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Corporate Transparency

by Christina Paciolla

Transparency is one of the hardest values to approach, especially when it comes to the workplace. The word is being used more and more in corporate circles, from establishing transparency by producing a thorough employee handbook for a five-person startup to keeping more than 250 workers satisfied and fulfilled at a 50-year-old family company.

Human resources managers and employment experts know how vital it is for the top of the corporate hierarchy to be open with their employees, and vice versa.

In this age of information, 24/7 news and sprawling social media reaching every corner of the internet and personal lives, remaining secretive isn’t so easy. And it shouldn’t be. Many experts say more and more companies don’t want that secrecy anymore. Remaining open and honest with employees regarding personal progress, performance expectations, even the company bottom line is the new trend. Employees, from the millennial just starting out to the 30-year veteran, are craving it. And it’s not going away any time soon.

Jeff Agranoff, chief operating officer of accounting and business consulting firm Friedman LLP, says corporate transparency has been a very hot topic.

Headquartered in New York City with an office in Marlton, Friedman LLP provides outsourced HR and counseling to business owners and employees. Agranoff says many companies—especially startups or smaller ventures with few employees that are looking to expand—are having some difficulty putting policies in place for their workers.

“A lot of companies have no procedures, no manuals, no performance feedback,” says Agranoff. “They need to create a structure.”

That structure, especially in fledgling businesses, is becoming increasingly important with each passing year, Agranoff says.

“Employees, if they are not getting formal performance feedback, they will not necessarily feel fulfilled,” he says. “They are not going to understand areas they need to improve on. It’s very important to give constructive feedback.”

However, it’s not just companies with a few employees starting out in the field. The same rules of transparency apply to corporations across the board, whether it’s an accounting firm, a media organization, a retail outfit or a doctor’s office, says Susan Buchwald, CEO of Community Treatment Solutions, a group of about 200 employees that works with children and their families in South Jersey. It’s because of CTS’ investment in their workers that Buchwald says the group’s employee retention is at 97 percent.

Since the company works directly with families, Buchwald says, the group knows what it’s like for staffers to have obligations at home and in their personal lives.

“We recognize they have families and interests outside of work and we accommodate that,” says Buchwald, who has been with CTS for 14 years. “That’s a reality.” But another reality is that when her employees are on the clock, “we expect 200 percent.”

Access to discounted daycare, informational employee newsletters, Facebook activity and very specific job descriptions keep her employees happy, she says. But those job descriptions mean nothing to either party if they are immeasurable.

“We set very clear standards,” she says. “We tell them we are transparent and tell them what’s happening. If something happens, it’s not going to be a surprise, good or bad. And they trust that.

“At the same time, there is that kind of transparency where they don’t need to know how much our electrical bill is. You overload them with information. My job is to be able to determine what information is relevant to them and what isn’t.”

This notion of corporate transparency, at least for Buchwald, didn’t just start getting more prevalent five or 10 years ago. She saw a change in employment and hiring practices post 9/11 and into the recession. Seeing their mothers and fathers laid off in corporate jobs set the tone for 20-somethings at the time, she explains. People were questioning safety for their lives after 9/11 and also for their careers a few years later.

Fifteen years since the attacks in the U.S., and almost a decade since the recession began, employees are facing a new kind of fear. And some of those fears can be alleviated with better communication and more transparency, says Lisa Bien, an expert in overcoming adversity in the workplace.

She reports what she often hears from her clients is a fear taking on a different form. Questions like, “When will I get promoted?” “Will I ever get a raise?” and “Am I doing my job well enough?” loom for employees of all ages, not just the younger generation of workers, millennials, who some experts say are armed with the most information.

Communication begins at the job interview, she says, but employees really need 90 days of it at their new places of work.

She likens the first month of working at a new place to “the honeymoon phase,” when you’re the most content to be in a new position, learning new things and meeting new people. After another month, the cracks in the foundation start to show, she says. Employees get a better sense of the inner workings of their new job environment and the people they are surrounded by. After the third month, people ask themselves, “Is this the right place for me?”

“I think that expectations for workers have changed. We have higher demands placed upon us. Sometimes, we just keep taking it and taking it and we’re afraid to say ‘enough,’” Bien says.

This shows that transparency in the workplace works both ways. Employers must be clear to their workers but at the same time, employees need to speak up if something isn’t suiting them entirely. There must be a balance, Bien says.

And this goes for every employee at a company—from the CEO to the housekeeping staff.

“If you’re working in a hospital, the nurse and janitor need to be armed with the same amount of information,” she says.

And information is what more people have nowadays, says David Silverman, an attorney with Moorestown-based Sherman Silverstein. Silverman, whose expertise is in employment law, says he’s seen an “explosion of litigation” in recent years.

“We are seeing employees that have a better understanding of their rights in response to medical leave, family leave, workers’ compensation and more.”

That’s why it’s all the more important that corporations remain as transparent as possible to their employees.

“More transparency is healthy for the work environment,” Silverman says. “And one of the biggest causes for litigation between employer and employee is a lack of communication. In many cases, it’s very helpful and creates a much healthier environment if the employee can feel he or she is truly a part of the organization and shares in its success and even sometime suffers when it has failures.”

Millennials covet that communication, Agranoff says. “People in this newer generation … they want to be pushed. They want to be challenged. They want to know what it takes to get to the next level. This is a very new mindset about what success looks like.”

If you have that transparency, he adds, those employees are more apt to stay in the position. “They need more communication than I think some of the older workforce,” he explains.

They also crave a different kind of work environment. Gone are the days of the typical 9 to 5 with an hour for lunch at noon. Gone are the days when an employee needs to be in the office every day to get all of his or her work done. Many workers, especially millennials, will go where the progression is, says Bill Emerson, president of the Emerson Group, a company that recruits administrative officials.

“Their values are a little different. So is their work/life balance,” says Emerson. “They like time with friends but they also will work at 9 o’clock at night. I think there’s an adjustment. If we look back at the generations, it’s probably always been the same issues. The up-and-coming generation is being initially looked at in a negative way. It’s just going to be a matter of time before companies adjust and understand what millennials can bring to the table.”

Strengthening that employee/employer relationship is all about openness and adjustment. If you have a good culture, Bien says, you’re going to get productivity from your employees. That transparency can be a major business booster. After all, honesty is the best policy.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 6, Issue 5 (May, 2016).
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