Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A lesson in employee satisfaction

People are the most important resource we have at SKAGEN and it is therefore very gratifying that they are also very happy in their jobs. The workplace is demanding, but unique, and expertise and knowledge are important in all aspects of the organization”.
Mette Helgevold Årstad, SKAGEN Human Resources manager

Why you wonder, am I quoting a human resources manager and her views about the company she works for? It is because the company she works for is not just any company, it is a mutual funds company founded in 1993, and it was recently voted one of the top ten places to work in Norway by the Great Place to Work Institute. They surveyed 12,000 employees from 136 companies and SKAGEN FUNDS came in as #9 out of 68 companies with 50-250 employees. Impressive, if you ask me, but I’ve heard this before about the company. And it makes me wonder how they do it. How do they achieve employee satisfaction? Could it be the bonuses that they hand out at Christmas time to all employees, from high-level managers to secretaries? What is their secret? Whatever it is, I want to bottle it and share it with my (public sector) workplace, because at present it’s on the opposite end of the scale in terms of employee satisfaction, unfortunately. And I know a lot of the skeptics will tell me that SKAGEN is a private company and that things are done differently there. So what? Why can’t the public sector adopt other things from the private sector besides the goal of making money? Why can’t they learn from the private sector how to treat employees well?

Many people in this country have bought shares in mutual funds offered by SKAGEN; the company thus has a huge amount of money at its disposal for its national and global investments, and has done very well since its founding in 1993. They not only treat their employees well, they also treat their clients well. We recently attended the play ENRON courtesy of SKAGEN; they had a few hundred tickets that were made available on a first-come/first-served basis to attentive (answering an email ad) clients, and I just happened to be one of the lucky ones who got tickets when I saw the email advertising this. I like this idea of treating clients to a night out. The skeptics and the cynics I know were quick to add that the company can afford it and so on—that it’s just a drop in the financial bucket for them. I know this is true. But I ask--how many other companies are actually doing this for their clients? I appreciate the gesture. It’s not just the rich they’re courting; it’s the common man and woman. And I’m not naive; of course I know that they are looking for new clients. Again I say, so what—it’s their job and they do it well. They also offer seminars and courses, for example, on pensions and pension reform, saving for retirement, and so forth. I recently attended an evening seminar for women only which was very interesting, particularly the lecture about pensions, retirement, and early retirement. The seminar was free and during the break, the company provided tapas, dessert, fruit and wine. So again I say, if this is how they can treat their clients—by sharing a little of the wealth, then it’s not surprising that they also ‘share the wealth’ with their employees. Not too difficult to achieve employee satisfaction that way—by rewarding your employees for their hard work. But not only that, it seems to be an interesting place to work, even though it’s a high-pressure environment. SKAGEN seems to function well as a company and other companies could learn from them how to treat their employees. I’m not just talking about handing out bonuses at Christmas time; I’m talking about creating a work environment that appreciates and cares about its employees, at least from my vantage point. I’m talking about leadership that listens to and ‘sees’ its employees and likes them. There’s a lot right with this picture.

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