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Take Five with QTI: Engage employees, improve employment brand

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Each year, QTI Group conducts a Human Resources Trends Survey to identify top human resources challenges and offer some practical answers. Results of the 2019 survey were released this week in a report titled “QTI 2020 HR Trends Report: Your Guide to a Winning HR Strategy,” and they indicate intensification of existing labor-force trends along with some new answers. For example, it’s becoming more evident that employers are opting for an inward focus on employee engagement to drive retention and stimulate external interest in their organizations.

The findings were presented Wednesday afternoon in a roundtable program in Madison, but to learn more, we interviewed two local experts beforehand: Dennis Winters, chief economist for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, and Summer Rector, chief operating officer for QTI Group.

IB: Before we launch into the questions we have, each of you can provide your main takeaways from these survey results.  The concept of employee engagement seems to be emerging as a way to kill three birds — recruitment, retention, and employment brand — with one stone, but what stood out to each of you with regard to the survey findings? What’s your main takeaway?

Winters: The main takeaway, at least from our perspective, is that it verifies what we’ve been saying for quite some time now — that we have a quantity challenge in the state of Wisconsin for workers. It’s not just true in this state but throughout the upper Midwest and in western, developed countries. I was out in Boston a couple of weeks ago and there is a “help-wanted” sign in just about every window there, too. So, it’s actually a global issue, even in China. We’re seeing it everywhere and in every which way.

Summer Rector

Dennis Winters

Rector: My main takeaway from the survey is that obviously employers are facing a lot of these challenges but some of the simpler, more obvious things that we may assume to be true in our data was found to be the case. So, for example, organizations that have higher employee engagement and lower voluntary turnover are the organizations that are able to perform better from a financial standpoint. They are also the ones that are seeing the lowest year-over-year payroll spend increase, so they are able to deal with some of the compensation challenges that face a lot of employers these days.

IB: Is there a shining example that you can cite, preferably a company that is doing the right things and getting better results?

Rector: Well, one of the things that we highlight in terms of solutions is that we suggest employers think more on the proactive side than on the reactive side. So, for example, doing “stay interviews” with employees to really understand why they stay with the organization but also what might get in their way. Through that understanding, actually try to address any of those challenges or roadblocks so that they can increase employee retention and thereby engagement, as well.

IB: I thought the findings revealed some new trends — creative new employee benefits, for example — but mainly an intensification of existing trends such as difficulty finding the right talent, meeting demands for higher compensation, and improving leadership development with baby boomers retiring. Each one of them seems to take on more importance as the labor market gets tighter. Would you agree?

Rector: Yes, absolutely. As boomers retire and as new generations come into the workforce, there is increased pressure being placed on employers to adapt to these newer generations and what it means to support the whole employee through benefit offerings such as various parental leave expansions that we’re seeing a lot of employers adopting, as well as just the acceptance of the whole employee with flexible attire and relaxed dress codes.

Some other things we’re seeing are pet insurance, as well as identity-theft insurance. Again, it’s a desire to help employees to uniquely fortify their lives by adding in these additional types of offerings. We’re also seeing more employers adding education reimbursement, which makes sense given the skills gap.

Winters: We’ve talked about this for some time. The worm has finally turned, as it were, coming out of the last recession, when the slowing of the growth in population caught up with the workforce and jobs. This is the squeeze that we’ve known was going to come on. We had the Great Recession, which actually baled us out in that area for a while, but now we’re back in more of a seller’s market. I was in a conference the other day with a panel of businesses. It was interesting that the smaller but not insignificant ones with 50 to 100 employees that are privately held companies are now offering higher wages and full benefits coverage. So, they know if they want to be the employer of choice, they have to put in the incentives to attract the workers.

IB: What about steps such as helping kids coming out of college with these large student-debt burdens? Have you seen more of that?

Winters: I don’t really know about that, but from what we hear, there is an increase in benefits across the board.

Rector: We’re not seeing widespread adoption of those additional types of benefits, such as student-loan forgiveness, because some of those can be fairly sizeable and costly for employers to undertake. We are seeing employers recognize that if they want to help close some of the skills gap, they are going to take ownership of that responsibility. So, that’s where there is more acceptance of employers investing in training and developing their workforce to help them progress, not necessarily taking on what they may have come in with.

IB: Correct me if I’m wrong, but one trend identified in this report seems to advocate something that sounds counterintuitive and that’s reducing or relaxing assessment testing, drug testing, and background-check requirements. Playing devil’s advocate, doesn’t that increase the risk of a bad hire?

Winters: Well, again, it’s a supply issue. It’s more important for a lot of these organizations to get bodies in, to get them trained up, and if it’s a bad hire, that’s something they have to live with. They are obviously doing better. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be doing it at all.

Rector: Just to clarify, there aren’t many respondents who are actually reducing or relaxing their assessment testing, drug-testing, and background-check requirements, and only three percent were using AI (artificial intelligence) in the recruiting and hiring process. It was a little surprising to us because there is this need to move fast in the marketplace, but it seems like employers recognize that they want to do that due diligence and to Dennis’ point, not have a bad hire and be thoughtful about that.

That said, there are some other practices that they are doing. Fifty-two percent are shortening the interview steps, 49 percent are utilizing a standardized recruitment process, and 46 percent are making their best offers to candidates out of the gate, and that’s something the QTI Group is focusing on. We’re constantly telling the employers we’re partnering with that they’ve got to start with their best offer. You’ve got to start strong because often times these candidates are in a multiple-offer situation.


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