Maren Hogan, contributing member Editorial Advisory Board

Maren Hogan, contributing member Editorial Advisory Board

My husband and I dated for about three months before the power balance shifted. I pursued him. I said “I love you” first. I backed him into a wall to get my first kiss. I introduced him to the concept of holding hands in public. He held all the cards it seemed. Then, when he went away to college (breaking my heart in the process), he literally turned right back around and drove 8 hours right back to my doorstep. The power shifted so palpably that you could almost feel it. Over the course of our marriage, it’s shifted several more times and now hovers comfortably at a solid 60/40 (in my favor of course J)

There is a power balance in the branding and recruiting game too. When marketers, recruiters and managers forget this, things tend to turn sour. There are several factors that influence the power balance between an employee and employer. (Disclaimer: Every company is different, just like there are many types of employees and myriad individuals in the world, for the sake of this article, I will be taking a broad brush.)

What DOES influence the power balance: The economy. It’s an easy enough trend to spot. When times are tough, people hang on to their jobs like a life preserver. When times are free and easy (or easier at least) people are more willing to make a move. It’s such an obvious indicator that companies are using it to “predict” when someone might leave.  In our current economic condition, the employees have a bit of an advantage, but only just. For the past six years, employers have been mostly calling the shots

What SHOULDN’T influence the power balance: Skills. Is there a gap? Not really. But so many corporations used proprietary processes and/or increasingly consumer-like applications that this is an area that only affects a select few industries. Even that is questionable based on the evidence. Companies that choose to invest in their employees by training them on the job report higher productivity. Training is an added benefit for less traditionally educated workers, and one would suppose, results in a whole lot of loyalty from their employees as well. Companies that don’t? According to Peter Capelli:

“But the heart of the real story about employer difficulties in hiring can be seen in the Manpower data showing that only 15% of employers who say they see a skill shortage say that the issue is a lack of candidate knowledge, which is what we’d normally think of as skill. Instead, by far the most important shortfall they see in candidates is a lack of experience doing similar jobs. Employers are not looking to hire entry-level applicants right out of school. They want experienced candidates who can contribute immediately with no training or start-up time. That’s certainly understandable, but the only people who can do that are those who have done virtually the same job before, and that often requires a skill set that, in a rapidly changing world, may die out soon after it is perfected.”

What DOES influence the power balance: Real wages. Many employers are winning this one and it’s become an issue. As the economy slowly recovers from the great recession, more low-wage workers are starting to demand compensation in line with the cost of living. It’s not as simple as supply and demand either. The aforementioned skills gap myth is also a victim of keeping wages too low, as many of the skills needed for corporations exist but companies are not willing to pay for them. Right now, employers are very much in power on this front, but with some states legislating a minimum wage and consumer backlash for companies like YUM and Wal-Mart (two of the largest employers in the US), hopefully the balance here will be more equitable in the future. (Helpful hint: If your wages are “competitive” you are likely guilty of this.)

What really DOESN’T influence power balance: Fun and games. Here we ought to lump everything from the ubiquitous startup ping-pong table to games to get grown-ups to do their work. While these things might work and might even make things more fun, they never EVER show up on a survey asking folks why they stay (or leave) their jobs. It might be cool, it might even inch your productivity and loyalty meter up a notch or two, but it won’t shift the power balance in the employer’s favor. Employees are winning in this particular scenario because while these new perks certainly make work less draconian, there’s no real downside for employees and many employers are turning handsprings to try and put “fun” in the workplace.

What completely SCREWS the power balance: Monitoring software. Employers are trying, and in many cases succeeding, at monitoring their employees’ every move(s).

“The technology is being used to satisfy the needs of the employer, but is being leveraged against the employee,” said Regina Connolly, an expert in “dataveillance,” a term used to describe workplace monitoring. “The playing field is being tilted in favor of the industry, against the employee.”

While (mostly employer) advocates of employee monitoring point out that it can be used to make productive changes to the workplace and reduce theft and/or fraud, it’s a huge privacy concern.

What has the power to totally turn the power balance on its head: Any guesses? It’s not unlimited vacation days or Taco Tuesdays. It’s not the slickest employer brand or the ability to telecommute (although these things are mighty nice). It’s a multitude of attitudes that can reshape the fabric of our current workforce.

Giving adults decision-making authority in their work.

Showing progress toward a goal and aligning it with the company.

Understanding employees have a life outside of the office.

Treating employees with dignity and respect.

If you’re sitting there wondering how to do all that, then perhaps you have larger problems than the power balance in your company.

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