Who Knows Employees Better Than SHRM? Um … Maybe Everyone?

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I was on SHRM’s website today and eyeballed this popular survey, Challenges Facing HR Over the Next 10 Years.

The report contains responses from both 2012 and 2010 for comparison purposes, but I’m going to focus on the 2012 answers here, which SHRM obtained from 487 of its randomly selected members. (That’s a dismal 17 percent response rate, by the way. Perhaps next time SHRM will do a survey on why it can’t get members to respond to surveys? Maybe.)

Anyway, according to the report the three most important challenges HR executives will face in the coming decade are (drumroll please):

  • Retaining and rewarding the best employees (59 percent);
  • Developing the next generation of corporate leaders (52 percent);
  • Creating a corporate culture that attracts the best employees (36 percent).

Now, I assume (not having completed the survey — was I even invited? I can’t remember) that respondents were presented with a multiple-choice menu and couldn’t just submit any old thing, which is why “Getting some damn respect from somebody — anybody!” wasn’t among the responses, and I’m not surprised by this.

However, I was surprised by the answer to this question:

Over the next 10 years, which of the following tactics do you believe will be most effective in attracting, retaining, and rewarding the best employees in your organization?”

Yes, tell us, please

Because the top answer, voted by 40 percent of respondents, was “providing flexible work arrangements.”

Say what?

Recognition for good work came in at 14 percent, providing employees better opportunities to use skills and abilities came in at a lousy 11 percent (as did valuing diversity) and most interesting of all, developing ourselves came in at 13 percent.

(As to that last bit, either most of us think we’re all that and a bag of chips, or we don’t think we have much impact on employee attraction and retention. Either way, I’m flummoxed.)

Is this what HR pros really think?

And I don’t know, I’m thinking these responses can’t be what HR pros really think.

Flexible work arrangements will be the way to attract and retain talent? What kind of talent would that be? Are we talking real talent or warm bodies masquerading as talent? Because I hear a lot of employees complaining about a lot of stuff, but I’ve never heard a top performer say that her job is fantastic — great boss, great work, nice co-workers, groovy culture, awesome pay, lovely commute — and she’d love to stay, but she’s gonna have to bounce because another company offered her the chance to work from 8-6 instead of 9-5. Nope.

Which is not to say that flexibility isn’t important to employees. We all know that it is.

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But more important than compensation? More important than personal development? More important than meaningful work? More important than actually waking up and wanting to go to work because your company culture doesn’t stink to high heaven? Really?

So, I honestly don’t know what to make of this.

It’s not rocket science

Did SHRM screw up in its development of possible responses? Was the respondent pool too small? Am I just nuts? Perhaps all of the above?

You tell me, please. Because this isn’t the answer I would have expected, based on what I know to be true about employees, who I grant you aren’t all alike but do share some commonalities of thought, such as valuing decent compensation, doing meaningful work, and being appreciated by their organizations.

In my experience (and according to a CEB study, actually), these are the top reasons people start looking for another job. Work-life balance is on the list, but it’s No. 5.

CEB claims to have gotten feedback from 50,000 workers (versus 487 HR folks), and I love my HR folks, but my money’s on CEB.

Just saying.

So let’s all start responding to those SHRM survey requests, OK? Because businesses need real data, and this here is just sad.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.


14 Comments on “Who Knows Employees Better Than SHRM? Um … Maybe Everyone?

  1. Hello Crystal. Thank you for your bold article. Very clear and accurate assessment of the situation! Being in the helping “HR and management improve performance” industry for over 27 years, I have also observed some of the so-called surveys out there no being connected to the real world. For starters, every organization, every organization has a unique culture and dynamic. Recognition and reward initiatives are not a one size fits all nor a generalization that “providing flexible working arrangements” is top on the attracting and retention of employees list. I would like to share this article that offers some truths about this. http://www.taico.com/blog/bid/64896/Why-employees-join-you-in-the-first-place

    1. Thanks for the article Tai. I appreciate your approach–look at why an employee joined your company in the first place before designing retention incentives. Simple but valid.

  2. Self-praise is no praise at all, but I will tell you that I have (at times) fought a battle at SHRM to bring them into the late 20th century . . . . in the 21st century. So I get the frustration.

    But a couple of thoughts.

    – Who said that HR professionals are wrong?

    – Maybe a flexible work environment addresses issues such as gender equity/pay equity and diversity. Maybe a flexible work environment forces employers to rethink the way they attract, hire and retain great workers.

    – And maybe a flexible work environment forces transparency and accountability in compensation and performance management from the top of the organization down.

    – And remember the outrage over Yahoo’s decision to force people to work in an office? Maybe a flexible work environment is the gateway drug to creating a bold, dominant and disruptive brand (buzzzzzwords) that makes money?

    In short, maybe HR has it right and business leaders have it wrong. Maybe HR knows what it is doing — and if left alone for a minute — might actually surprise us with some good choices.

    I don’t think SHRM as an association often “gets it” when it comes to HR, but I believe that the average HR professional (female, over 40) knows what the hell she is doing for a living. For once, maybe, let’s see how this plays out?

    1. Hi Laurie, and *HUGS* (wink)!

      Hmmm … food for thought there. I like what you say about how thinking about/implementing flexible work arrangements can lead to other interesting questions, and I definitely agree that it would be nice if HR were left alone to do some good. But … I just can’t buy it. Gen X and Gen Y love flexibility, and even some Boomers are getting into the act now that they’re (sort of ) winding down, but flexibility COMPARED to what all ails the American worker? I’m not so sure about that. You’re certainly correct in implying that time will tell, though. (Oh, and I call it right now that if, a decade from now workers have left corporations in record numbers to start their own businesses, the MAIN reason is to be free of crappy management–not to gain flexibility.)

  3. As a statistics guy I can tell you that survey validity isn’t a function of survey size. It is entirely possible that the survey with 487 respondents is statistically more valid than then one with 50,000 respondents. In fact – I can say that almost every survey you see today about HR, engagement, et. al. is probably severely flawed and easily discounted.

    1. Afternoon, Paul.

      “I can say that almost every survey you see today about HR, engagement, et. al. is probably severely flawed and easily discounted.”

      Well, all the more reason to take Kyle’s stance, huh? Gee.

      I do have a question, though. Now, I’m no mathematician, but it seems to me that a survey with 50,000 participants would have to be flawed to the max (I’m talking a seriously faulty instrument) to be more valid than one with 487 participants. No?

      1. The issue isn’t survey size – it’s about the make up of the sample. 50,000 people may not be representative of the population – it’s about numbers – it’s about the make up of the people in the sample. See here for a good description: http://researchaccess.com/2011/11/4-kinds-of-survey-error-sampling-measurement-coverage-nonresponse/

        And yes… when surveys are produced and socialized by companies that are somehow connected to the survey output I don’t put a lot of faith in the real validity of the data. And in most instances it comes back to sampling errors. Just the fact that many of these surveys are pushed around via the web and social networks means it eliminates a huge portion of the population that may not see them or cannot access them. But what do we care – we’ll just say that we have enough people in the survey to make it statistically significant and hope no one asks about the methodology.

  4. Crystal, I’m wondering whether or not people just don’t know what “flexible work arrangement” means. I work with businesses who think it’s a 9 day, 80 hour week (every other Friday off); others think it means set your own hours; and still others think it means employees work from home on a frequent basis. Living in traffic-choked Los Angeles, I can tell you that there are many employees out there that would stay with a company that offered these arrangements than go with a company that didn’t.

    Having said that, compensation is still the issue as we come out of this recession. Would I like to work from home 4 days a week? Yes. But if someone offered me 25% more compensation to drive to an office one hour each day? That might be worth it…

    1. Hi Eric. Well, FWAs encompass ALL those things you described, and I think these benefits are important to many people for many reasons. But I’m with you that other things, like money (and I’d add, how I’m treated on a daily basis) mean more. Now granted, if I really believe I can’t leave my job, and an FWA allows me to get from under my horrible boss for a bit, than an FWA gains in importance. No question.

  5. While I may not agree with your assessment of the SHRM survey, I do highly commend you for the passion you show for the HR profession. It is clear from reading your article that you care about the HR industry. Kudos.

    I agree with Laurie that maybe those who were surveyed may just “get it’ when compared to other surveys. I know in my own job that work flexibility is something our business has discussed and made plans to implement going forward.

    Regarding surveys – I take any survey I read with the proverbial grain-of-salt only because I know that A/not all people are sampled and B/not everyone is truthful and C/no survey can be 100% accurate. I use the data as insight and combine them with other tools when making a decision/coming to conclusion/etc.

    Again, kudos on your passion for HR.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Kyle. I hear you about surveys. (By the way, I got an email from SHRM today that was, you guessed it, a request to take a survey! I honestly don’t want to be bothered, but I guess I have to now…)

      I’ll repeat myself about the FWA stuff …. not sure I buy it, again, when compared to other concerns. However, I will say that in a healthy organization, flexibility can for sure be the icing that seals the cake layers.

      So tell me, what’s fueling your company discussions about flexibility? Are employees requesting it?

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