Monday, January 01, 2001

Workplace will continue to evolve in 2001

Among trends: Seeing employees as customers

By Dave Eck
Enquirer contributor

        Eileene Evans deals with two sets of customers as the operations vice president at Advanced Office Systems in Sharonville: external customers (those who pay the bills) and internal customers (those who run the company and used to be called “employees”). And she works to balance the needs of both groups.

        “My employees are not employees, they're my customers,” she said. “Calling them a customer, that's good, (to them) that means you're serving me.”

        To that end, company management holds quarterly informal one-on-one sessions with its internal customers to discuss the person's goals and ambitions. They discuss problems or emotional issues the person may have, Ms. Evans said.

        Viewing employees as customers is among emerging workplace trends. Executives and human resource professionals say other workplace issues that could come into their own in 2001 are:

        • Flexible work time.

        • Looser dress codes.

        • Telecommuting.

        • Advances in technology.

        “I'm seeing a rise of people who telecommute on a regular basis,” said Julie Wallace, manager of workplace trends and forecasting at the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va. “Along the same lines we're seeing more and more people with flexible hours. Eventually we're going to see the majority of people having more flex hours.”

        Driving these changes are technology, busier family lives and a tight labor market.

        “When both parents work, there is a greater need for flexibility. They've got these constraints on their lives that haven't been there,” Ms. Wallace said. “Another reason for employers adding greater flexibility is that employees can demand it.”

        Despite rumblings of an economic slowdown, some think the worker shortage will continue into the new year.

        “I think what's going to remain constant is trying to hire and retain good people,” said Deni Tato, CEO of Contract Interiors, a corporate furniture dealership in Bond Hill. “We started things like allowing (employees) to do community service during work time. This year we've gone to flex time.”

        She said more than a dozen of the company's 50 employees have served as mentors in a reading program at Oyler Elementary School in Price Hill.

        Legislation requiring companies to notify employees that their Internet and e-mail use is being monitored may come to the fore in the new year.

        “Technology's also become more and more pervasive even in blue-collar industries,” Ms. Wallace said. “It's gone beyond the typical professional environment.”

        As technology spreads into nontraditional areas, companies should upgrade their workers' skills, said Dan Radford, executive secretary/treasurer of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council.

        “When we identify a line that's going to be computerized, early on is when the company needs to put an investment in their work force to make sure they are ready for it,” Mr. Radford said. “The answer is not to shift jobs offshore.”

        Continued worker training is among the issues big labor wants to address in the new year, Mr. Radford said. Others include job security, balancing family with job demands, continued decrease of heavy overtime, the right of workers to organize and health care issues, particularly prescription drugs.

        Putting people from welfare into meaningful jobs could also be a focus of labor next year.

        “Bringing people from welfare to work at dead-end jobs, it's no help to anyone,” Mr. Radford said. “There needs to be a tripartisan effort (of government, industry and unions) to work out a system where these folks who are trying to make it come into an industry with a hope for the future.”

        Joe Kramer, vice president of economic development at the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, says that while trends like telecommuting are increasing, it's not as strong as some had anticipated.

        “Everybody keeps talking about a revolution, but it keeps coming on very slowly,” he said. “I think personal contact is still a major issue. That personal contact creates more job and creative opportunities.”

        But at Contract Interiors, flex time and the leeway to do community service has allowed the company to maintain most of its workers, Ms. Tato said.

        “I think when you give people these kind of things they're very, very appreciative,” Ms. Tato said. “It's not about a job. It's not about a paycheck. It's about making people feel like they make a difference in this world.”


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