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Staffing Management: Red-Carpet Treatment
 

Steve Taylor  1/10/2007

Vol. 3, No. 4

Creative staffing pros use everything from microwave ovens to day care centers to deck parties to woo candidates.

In an economy where providing health care benefits, pension plans and other traditional recruiting incentives has become cost-prohibitive for some companies, creative staffing professionals are staying competitive by stressing some novel ideas--imaginative perks that mesh with applicants' lifestyles and work/life balance needs. For example, microwave ovens in trucks.

To deal with a shortage of long-distance drivers that Clayton Boyce, vice president of public affairs at the American Trucking Association, calls "acute," many trucking firms are luring new employees by making the rolling workplace more like home. There are "a lot more creature comforts," Boyce reports, such as "better suspension seats, satellite radio [and] cellular phones." He adds that the industry is also recruiting more married couples as team drivers, so "the sleeper berths are larger and more luxurious, with microwave ovens and more storage space."

Of course, these types of accommodations likely would not have the same allure in an office or other work setting. That's why companies using creative recruiting incentives to attract candidates must tailor the perks to the needs of their own workforce--and many organizations are doing so successfully.

Time, Convenience Are Factors

Many people consider time a precious commodity, so companies often try to persuade candidates to accept an offer by emphasizing paid-time-off benefits and arrangements that allow employees to have more control over their work time.

UCG, a business information publisher in Rockville, Md., has no set number of vacation or sick days. Instead, reports firm partner Dan Brown, new hires are told, "It's up to you and your manager to come up with a plan so customers are always served but you get the rest and healing time that you need."

Brown adds, "This is really attractive to those who are into freedom and responsibility--and those are the people we want." McDonald's Corp., in Oak Brook, Ill., tells its job candidates they will enjoy an extra week of vacation each year for every five-year employment anniversary they celebrate. Richard Floersch, executive vice president and chief HR officer, says this perk is enticing because applicants always rate time off with pay "right up there" as something that's important to them. The fast-food retailer also offers sabbaticals-- eight weeks off every 10 years.

Perks that deliver needed resources can also serve as strong incentives to prospective new hires.

Pay Plus Benefits, an HR services firm in Kennewick, Wash., spends more than $2,500 per month subsidizing a child care center, but president and owner John Heaton believes it's money well-spent because "It's great for recruiting." He recalls one surprised mother for whom the child care center was the selling point. According to Heaton, she said, "A day care center? I'll take the job. My babysitter just quit." AGI, a software developer in Exton, Pa., also makes a practice of providing a family-friendly workplace. "We have a lot of life-balance perks," says HR generalist Tessa Raum, that allow employees to take care of their needs and their families' needs. For example, "We have a kids' room at headquarters … for days off from school," she says. Raum notes that AGI competes with some very large aerospace companies but can say to its applicants, "We're the only one with a family-oriented culture." AGI was recognized as one of the 50 Best Small & Medium Companies to Work for in America in 2007 by HR Magazine and the Great Place to Work Institute Inc.

In addition, AGI pays employees for the time they spend enhancing their professional standing. "Most if not all employees attend and participate in professional seminars and training courses … reimbursed in full by the company," notes Rich Spinogatti, AGI's vice president of finance and administration. Degree and certificate programs also are paid for, but, Spinogatti says, eligibility for such programs is more limited and "based on the specific circumstances involved."

Good Vibrations

Demonstrating to prospective hires that the company values employees at all levels also can go a long way toward convincing them to accept a job offer.

Floersch of McDonald's says, "In retailing, the No. 1 reason that a person chooses a company is respect." For that reason, he says, the corporation is developing "real-life simulations of what happens in the stores." The goal is to help restaurant managers create respectful workplaces. "You want to be able to demonstrate that you have an environment that rewards talent," he says.

Floersch adds that the company makes sure to tell candidates that 40 percent of McDonald's top 50 executives started out in company restaurants. For example, "The current CEO started as a manager trainee in Davenport, Iowa," he says. Recruiters for the Issaquah, Wash.-based Costco Wholesale Corp. chain of warehouse stores make a similar claim. HR director Judy Vadney says potential hires are told about "people in VP positions who used to push carts out in the parking lot."

San Francisco's Triage Consulting Group, which sends its hospital consultants on four- to eight-week projects in client cities, also conveys to potential hires that their well-being will be considered if they join the firm. Triage realizes that the extensive travel can be taxing, so it takes measures to make it easier on employees. "We want them to enjoy being out of town," says HR director Vanna Shir, SPHR, "so they have a work apartment" instead of a hotel room, and "we fly them home every weekend." (Triage was also named one of the Best Small & Medium Companies to Work for in America by HR Magazine and the Great Place to Work Institute.)

If workers choose instead to stay on the job site for the weekend, "We fly out a guest to them. This prevents travel burnout. Instead of a two-hour flight … they can take a ski weekend or go hiking," Shir says.

Many prospective hires are looking for a company that will be good not only to its employees but also to its community. A recent survey by WorldatWork, an organization for compensation and benefits professionals, found that 75 percent of U.S. workers who responded believe companies have responsibilities to the community.

National Instruments (NI), an Austin, Texas-based developer of measurement and automation instruments and software, takes such data to heart by touting its program to help employees contribute to charitable organizations. "We'll match [employee contributions] up to $1,000," HR Director Tom Lucas says. "There are a lot of [employees] that feel a real responsibility to become an active member of the community."

Party Time

A number of companies report that prospective employees see company social life as a sign of the kind of culture they're looking for.

NI attempts to sway applicants to join the company by playing up its loosely structured brainstorming sessions, extensive health and wellness programs, and on-site basketball and volleyball courts.

"When we release a product, we'll have a deck party, beer and margaritas. The company does a great job at celebrating our successes," according to Lucas. He says these features embody the company slogan: "It's OK to have fun!" Every five years, UCG takes its entire workforce on a mystery trip. "It's always first-class," says HR officer Sharon Smith. This year, for Labor Day weekend, chartered planes carried more than 1,000 employees and guests from Washington, D.C., Boston and Los Angeles to San Francisco for banquets, lodging, tours and entertainment in the city and in Napa Valley. According to Brown, "For virtually everyone, these trips are a broadening experience," and they help his staff of journalists see the world in a different way. "We need to be attuned to what's happening in a culture," he adds. "We feel that's tremendously important."

Steve Taylor's most recent article for STAFFING MANAGEMENT was "Luring Shoppers as Employees" in the July-September issue.

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 Revisiting the Standards

 

Even as they come up with new ideas,staffi ng professionals are also revisingstandard benefi ts plans such as healthcare and relocation.

Affordable health care is "now one of the top three" benefi ts applicants insist on, saysRichard Floersch, executive vice president and chief HR offi cer at McDonald's Corp.

To deal with the soaring cost, the fast-foodretailer has shifted part of the premium burdento higher-paid employees. "Last year, [premiums] rose 15 percent to 20 percentfor offi cers and 6 percent to 7 percent forstore employees," Floersch says.Costco Wholesale Corp. lures employees with health care premiums below the average for retail. Costco's goal is for employees to pay 10 percent of the overall cost. Doing so "makes good business sense," says HR director Judy Vadney, because it helps with retention as well as recruitment--and that reduces costs associated with turnover.

Changes in the housing market have presented challenges for companies that ask a candidate to move for a new position. Still, almost 80 percent of companies use a relocation policy as a recruitment tool, according to Jan Hatfi eld-Goldman, VP for research at the workforce mobility management firm Worldwide ERC. However, in the current housing market climate, "Employers are being more cautious," she says, "using lump-sum payments [and] marketing assistance… looking for strategies to get the [employee's] home sold upfront."

And, as always, money still talks. While many companies are hesitant to increase fi xed compensation costs such as base salaries, there are other fi nancial incentives that can help sell a company to potential hires. For instance, National Instruments offers performance bonuses, discounted stock purchases and a 401(k) plan with 3 percent salary match.