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Panel: Turnover's less when autonomy's more

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NJBIZ's human resources panel discussion was held Tuesday at the Imperia in Somerset.
NJBIZ's human resources panel discussion was held Tuesday at the Imperia in Somerset. - ()

When Mike Owen first stepped into the role of chief human resources officer and general counsel at Easterseals New Jersey, the company had a turnover rate of 60 percent. Through giving management more autonomy, empowering employees through expanded benefit plans and showing the company valued people’s opinions, the turnover rate has decreased to 18 percent.

“It’s fun when you talk big talk ... about the value of engagement and atmosphere, to see actual data about the impact it has,” Owen said. “The impact on productivity, the impact on performance of the organization, is sometimes at an inverse relationship to how much control, policy and rules you put to try to direct people’s behavior. It can come more interestingly from allowing them to be themselves.”

Owen was among the experts on NJBIZ’s panel on human resources Tuesday at the Imperia in Somerset. He was joined by fellow panelists Kevin McDonough, principal and executive vice president at Dickstein Associates Agency LLC; and David Rapuano, partner at Archer Law. The moderator was Ed Dougherty, principal consultant at Effective HR LLC.

A challenge HR professionals face, according to the panelists, is getting a seat at the table where management sees their value. They need to position themselves as helping management achieve its goals, the panelists said, instead of challenging them.

From left, panelists Mike Owen, Easterseals New Jersey; Kevin McDonough, Dickstein Associates Agency LLC; David Rapuano, Archer Law; and moderator Ed Dougherty, Effective HR LLC, at Tuesday's discussion.
From left, panelists Mike Owen, Easterseals New Jersey; Kevin McDonough, Dickstein Associates Agency LLC; David Rapuano, Archer Law; and moderator Ed Dougherty, Effective HR LLC, at Tuesday's discussion. - ()

“Management perceives the HR function as a blocking function – blocking from doing what we want. I want to fire this person … and you’re stopping me from doing what I want,” Rapuano said. “If we turn the proposition around and instead of blocking we’re more of a risk diversion and risk mitigation to say, ‘I understand what you want, I can help you achieve your goals while also bringing it in with an acceptable level of risk that you would feel really comfortable with,’ that’s a really effective way of getting managers on board that what you’re doing isn’t stymieing them, it’s stopping them from opening up a can of worms they really don’t want.”

Risk mitigation is as much about keeping manager-employee relations harmonious and avoiding legal issues as it is about employing the right people.

Meanwhile, the panelists’ harassment and discrimination training was important (and legally mandated by the state), and it can also be ineffective, according to Rapuano.

“The problem is not necessarily training them, it’s figuring out who they are and either siloing them or getting rid of them, because these are the people who I consider the untrainable ones,” he said.

The next NJBIZ panel, which covers health care technology, is scheduled for Aug. 14.

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Gabrielle Saulsbery

Gabrielle Saulsbery

Albany, N.Y. native Gabrielle Saulsbery is a staff writer for NJBIZ and the newest thing in New Jersey. You can contact her at gsaulsbery@njbiz.com.

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