Contented Cows: Great Employees

May 13, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Though some may look at having a good environment for employees as a moral or social issue, it’s more important to success than companies realize. Satisfied employees make more money for their company, according to author Richard Hadden, keynote speaker of the recent Michigan Works! Spring Into Action employer seminar.

Though some may look at having a good environment for employees as a moral or social issue, Hadden said the issue is more important to success than companies know.

“Let’s make no mistake,” he said to an audience of 150 employers and Michigan Works! affiliates gathered for the half-day seminar at Western Michigan University’s downtown Grand Rapids campus. “Creating a great place to work is a business issue.”

Hadden, co-author of “Contented Cows Give Better Milk: The Plain Truth About Employee Relations and Your Bottom Line,” said he and co-author Bill Catlette found that companies that show they care about and appreciate their employees by supplying them with a well-equipped, well-informed, supportive work environment gain employees who give the company what they call “discretionary effort.”

“It’s the extra mile; it’s the above and beyond,” said Hadden, who also is a columnist for American City Business Journals. “This increment is the most valuable morsel of human effort that can be offered to an employer.”

To gain that discretionary effort, Hadden said, companies do not need to have elaborate benefits such as paid child care, laundry service and lavish perks. They just need to take an interest in their employees as people and take an interest in their needs and goals, he said.

Hadden said employees want meaningful work, high standards, autonomy, knowledge of what is going on in the company, opportunities for education and career advancement, and to be appreciated.

With high unemployment rates such as 5.2 percent in the United States, 6.9 percent in Michigan and 7.3 percent in Kent and Allegan counties, Hadden said it is easy for employers to view their employees as lucky to have a job at all, and therefore as expendable.

“Organizations can ill afford to approach it in that way,” Hadden said.

Instead, companies should view their employees as a commodity and help to increase the value of that commodity by encouraging further education, training and advancement.

Employers can also increase the value of their employees by making sure their environment is equipped with the tools and systems necessary for the employee to do the job. Showing that the employee is cared about is another way to create a positive work environment. Hadden said that was an area that employers had to navigate on their own.

“I can’t teach you how to care about people,” he joked. “Employees simply reserve their best effort for those they believe care about them as a person.”

Companies that work to create a positive environment, which Hadden calls “contented cows” in his book and on his Web site www.contentedcows.com, tend to grow more, earn more, create more wealth for investors and more income for employees than other companies, which he called “common cows.” Hadden and Catlette studied various companies from 1986 to 2001 in order to determine their success. Their findings from 1986 to 1995 are in their book; the further findings through 2001 will be included in a new book planned for 2006.

Hadden recommended employers return to their companies and ask five to six employees about their goals for the company, send out a yearly survey, make sure the employees are equipped to do their job and create opportunities to show their work matters, among other suggestions.

Win Irwin, chairman of the Kent/Allegan Workforce Development Board and chairman and CEO of Irwin Seating Holding Co., said he thought Hadden’s message was an important one that companies should always keep in mind.

“Sometimes you need a couple ideas of how to do it better,” he said.

The seminar also included a panel discussion on health-care costs.

Alliance for Health President Lody Zwarensteyn, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Director of Member Relations Anna Kruse, Cascade Engineering Vice President of Business Services Michael Goldman and The Employers’ Association President and CEO David Smith discussed the best options for health-care costs.

The panelists agreed it is important for both employers and employees to be active in deciding which heath-care plan is right for the company.

Kruse said employees need to make choices about their health and their wellness.

“We do stress that there is a greater need for employees to own the process,” Kruse said. “Each player should work together on this.”

Goldman said his company is helping employees to live healthier lives by having a wellness plan and by paying for 100 percent of prevention care. It also offers onsite testing for employees and their families and is opening an onsite exercise room.

Zwarensteyn said employers and employees should buy only the services that are needed, discuss alternatives and costs, shop for pricing and quality, use generic drugs and become involved in the process by either joining or supporting community coalitions.    

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