I recently finished delivering a course on managing people in organizations for some of our Executive MBA students at the Asian Institute of Management. We talked about how the way we work has changed and continues to evolve. Offices, for instance, have opened second and even third shifts outside the usual eight to five grind.
We deal with multifaceted customers, suppliers and colleagues in terms of cultural background, generational and gender profiles, familial structure, and so on. We use tools and apps that allow us to be productive, even when stuck in EDSA traffic, with WiFi access.
Yet why has the way we manage people in our organizations remained the same?
We expect, for example, an employee in Manila to be available for a Skype conference call with a customer in New York at 10 p.m. and then report for work at 8 a.m. the next day.
With other activities competing for and demanding an employee’s time—such as child or elder care, personal (religious, community) interests and even the quotidian traffic-ridden commute—employees can get burned out (productivity becomes lower), sick (productivity goes to zero), or worse leave for a job under less stressful conditions (productivity goes out the door!).
If your organization believes that human capital is an important source of your company’s competitive advantage in this knowledge economy, then keeping employees productive, committed and engaged is critical for your company’s continued success.
Studies have shown that employees are likely to be more committed to staying with companies that provide a supportive culture.
In my own research conducted with a leading online job recruiter (locally and regionally), from a wish list of over 50 perks or benefits, over 90% of respondents said they prefer benefits be made available that allow them to better manage the demands on their time, namely: flexible hours (90.2%), family-care leave (91.1%), parental leave (92.0%) and birthday leave (93.6%).
The study also showed that compared to employees whose company did not provide the perk or benefit they wanted, those given the perk were in turn more committed to their companies. For example, employees were 12% more likely to stay with a company that provided family-care leave vis-à-vis employees whose company did not provide it.
While a supportive culture at the company level is important, having supportive managers is just as crucial to making employees productive and committed.
Even when companies provide the supportive perk, some employees still hesitate to take advantage of such a benefit if their manager tends to note their availing themselves of it, using it against the employee during performance reviews or promotion time.
When managers, however, convey in their behavior as mentors and communication as supervisors the importance of taking time off for activities unrelated to work as long as the work does get done, employees become more receptive to capitalizing on the company’s supportive culture.
In a study recently published in the Human Resource Management Journal, my coauthors and I found that employees who have children feel more supported by their managers who also have children and are more committed to staying with their current company.
It is most likely that parent-employees will be more comfortable talking to managers who, being parents, will understand whenever they need time to attend parent-teacher meetings. Such managers also become effective role models for employees who aspire to become managers themselves during their tenure with the company.
Hence, aside from providing perks or benefits at the company level, top management needs to ensure that a culture of support is promoted by everyone and advocated by their managers.
As regional alliances such as Asean form and more technologies develop, the landscape of work will grow even more dynamic. So we need to treat employees not as human resources that must be optimized and eventually become depleted, but as human capital that we need to invest in and nurture.
I always remind my students that they would do well to treat human capital as they would any other capital asset—be it physical or financial—for such resources to be leveraged in delivering optimum results for the company.
I actually renamed the course I teach “Human Capital Management.” I wanted to emphasize how, as future partners of HR colleagues and users of HR-related processes, my students should aspire to be supportive managers who will someday successfully take on the huge responsibility of retaining, nurturing and growing a company’s human capital.
As their mentor, I can only hope that the old HR practices (where candidates are selected for their credentials and not their fit with the team or company culture, where productivity is measured by physical presence or face time and not output, and promotion is based on tenure, not merit) will become things of the past.
Dynah A. Basuil, PhD is Associate Professor at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) and Executive Director of the AIM Ramon V. Del Rosario Center for Corporate Responsibility. A University of Texas alumna (MBA and PhD), her research on human capital has been published in top international journals and in books published internationally. E-mail DBasuilMT@AIM.edu or visit AIM.edu for more information.