallup State of the American Workplace report found that people who work remotely are more engaged, enthusiastic and committed to their work — but only if they work outside the office 20% of the time or less.

Mayer’s February 2013 memo argued that in order to “become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side.” It went on:

Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

The declaration ignited a firestorm of criticism, as it seemed to fly in the face of progressive thinking among both feminists and business leaders. A USA Today op-ed accused Mayer of “setting back the cause of working mothers.” Richard Branson tweeted that he was “perplexed” by the move and asserted: “Give people the freedom of where to work & they will excel.” Mayer’s move had some defenders, but most concluded that she was fighting the zeitgeist.

Gallup’s new poll suggests Mayer may have been right — or at least that the question of telecommuting deserves a more nuanced analysis. On one hand, it found evidence of added productivity from those working outside the office: People actually work more hours at home, in part because they weren’t commuting or running errands at lunch. Some of the productivity increase also comes from being away from office distractions, says Gallup CEO Jim Clifton.

But there is a point of diminishing returns, adds Clifton. People who spend 50% or more of their time working off site are less engaged than in-office counterparts and people who spend all of their time working remotely are twice as likely to feel disconnected from their work, Gallup found.

Technologies allowing workers to share files and stay connected have helped smooth the way for more telework. But technology only gets you so far, says Rose Stanley, WorldatWork work-life practice leader, who herself works at home two days a week. “Social interaction gives you energy and makes you and your colleagues feel like you’re part of the same team,” says Stanley. “The sweet spot for making telework work is spending more of your working hours in the office than at home,” says Stanley.

Intentionally or not, employer practices increasingly reflect this conclusion. While more companies are embracing telecommuting, it is mostly on a part-time basis. Today, 67% of companies allow workers to work remotely occasionally, up from 50% in 2008, according to the Society for Human Resource and Families and Work Institute’s 2014 National Study of Employers report.

If you want to pitch a telework arrangement to your boss, first make sure your job can be done remotely. If you need special tools that are available only if you are physically present in the office or manage a lot of workers who are in the office, telecommuting may not work for you. Second, ask to do it on a trial basis. Prove that you can be productive and trusted to do your job without your boss’s eyes watching you, and it’ll be easier to make working remotely a regular gig.

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