RERMAG

Climate Control

A hard-charging economy and historically low unemployment rates are putting increasing pressure on rental companies to develop and maintain a competitive work force.

Although many businesses are seeing new demands for products and services, they are finding it more and more difficult to reach new heights without growing their staffs at the same time.

As a result, the day-to-day activities of rental employees constantly fluctuate, making it difficult to consistently produce at high levels. To remain competitive and maintain a competent work force, management teams are now focusing their attention on a key component of their companies' success - the organizational climate.

At its most basic level, organizational climate refers to employees' perceptions of their work environment. Generally, these perceptions are description-based rather than value-based. For example, the phrase "I have more work to do than I can possibly finish" is a description of a person's workload, while the phrase "I like my job" is a positive evaluation of one's job. Thus, organizational climate is more than a simple summary of employee likes and dislikes.

The assessment of organizational climate typically occurs via an off-the-shelf or customized survey containing questions about the work environment. Although survey procedures can vary, companies should ask their employees to report to a designated worksite at a scheduled time to complete the survey, and participation should be voluntary.

The Right Survey Once a company decides to conduct an organizational survey, identifying the right survey to use can be difficult. Although not a comprehensive list, the following factors may be helpful in reducing the number of survey choices:

* Determine the scope of information to be collected. In many companies, employee feedback is useful in particular areas. For example, a company concerned about the impact of recent managerial downsizing may want to ensure the inclusion of leadership/supervisory components.

* Keep the number of climate areas included to a manageable level. Including too many areas on the survey will increase the time and effort needed to administer the survey. Interpretation could also become troublesome. Many users of organizational surveys find it useful to add a few customized items to the survey. Also, choose a survey that offers some flexibility in its administration capabilities. Factors such as employee demographics can also be important. Some companies may require both an English and Spanish version of the survey to accommodate all of their employees.

* Identify some general pieces of information you would like to see in an analysis of the survey responses. For example, some companies may have an interest in reviewing responses only within the company, while others may want to see their scores compared with other firms'.

In addition, some companies may want to have results broken down department by department or item by item, while others may want one set of analyses based on the entire set of employee responses. In any event, the publisher/distributor of an organizational survey should assist a company in selecting an instrument that will meet its specific reporting needs.

Ensuring Results A company can take steps to help ensure the success of an organizational survey. Taking time upfront to select the right organizational survey is extremely helpful. In order to maximize employee participation, managers should consider allowing employees to complete the survey on company time and provide safeguards to ensure confidentiality or anonymity.

Perhaps the most critical step for a successful organizational survey is to report back to employees after results are gathered. Unfortunately, employees often perceive failure to provide feedback as a violation of a "psychological contract" or implicit agreement between them and management.

After devoting the time and effort needed to provide meaningful responses to the survey items, employees expect to see a return on their investment. For example, the company may provide employees with a summary report or initiative to address problem areas identified in the survey. If employees feel they did not receive a fair return, they will be less likely to participate in future efforts to improve the workplace. Reluctance can have a detrimental effect on employee moral and, ultimately, organizational performance.

Bottom-line Benefits Companies that conduct organizational climate surveys may experience one or more of the following benefits:

* Employee Involvement. By administering an organizational survey, the company gives employees an opportunity for involvement in the company at a different level than their job descriptions typically define. Research has shown that employees who are more involved in the company may also be more satisfied with their jobs, miss fewer days of work, stay with a company longer and perform better on the job.

* Positive Work Outcomes. In the last 30 years, researchers have accumulated a significant amount of evidence documenting the importance of the work environment in relation to organizational performance. In general, the data have shown that factors in the work environment relate to outcomes such as employee motivation, job satisfaction, intentions to quit, job performance and even organizational productivity.

In addition, an emerging area of research has indicated that organizational climate can influence customer perceptions of the quality of goods or services delivered by a company.

* Communication Forum. In many companies, communicating with the majority of employees can be difficult. Recent trends such as organizational restructuring and/or merging of companies have resulted in "flat" organizational responsibility charts, which increase the number of employees for whom each manager is accountable. As a result, some managers have only limited amounts of time to talk to employees about day-to-day activities. Conversations regarding an employee's work environment can fall to the wayside, and in some instances, never take place. Organizational surveys that occur on a scheduled basis (e.g., annually, biannually, etc.) can be a more efficient way for managers to gather important information.

* Industry Comparisons. Organizations often look to other companies when determining organizational policies and procedures. Companies commonly "explore the market" or conduct "benchmark" studies when considering issues such as new product development, salary or employee benefit policies, or marketing strategies. Thus, the common question managers ask - "How do we compare to others?" - will be addressed.

* Proactive Management. Administering organizational climate surveys allows managers to be much more proactive in managing their employees and work environments. When used on a scheduled basis, organizational surveys can help pinpoint problem areas within the work environment before they grow into a crisis needing immediate attention. Problems that require a reactive posture interrupt the normal work flow and typically cause delays in providing products or services to customers.

Guidelines For many rental companies, the proper implementation of an organizational climate survey can provide valuable information to guide and increase their success. However, companies that choose to implement a survey must be prepared to respond to both positive and negative results and to work with employees to make improvements in the work environment. Failure to respond to employee feedback can ultimately increase the number of work force problems.

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