Randy Miller, Founder and Chief WHEN Officer, WHEN Enterprises
Daniel Barajas, Associate Vice Chancellor for Workforce Development, Maricopa Community College District
Laura Bartlett, Senior Vice President in Institutional Wealth, Bank of Arizona
Ilana Lowery: Let’s just jump in with the first question that I want to ask. I want to know what would make for a happier employee.
Randy Miller: Based on my company’s involvement in this space, I know of two statistics related to happier that come to mind. One is that two-thirds of everyone who got up and went to work today are not productive and not happy. A Gallup poll.
What bothered me more is that we spend $1.9 trillion annually on wellness. If we’re spending all this money to make people happier, what’s going on? What makes people happy is doing what they want to do, and understanding more about their own being or well-being. Your well-being relates to focusing on yourself, your purpose, and truly liking what you do to bring more meaning to your life. This makes for a happier person and employee.
Dan Barajas: Representing the Community College I would look at it through two lenses, one having my own staff and personnel, and secondly the student perspective and that pipeline we’re trying to prepare for their careers. Both, I think, are looking for fit. You know, do they fit into the best place within your organization, one that they like, but also that really takes a look at their skill sets and makes them the most productive they can be within the organization.
Secondly, one of the things we’re doing for students within our district in order to prepare that next generation of employees, we’re changing culture and structure of the student experience. In the past, we chiefly had the career component at the very end of a student’s experience, almost right before completion or graduation. We’re now moving that experience to the front end of a student’s journey. As a result we are also starting to work through prioritizing the career assessment piece for students. Introducing work-based experiences along the way, internships, apprenticeships, so that we’re placing students appropriately. And we hope that that’s going to make for a happier employee in the future.
Laura Bartlett: We know there are various studies that document that two-thirds of employees are not productive. Two-thirds of employees are not productive because they’re deeply concerned during their workday about their personal finances. They’re struggling with paying bills. They’re concerned about saving for retirement when there are other immediate pressures on their family. They’re distracted from work by these various financial pressures, and to the extent that the employer can create an environment in which employees do have the opportunity to create financial security for themselves, provide some level of education that helps employees to better understand what they need to be doing for their own personal finances, and employees expect and want to get that in the workplace.
There are not a lot of places where they receive that type of information, so it’s important employers look at ways they can help facilitate higher levels of financial education and financial security for employees, selfishly for employers, to enhance their productivity, but also to lead to higher levels of job satisfaction, higher levels of loyalty, and ultimately higher levels of personal happiness.
Ilana Lowery: But are enough companies doing something to address that?
Laura Bartlett: If you’re talking about just retirement plans as a starting point of that, six or seven out of 10 companies offer some type of retirement benefit. That doesn’t mean that it’s leading to financial security for their employees. Other companies are looking at some of the things Randy’s group provides, which is how do we get employees on a path to physical wellness, financial wellness, emotional stability and well-being.
If employers are looking at how much they’re spending for medical insurance, and if employees are accessing more medical care because of all of these job stresses they feel, that directly impacts the employer’s health care costs, which can have a direct impact on their bottom line. So all these pieces tie together in a very powerful way.
Dan Barajas: As we look at small, medium and large sized employers, I think they’re realizing that from a retention perspective the idea that in order to be competitive in the marketplace and retain their employees, what we’re discussing here is very important.
Ilana Lowery: You could sum that up and say more employees are spending more money, more time, more effort in being proactive? Because I think most companies react. They don’t deal with employees until it’s a problem.
Laura Bartlett: I think that’s true to an extent, but I think employers are realizing the cost of turnover. The labor market has tightened dramatically in the course of the past 12 to 18 months. It puts more pressure on employers to make sure they have workplaces that create job satisfaction, that they have employee benefits that fulfill a variety of needs for their employees, or else their employees are going to go somewhere else. If an employer hasn’t gotten in front of it and thought about some of these culture issues and job satisfaction issues, they’re going to be behind the curve. Some employers are ahead of it, and those employers are going to benefit from the fact that people are going stay with them for the long term.
Randy Miller: I look at it as two tracks. You have one track that is reactive. They know their employees are not connected, are unproductive, and many are not happy. Then you have the proactive side, where they’re trying to do things and now balance work with everyday life. For these people balance is more popular than ever. Are companies trying to make their employees happier? Yes, some know exactly what to do, some don’t know what to do. The good news on either track is that it is a popular topic. And it doesn’t mean just having an organic apple or a gym membership, which a lot of companies are doing.
Ilana Lowery: And think that that’s all it meant.
Randy Miller: It means, how much does my employer really care and what is their culture? And it factors into the financial aspect also. Do the employees feel secure enough? Are they making enough money? Are they reporting to the right manager? So, there’s a whole host of variables, but the good news again is the wellness and well-being in the workplace areas are now getting a lot of attention. Not everybody’s doing it well, but there’s always room for improvement.
Ilana Lowery: So let’s talk about what some of those things are that they are doing to make employees happy in their professional life. I mean, examples beyond the organic apple and the gym bag.
Randy Miller: There are a lot of companies offering wellness programs. You can get a coach, you can get an adviser, you can have people come in and talk about this to employees. There are companies that make a genuine effort and they bring in coaches and advisers. This is actually part of my WHEN program as we do professional advising and guiding for individuals. One-on-one dedicated professionally trained guidance to help employees. This assures they’re pleased, happy and sometimes even more productive with what they do. The company that engages with these one-to-one efforts to assist their employees and staff will ultimately yield more benefits over time, whether you’re a small business or a larger business.
So, yes, it’s beyond just the gym membership. It’s beyond just the organic lunch. It’s a genuine, real approach of finding out what makes my employees happy and productive within their workplace culture.
Ilana Lowery: Many of the companies, if you use Arizona as an example, are small businesses, maybe medium size. They don’t have the opportunity to have a vice president of culture. So how do you speak to them and say, “Here are some things that you can do?”
Laura Bartlett: It is harder for the small or the midsize business to develop a strategy and make it work. Getting input from employees about what they value is a good starting place, and for some it’s as simple as giving flexibility. It’s as simple as asking people what hours they want to work versus the scheduled hours they may have used in the past. Letting people work from home indefinitely or for certain periods of time. Those are things that small to midsize employers can adopt easily by getting input from their employees.
What I think they’ll find is employees today value flexibility. Even more so than pay in many instances. Having the ability to get home, to get their kids from school or pick up their dog from the dog walker or having the ability to work from home, even one day a week, that doesn’t have a lot of direct cost to an employer.
Dan Barajas: It can be as simple as engagement. The idea you open up your lines of communication, you’re more informative with the employees. I’m thinking about the manufacturing companies here in the region, they’re looking to be innovative. So there’s a return on investment for employers having positive relationships and open communication with their employees – great ideas are born via the employees. Communication can lead to incentivizing thought generation that can move the company forward.
Randy Miller: I don’t care if it’s Intel size or a smaller business. Even with the smaller to midsize businesses, you want your people happier, more so to be even more incentivized. Whether you’re a big business or a small business, why don’t you want to instill as much self-confidence as you possibly could in your employees and your staff? There’s a lot of people that go through a work day or a work week and don’t communicate with anybody. Those communication skills, instilling more self-confidence, and just life lessons during the work day are important. And I think we all touched on these, but it’s important a person feels human and appreciated in the workplace. Little things can make a difference.
Ilana Lowery: A good culture is usually going to be developed top-down.
Randy Miller: Correct. From the top. And hopefully we don’t get worse, we just try to make people happier. Because if we go the other way that’s not a good thing.
Ilana Lowery: Let’s talk about benefits, because we know benefits can make employees not only happy but are good recruitment tools. Retirement benefits are something you could address, but benefits in general, in terms of attracting good talent. I know health benefits, that’s a huge issue for employers and employees.
Laura Bartlett: Retirement benefits are an important thing prospective employees evaluate, more so than you might think. It’s not just people who are older. Younger people evaluate their benefit packages more carefully than we might give them credit for. Six or seven out of 10 employers offer some type of retirement benefit program. The three to four who aren’t offering one, they might want to be looking at a retirement benefit plan as something that would help to attract employees
That being said, there are a lot of features employers can add to their existing retirement plans. Employees are savvy about these things now. It used to be, 20 years ago, you signed up and you put in 3 percent and you said “Okay, good, I’m done.”
Retirement plans now offer employees the option to be automatically enrolled, to be invested in the types of investment fund that’s appropriate for their age, and for their contribution to be automatically increased once a year. That’s really the type of expectation that’s been built now. There’s a component of the workforce that likes the paternalistic approach of , “Hey, just take care of me.”
Ilana Lowery: Sure it does, automatic features for millennials are perfect.
Laura Bartlett: That group is what expects to be taken care of and embraces automation, whereas the baby boomer group like myself is more like, “Hey, don’t tell me what to do. I’m going to figure it out myself.”
But even then, there are a lot of different ways that you can design a retirement benefit program and really all of your benefit programs to speak to the needs of different generations in the workplace.
Ilana Lowery: Because part of what you do is wellness and the physical well-being, how important are health benefits for example?
Randy Miller: It’s an interesting question because the business side of me would say, extremely valuable. And then the other side of me asks, do people even look or pay attention? Some offer a variety of things. Some are very proactive and take a look at it and will take advantage of it and some don’t even see them.
It’s more up to the individual on what they want. Are they proactive? Do they ask the employer, what do you have, what’s available? To me, yes health is number one on the list because everybody wants that coverage. But it’s above and beyond the health benefits. What else is benefiting me in this company?
From my end and being more of the entrepreneurial business or more risky side, as some call it, skin in the game. For people on my end, you can offer stock options or equity in the business.
When we meet and discuss by departments, everybody can feel good about what they did, because they own a piece of it so they’re benefiting by helping to build and grow the business. And then hopefully longer term, that’s worth a lot of money to them. They are vested.
Dan Barajas: The students I’m seeing right now are more about wanting to be happy in the workplace, wanting to get into the right career. I’m seeing students who understand the benefits employers provide is probably lagging. The idea of financial awareness and planning, those are things that I think we still as a community (educators and business) need to impart on students.
Laura Bartlett: When you’re talking about students, what I observe as a mentor at ASU in the MBA program at the W.P. Carey School and kind of across ASU in general, is a lot of international students and a lot of students who are domestic students but they come from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. They are not as familiar with the whole total value proposition of being in the workforce, because their experience of that is not a U.S. domestic experience, it’s something different from their country of origin, or their parents’ country of origin.
Dan Barajas: These teens are not only learning how to live differently, certainly differently from their parents, but school is new to them – they are learning to navigate the educational system. Then to get it into a place where you’re going to earn money in a different way than your family may have understood. God bless the mentors of the world that will step in that because I think we’re lacking in mentorship for young people, generally speaking.
Ilana Lowery: Back when we were all in high school, you learned how to balance a checkbook. You had those kinds of life classes whether it was an elective and it was home economics or whatever, and those were the kinds of things they taught.
Dan Barajas: Right now I think there’s this large focus on workforce and also technical skills. Employers are also saying we want the technical side to be sure, but we also want critical thinkers and problem solvers. Those kinds of programs or programming needs to be involved.
Ilana Lowery: Laura, can you talk about how retirement benefits can be structured to entice key executives?
Laura Bartlett: I think one of the key challenges we see companies face right now is getting that top-level talent. I think that’s true in the large companies but also in midsize Phoenix companies. There are a couple things that they can look at doing. A 401(k) plan is designed to be the retirement plan for the masses. There are ways, however, that 401(k) plans can be designed to provide additional benefits to specific, highly paid groups of employees. There also are a host of non-qualified benefits that don’t fall under the 401(k) rules, like non-qualified different compensation plans, supplemental executive retirement plans, supplemental life insurance, and long-term disability benefits.
Some of these non-qualified plan expenses may not be tax deductible to the corporation like your normal long-term disability, short-term disability, 401(k) and health expenses are. Benefits that target to a very small group of select people are generally just borne by the corporation. But if your goal is to attract that really key person to join your company, that would be a small price to pay.
Ilana Lowery: So how do they know what’s competitive?
Laura Bartlett: In the area of these type of non-qualified benefits, you have to look at the individual situation at hand. If you’re a midsize company in Phoenix and you’re trying to attract a particular talent from another part of country, or attract them from much larger companies, you really have to look at what types of executive perks do they get at a Fortune 500 company for that level of employee with the specific experience you need or desire.
Randy Miller: It depends upon the company you’re negotiating with or involved with. From the employees’ side, you don’t ask, you don’t get. You have to be well-versed to understand. There’s a lot of employees that are extremely talented, very intelligent that don’t realize, oh I could have got that insurance plan. Yeah. I might have gotten stock options there, if the salaries are just hung up there.
Ilana Lowery: Some jobs do not require a degree but do require a certification or some level of training. How does each of your organizations work with businesses to provide that sort of training?
Dan Barajas: If I think about the IT cybersecurity field now, the idea that what is attractive are the industry-recognized credentials/certifications. One of the ways that’s impacted us is we have now embedded those industry-recognized credentials into our curriculum and programs — whether it is in IT cyber or advance manufacturing or construction, we are now working with industry recognized credentials across many industry sectors. It’s put us in a position where we can now also standardize outcomes to a certain degree.
For example, we are now as a district partnering Central Arizona College and Pima Community College in the advanced manufacturing space because employers were saying they want consistency in terms of the students that are being produced in these areas.
Ilana Lowery: For you guys, it’s that certification on top of their degree.
Dan Barajas: Correct. It’s embedded essentially — college certificates and degrees in tandem with industry recognized credentials.
Ilana Lowery: In banking, not everybody who works for a bank has a college degree. Do you have specific training or programs to move them through the process so that they can move up the ladder?
Laura Bartlett: There are a host of designations in the banking and financial services industry. Our organization supports people pursing any of those that would be applicable, and I think they are helpful in terms of people advancing in their careers. I wouldn’t say they necessarily open every door the way a four-year education does. It’s really just identifying what’s going to be the most valuable tool to help an employee to go to the level they’re seeking and to achieve their goals.
Randy Miller: They call it more of the professional development. Everybody wants to better themselves. There’s a lot of active employers or the employee that is actively looking for that, whether they’re going back to school for another degree, whether they want another credential, or whether they just want to improve their professional development.
My company works a little differently because we have three different disciplines for your health, career, and well-being. We take it very seriously. And we also have formal and professional training requirements, so you must go through our professional training so you can obtain a certificate to be a WHEN-health adviser, WHEN being adviser or a WHEN-career adviser.
Before coaching became popular, there’s was a methodical counseling and professional development approach if you’re going to help someone. There’s a lot of people who want to do better, but you have to put your time and effort in to be trained to do it efficiently, especially in today’s online and mobile times.
Ilana Lowery: And are most companies willing to do that?
Randy Miller: Some.
Ilana Lowery: That’s a big investment for an employer.
Randy Miller: That falls into your benefits package. Some people do. Some people dangle that and say if you want to go back or you want to get this, we’ll pay for it. Others do not. And that puts more pressure on the employer, because they’ve got to leave at Tuesday at four o’clock to go make it to that class.
Dan Barajas: We have a Corporate College for example. Essentially, that’s one of their primary functions in working with industry – to impart professional growth opportunities on behalf of the employer. To me it seems like we’re now starting to get more questions from businesses to ask, “How could can we partner together?” How can we leverage your services?
I was recently at a Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce event hosted with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. One of the things I found most fascinating was an economist speaking about the idea that we are currently in the fourth Industrial Revolution.
If you think about things like Uber, artificial intelligence, all of these really dynamic platforms that are coming at us changing the way that we live. To reflect on that, we know as an educational institution in this new revolution, we have to change the way that we conduct ourselves and be open to either enhancing of and modifying in our business practice on behalf of our constituencies.
Ilana Lowery: Can you talk a bit more about your programs and then let’s talk about whether you provide apprenticeships or if you offer internships and things like that because we know that employers, more and more employers are saying we want work experience.
Dan Barajas: I would say that banking, I would refer to it as advanced business services, just for example. And health We do offer these opportunities but are moving to grow them. There are also though delineations in opportunities. Differences between areas such as banking and health care for example. In health care, if you’re going to be a nurse for example, we have to partner with the local hospitals, and the students do go into what they call their clinical rotation in order to then, attain their degree. In banking, there is not a mandatory/embedded work-based experience needed to complete the degree – however it is optimal if the student gets the opportunity.
It’s going to have to be educators and businesses working together to establish the kind of work based experiences we are talking about. I think that’s the kind of conversation that we need to have going all the way back to the first question of fit.
Ilana Lowery: Gateway Community College has a program called Year Up. I don’t know how familiar you are with that, but it sounds a lot like what they do from the day the students sign up for it.
Dan Barajas: Year Up is an excellent program. I think that in pockets and pools in education, we have really good/best practice. We need to be able to take that pocket of excellence to scale. That is what we are working on.
Ilana Lowery: I’m sure the bank has internships.
Laura Bartlett: We do a couple of different things, and I think that’s an aspect of our organization I’m particularly proud of. We do provide internships at the regional banking level as well as in our corporate headquarters. The interns get a lot of exposure directly to working with customers.
We also have a program called Accelerated Career Track, which is a one-year training experience where young people get a lot of detailed exposure to our entire organization. They have to apply to the program. There are 200-300 applicants every year, out of which 20-30 are accepted. They’re recent MBA grads or may have just recently completed a finance or an accounting degree.
They’re accepted into the program as a class. They spend six months at our headquarters in Tulsa and rotate through the various banking disciplines. Then they go out to the regional operating divisions, like Bank of Arizona, and go through that same process in regional bank and work hands on directly with the bankers in that location and they get a lot of opportunity to work, again, directly with clients, go out on calls, and solve specific customer needs
Randy Miller: WHEN is going to be offering internships, we call more experiential learning. Our interns usually end up being full time employees over time. I’m proud of that. Going forward, we’re also going to be partnering with higher ed and schools starting in Arizona. We call it more experiential learning internships and/or jobs.
Ilana Lowery: All of this discussion about culture and loving your job and all of that stuff. Let’s talk about stress, because that comes with many jobs, whether you love your job or not, it can be stressful. Are too many people consumed with social media and not spending enough quality time on themselves or their own work/life balance? Or is it all blamed on workforce and job-related matters?
Randy Miller: I do have certain issues with social media, but to directly answer your question with stress, everybody has something or stuff. It’s a matter of how they choose to deal with it. My opinion is social media makes it a little worse.
I think it requires a lot of thought and energy to do what you truly want to do as opposed to what everybody else is doing. We all want to eliminate certain stressors in our lives. Think through what you have in your life, what you need and what’s going to make you a better person on a daily basis, not doing and watching what everybody else does. Take more time for you.
Laura Bartlett: With regard to stress, I think it’s very important for people to self-assess and know how much stress they can take. Some individuals can deal with a lot of stress and manage it well and still be effective. And other individuals cannot manage a high degree of stress and it really craters them.
With regard to social media, I’m about 99.9 percent sure of the following statement, which is that every financial services company has a policy that’s written, that everybody reviews and signs off on with regard to social media, what you can and can’t do, what you can and can’t say on social media about the organization you work for, the services you provide, the clients you serve. If you work in this industry, you’re probably less active on social media than maybe in other industries.
Dan Barajas: I think it’s just technology in general. I don’t care at what level, when I get to have a staff meeting, for example, I don’t care what level you are . . . senior leadership or all the way down, everybody has one (cell phone). This is the great equalizer. To me, again, I don’t know if it’s social media or if it’s work emails, whatever.
I don’t know if you have experienced this but anymore when I go to just about any meeting and we’re waiting for the beginning to get started, everybody has this (cell phone) out so were not even looking at each other or talking to each other.
The other thing I would share is that anymore, I don’t know if people understand what stress is. I think it’s incumbent on maybe a senior leader to point out to their staff that I’ve been watching you, how are you doing?