News | June 17, 1999

More than Money Required to Keep Employees

Quick! Which is more important to workers in the 1990s: a fat paycheck or a great boss?

In an era of near-full employment and stiff competition for first-rate people, companies seeking to boost profits and reduce the high cost of employee turnover need to understand what motivates people and prompts them to stick around. If you imagine a whopping salary trumps a boss who knows how to get the most out of employees, at least one nationally renowned human resources expert will beg to disagree.

"People's satisfaction with their jobs is determined by a variety of factors, including, most of all, how they feel about their supervisors," says William Schiemann, PhD, president of the Metrus Group, a New Jersey human resources consulting firm. "A company's values play an important part in the equation. People ask themselves if their company respects them and treats them with dignity. They ask, 'Is there flexibility in how I go about my job? Does the company care about me as an individual?'"

Retaining employees has become so important to a company's competitive advantage that the Conference Board, a New York-based think tank, will host a symposium on the issue in Chicago June 17 and 18 for executives and consultants from throughout corporate America.

Schiemann notes that San Diego-based Foodmaker, Inc., parent company of Jack in the Box restaurants, has performed statistical research confirming that a collaborative corporate culture is key to retaining good people and to increasing sales and profits.

"The work Foodmaker has been doing is interesting because it identifies the key drivers of employee turnover," Schiemann says. "It gets people thinking about the root causes of employee satisfaction so that they don't waste time on things that don't have the power to increase tenure and performance."

The research to which Schiemann refers was performed by Foodmaker Division VP of Training Mark Blankenship, PhD, who, using a variety of company data, including turnover figures, survey results on quality of work life and employee satisfaction, and same-store sales figures, was able to confirm that Jack in the Box employees' satisfaction with their supervisors correlated positively with restaurant sales increases.

"We've always believed that if you treat your people well, they'll take care of your customers, who in turn will take care of your company and enable you to increase profits," Blankenship says. "This analysis validates that philosophy and really explains why we've been able to achieve two consecutive years of record profits and 17 consecutive quarters of same-store sales increases."

As it turns out, nearly 30% of Foodmaker's corporate employees have been with the company for more than 10 years. Median tenure for Foodmaker's corporate employees is more than 40% longer than the U.S. median of 3.6 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Blankenship believes a corporate culture that encourages collaboration and ongoing professional development is what prompts people to stay.

"We offer thorough orientation, or 'onboarding' programs that help people learn their jobs before they actually dive into the work," he says. "We keep people informed about our company's goals and strategic direction through informational gatherings and newsletters, a practice that helps them feel part of the larger picture. We make sure supervisors have the freedom to provide appropriate feedback and rewards to their employees, and we empower employees to do the right thing for our restaurant guests. All of these elements combine to create a great work environment."