Measuring “The American Dream” helped retailers find the right employees

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From left: Chris Manolis, Amit Sen, Greg Smith

Measuring the “American Dream” wasn’t quite possible — until professors Amit Sen, Greg Smith, and Chris Manolis put together the American Dream Composite Index (ADCI) at Xavier University’s Center for the Study of The American Dream in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Read our joint interview with STORES to find out how employees define job satisfaction and job security, and how retailers can use the ADCI study to hire the right employees.

Based on past American Dream Composite Index [ADCI] surveys, how has job satisfaction evolved? And what are the takeaways for the retail industry as it strives to find and retain good employees?

Greg Smith: That’s a hard question to answer, and keep in mind that we’re asking 140 questions each month of 1,000 individuals living in the United States, how they feel at the moment about many areas that affect the quality of their lives. We’re not asking them to project what actions or purchases they plan in the future. We do ask questions about the job environment and what (in the job environment) is holding it back from being better. We’re asking questions about job benefits and job satisfaction — keep in mind that job satisfaction goes beyond money and health benefits that the job affords a person.

We’ve found folks in the United States are about 61 percent … really and fully achieving the dream of having a good working environment. Of particular concern, and it’s a quite large concern, is the way their company implements its policies. So we can see that’s a huge area of growth for any company. They need to focus on how they truly implement their policies: Are they being straightforward or are they being biased? When people are not certain of what the policies are, that might lead to distrust, not only of management but with their co-workers.

Another concern people have is with interactions with co-workers and envy. This is probably not new to most people, but we have statistical conclusions now that can actually can confirm this. Respondents are also quite concerned about their bosses and their satisfaction with their bosses, which is quite common. And from a retail industry standpoint, I think that would be something to look into because of the high level of interaction with direct superiors such as managers for those in a (retail) sales role.

Amit Sen: While they might not be happy with the management or the policies, we should note that we’ve found most people are happy with the work they do in their current positions. Here are employees who think they are doing a good job and clearly have a sense of accomplishment, but then the backdrop is they don’t view the company as supporting them in the way that they ought to.

Smith: We’re also finding they’re looking for greener pastures. With respect to retail, which has a relatively high level of turnover, people are looking for other jobs and they’re looking for jobs in comparison to theirs. Overall, the respondents are quite concerned with their job security.

So to sum it up, they have a wandering eye; they’re not always satisfied with their bosses or the way their company’s policies are being implemented and that leads to turnover, which is a significant problem. If I’m looking at this as a corporation, I’m going to start putting the pieces of the puzzle together and try to see how can I improve that environment where I can promote job security and assure them that the job they have is better than the greener pasture they might see to their left.

I would improve the environment with their bosses. The concern with the pay they receive in relation to the amount of work they do, is that they want to be rewarded for the work they do appropriately. I would begin working on an environment that would lead to retention and satisfaction.

Does retail offer the kind of job security that people are looking for in today’s uncertain economic climate?

Sen: ADCI respondents are relatively dissatisfied with the level of job security that they have, and this might be even more extreme in the retail industry, we can’t say for sure. But what we stress is that employers might want to take a look at the job environment and take steps to create a more open environment where employees are rewarded for their ideas and willingness to be innovative.

What conclusions can retailers seeking a reliable pool of workers derive from the ADCI?

Smith: We have the ability to look at a particular company’s level of employment. We can build a profile around what a typical retail employee would look like — are they part-time? Do they rent their home? What is their level of education? That sort of thing.

We can then look at what a company believes that their workforce would look like. Kroger, for instance, has a lot of young people working in their stores. We could take a look across the country at their employee base and offer a composite snapshot of who’s still in high school or who is living with parents. Nordstrom could ask us to set up a special study in the South, for example, if they were looking to open stores there to see what the potential employee base looks like at this point in time.

Sen: We ask questions about leisure time pursuits, and employers might want to take a look at those sentiments. When respondents say they don’t have enough money or time to pursue outside interests or leisure activities, that might point to areas an employer could address or improve to build a loyal workforce.

Smith: By showing employers the things employees desire, they can actually raise satisfaction levels by building that work environment. Take Stew Leonard’s as an example. It’s rated a top place to work because it’s fun, rewarding and gives employees a sense of belonging to a family. Full-time employee turnover is about half the industry average; it was once named a best place.

For more on why Smith, Sen, and Manolis created this survey please read the full NRF STORES interview.

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