The Employee Free Choice Act stands to shortcut the process for certifying a union depriving an employer of its chance to conduct a campaign to educate its workforce on the downside of unionization, squelch union promises, and redress employee perceptions. The employer’s campaign occurs between the filing of a union petition and the schedule NLRB-supervised secret ballot election – a period of 30 to 45 days.
Elimination of the secret ballot and allowing union certification upon a card showing of greater that 50% will force employers to conduct employee education and assess vulnerabilities in advance of union organizing actions. Some businesses mistakenly believe that employee interest in unions revolves around promises of higher pay and better benefits. Quite to the contrary, most studies on employee motivation for union membership conclude that non-economic concerns are the chief motivators for union membership. Most workers think that unions can get them "a greater say in the workplace." The attitude translates to issues like job security, effectiveness of supervisors, and involvement in workplace decisions. Unionization is not all about the money; it is about workers being "engaged." Disengagement can mean unionization.
Employee Surveys are one of the better ways to conduct systematic and regular assessment of employee attitudes about a whole host of important workplace matters. Business may be skeptical about the benefits of Employee Surveys and what they can find out about a workplace. Today’s Employee Survey are customized to the employer. They can assess an employee’s attitudes on various subjects and correlate data by department. business location, etc. Often the survey can identify an issue or supervisory relationship that needs management attention. Survey results can also be benchmarked with comparable businesses.
Designing an effective survey requires collaboration with an expert to tailor the survey to the business and assistance in interpreting the survey data. Success Performance Solutions designs, conducts and evaluates employee surveys for companies in a wide variety of industries. I asked Dr. Ira S. Wolfe, for his thoughts on the EFCA and employee surveys. His comments are as follows:
At this point it is important to differentiate between employee satisfaction surveys and engagement surveys. The terms “employee engagement” and “employee satisfaction” means different things to different people. In its simplest form, satisfaction means employers are not doing anything to anger employees. That’s good information to know but not nearly enough to retain employees, no less head off any attempt to unionize employees.
Employee engagement, on the other hand, is a complex equation that reflects each individual’s unique, personal relationship with work. BlessingWhite, in its 2008 State of Employee Engagement study, describes the engaged employee as not just committed, not just passionate or proud, but having a line-of-sight on their own future AND on the organization’s mission and goals. “They are ‘enthused’ and ‘in gear’ using their talents and discretionary effort to make a difference in their employer’s quest for sustainable business success (The State of Employee Engagement 2008, p.1).
Unfortunately for North American employees, fewer than 1 in 3 employees (29%) are fully engaged. Nineteen percent are actually disengaged. Many managers think “yea, yea, yea. What’s the big deal?”
The big deal – and the payoff – is that there is a clear correlation between engagement and retention, with 85% of engaged employees indicating that they plan to stay with their employees. Disengaged employees on the other hand are opportunists, staying for what they get (favorable job conditions, growth opportunities, and job security).
The BlessingWhite results are consistent with the Gallup Management Journal’s Employee Engagement Index where 29% of employees are actively engaged in their jobs, 54% are not-engaged, and 17% are actively disengaged.
The statistics on workforce engagement are surprising. No, I take that back…they are appalling and a huge risk factor for any organization that has any ambition of remaining union-free. With almost two third of workers either moderately engaged or not engaged, it is hard to ignore this wake up call.
Properly constructed and executed engagement surveys unravel the complexity by targeting three focus areas:
- Are the employees emotionally attached to your organization to endure tough times?
- Are you (the employer) doing anything to incent the employee to become more productive on your behalf?
- Are you doing anything to make the employees angry?
In a tight economy, the threat of disengagement exposes business to more than just a threat of turnover and potential unionization. Engaged employees say they stay because they like their work, while disengaged employees stay for reasons like job security, favorable work conditions, and growth opportunities. The threats of layoffs – perceived or real, increasing demands for more productivity, and a freeze on promotions – attacks the very attachment that keeps disengaged employees on the payroll. Laying off employees and cutting benefits demoralizes a workforce and makes it a natural environment to cultivate union activity. The Employee Free Choice Act the process a whole lot easier, making an employer extremely vulnerability to unionization.
The BlessingWhite study also revealed that the sectors most vulnerable to a lack of employee engagement are information technology, media, retail, hospitality, and healthcare. The current downturn provides firms in these industries some time to improve the engagement of their employees. But, if they fail to take advantage of this opportunity, they will become victims of significant turnover, particularly among younger workers.
Employee engagement surveys are sophisticated measures of employee attitudes on what I refer to as the four A’s: Accountability, Alignment, Attitude, and Approachability. These four factors reveal if employees feel they are being treated fairly and with respect, are aligned with your business goals and values, and feel a connection through their direct supervisors and co-workers. More specifically this is uncovered by focusing on up to 16 different organizational competencies such as compensation and benefits, culture and climate, my manager/supervisor, recognition, safety and working environment, team dynamics, senior management, workplace ethics and more.
In addition to evaluating the general attitude, organizations can detect “hot spots” by querying the data by location, department, teams and even factors like commute time and demographics. An employee engagement survey allows management to respond proactively and not react in haste to a unionization attempt. By aiming for full engagement, the majority of employees will feel an alignment with the goals of the organization and their personal values, goals and aspirations.