Recruitment Woes—Management Gets the Employees it Deserves

“Management gets the employees it deserves”, Carl snarlingly uttered as he returned to his desk. Natasha, with whom he had shared a cubicle for longer than they cared to remember, turned around. “What makes you say that” What happened? Carl was obviously still upset as he threw his hands in the air. “This new guy is useless, why do they hire people like that” …

This situation is a type of conversation that can be heard in offices around the world. On what grounds do organisations hire people and when they are hired, how do they ensure that they contribute to organisational goals? That an organisation gets the employees it deserves implies a causal relationship between the actions of managers as representatives of their organisation and the performance of employees.

One of the first to research these questions in a systematic way was Frederick Taylor (1911). Taylor himself certainly got the employees he deserved. His Spartan approach, combined with a negative view of labourers, spawned a lot of unrest and workers literally threw spanners in the works. Taylor’s controversial practices even became subject to a congressional investigation. Contemporary human resource management has a more balanced view on recruitment and how people can be managed to increase the likelihood that organisational objectives are achieved. Human resource management well practised can potentially give a significant advantage over competitors (de Cieri et al. 2008: 48).

The importance of selecting and retaining suitable people is even more important in an economic recession. Brown (2008: 17) wrote in this context that:

it is hard to recruit and retain good staff. If [during the recession] you let them go, it could make or break a company’s reputation.

This essay discusses the ways in which an organisation conducts recruitment, selects, motivates and retains the staff it needs, rather than the staff it deserves. The first section discusses the importance of recruitment and selection. The second section provides a cursory overview of performance management. It will be argued that organisations indeed get the employees they deserve because the extent to which employees contribute to organisational objectives is directly related to the quality of the effort invested by an organisation to recruit, select and motivate staff.

Recruitment and selection are the practices of an organisation by which it identifies and attracts people considered to be able to contribute to the achievement of the organisation’s objectives. The recruitment process is aimed at communicating the existence of a vacancy to those segments of the job market that an organisation seeks to recruit from. In the selection process, appropriate mechanisms are used to choose the candidate that is most likely to contribute to the organisation’s objectives (de Cieri et al. 2008).

The recruitment process is influenced by several factors. The main objective of Recruitment and Selection is to increase the likelihood of a match between applicant and vacancy characteristics, or job fit. Job fit is bidirectional as the vacancy characteristics need to fit the applicant characteristics and vice versa. Only if the fit is bidirectional will the incumbent be in the best possible position to contribute positively to the organisation. This is achieved by controlling the three influencing factors. Human resource policies affect the characteristics of the vacancy (job design). Recruitment sources determine which segment of the job market is targeted and thus influence applicant characteristics. The recruiters themselves also influence the job choice through their impact on both job design and applicant characteristics.

Factors influencing the recruitment process (de Cieri et al. 2008: 260).
Factors influencing the recruitment process (de Cieri et al. 2008: 260).

Human resource policies are the guiding principles that shape how an organisation wishes to undertake its human resource practices. They are the starting point of all systems, including workforce planning practices (State Services Authority 2007). The characteristics of the vacancy, such as position objectives, responsibility level and remuneration are determined in the workforce planning process.

Traditionally, recruitment and selection is aimed at finding an applicant that matches the job requirements. Some organisations use a juxtaposed approach by designing a job to suit a candidate (Fox 2000). Lee (1994) and Mackinlay (1993) advocate a mutual adaptability between the organisation and the candidate to ensure the best possible job fit. From this it can be concluded that Human Resource policies need to be flexible to allow the recruiters to achieve the best outcome.

The source of recruitment influences applicant characteristics because each source istargeted towards a certain segment of the job market. Research by Breaugh (1981: 145) showed that the source of recruitment is strongly related to subsequent job performance, absenteeism and work attitudes. Breaugh (1981: 145) showed that people placed through universities and to a lesser extent those sourced through newspapers, were inferior in performance to applicants who were sourced through advertisements in professional publications. People recruited through newspaper advertisement missed almost twice as many days as those recruited through other sources, such as employee referrals (Breaugh 1981).However, Wooden and Harding (1998) reported that the most popular and most successful recruitment source in Australian private industry, as measured by the number of filled vacancies, are newspaper advertisements. One possible explanation of this phenomenon is the Individual Difference Hypothesis in which it is stated that recruitment sources differ in the types (education, class, self-image and so on) of applicants they reach, which will result in different outcomes. Following this hypothesis, people recruited through employee referrals may be more capable than individuals recruited from public sources because current employees will screen potential applicants before they consider them for a position in the organisation as their own reputation is at stake (Breaugh and Starke 2000).

Recent research has shown that managers in Hanoi prefer informal networks, such as family members of existing staff, as a source of recruitment (Watson and Prevos 2009). Vietnamese managers perceive hiring from the extended network of staff to achieve better organisational commitment. The effectiveness of informal networks as a prime recruitment source is evidenced by the original research by Breaugh (1981) and would seem to support the Individual Difference Hypothesis. Recruiters influence vacancy characteristics because they are often involved in the design of the jobs to be recruited. The psychological traits of a recruiter also influence applicant characteristics. De Cieri et al (2008) identify warmth and informativeness as important aspects. In general, applicants respond more positively to recruiters with these traits. It is a recruiter’s task to provide an atmosphere in which applicants are able to fully explore their suitability. Many people are nervous in an interview situation and the recruiter sometimes needs to help the applicant by ensuring the requirements of the position are clearly communicated.

The recruiter also passively influences applicant characteristics because they interpret information provided by the applicant and determine to what extent they match the vacancy requirements. From a philosophical perspective, the recruitment process involves a hermeneutic in which the applicant and the recruiter need to interpret each other’s expectations by processing the information provided. The fact that the recruitment process is undertaken in a power imbalance (Heap 2008) adds an additional layer of complexity because both parties are rarely prepared to be fully open to each other, which requires special communication and interpretation skills of the recruiter.

Many selection methods such as interviews, psychometric testing, physical ability tests and situational exercises, are at the disposal of recruiters. There are five main issues to be considered regarding these methods (de Cieri et al. 2008). The measures used to determine the best candidate need to be consistent and reliable and as much as possible free from random error. Secondly, the outcomes need to be generalisable and free from contextual influences. The usefulness or utility of the selection process is the third important point. Penultimately, any method used during selection needs to be tested for legality, specially regarding possible discrimination of applicants. Last aspect is the validity of the selection method, which is the extent to which a measure used in selection assesses all relevant aspects of future job performance.

The validity of a selection method is determined by measuring the correlation between an applicant’s test scores and their future performance on the job (de Cieri et al. 2008). Validity can, however, only be determined for quantitative methods, such as psychometric testing and physical testing. Personality inventory tests are a popular quantitative method for personnel selection. An applicant’s personality inventory is considered to influence performance as research shows that successful managers share a large number of personality traits. However, the validity of personality testing has not been generally supported in research. Besides issues with validity, there are also legal impediments as a personality test can be perceived as an invasion of privacy (Scroggins et al. 2009).

In qualitative methods, the predictive validity is much harder to measure and is influenced by the characteristics of the recruiter and their ability to communicate job expectations and interpret information provided by the candidate, as discussed above.

Given the issues sketched above, no recruitment and selection process is consistently able to deliver a perfect fit between vacancy characteristics and applicant characteristics. Also, the dynamic nature of business requires people to adapt to new situations not foreseen during the recruitment and selection process. Thus, in the quest of having the best possible employees, recruitment and selection are only the first step. After new staff have been hired, ongoing performance management, which can be defined as the “process through which managers ensure that the activities and outputs of employees are congruent with the objectives of the organisation” (de Cieri et al. 2008: 343), is required. The objective of performance management is to motivate staff to consistently undertake their daily tasks with intensity, persistence and effort (Robbins and Judge 2007).

A plethora of motivation theories has been proposed over the past decades. One of the most widely accepted models is Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory. According to Vroom, the “strength of a tendency to act in a certain way depends on the strength of an expectation that he act will be followed by an outcome and on the attractiveness of that outcome” (Robbins and Judge 2007: 208). Vroom’s model uses three concepts to explain motivation.

Expectancy Theory (Robbins and Judge 2007: 208).
Expectancy Theory (Robbins and Judge 2007: 208).
  1. Expectancy: the likelihood, as perceived by the individual, that exerting a given amount of effort will lead to performance.
  2. Instrumentality: the degree to which the individual is convinced that performing at a certain level will lead to a desired outcome.
  3. Valance: the degree to which organisational rewards match an individual’s personal goals.

The basic utility of Expectancy Theory is that in order to enhance performance of individuals, managers should link rewards to performance and that these rewards are deserved and wanted by employees. An employment relationship is underpinned by principles of mutuality and reciprocity (Heap 2008) in that employees expect a return for their efforts, as outlined in Expectancy Theory. A return can be provided to employees on three levels. A primary employment condition is the remuneration employees receive in return for their labour. Many systems have been developed to shape remuneration in order to motivate employees to behave in a certain manner.

However, research undertaken by Hertzberg has led him to conclude that money is a limited means of motivating staff. He classified salary as a Hygiene Factor, rather than a Motivator, which means that remuneration keeps people from being dissatisfied, but only has limited utility in motivating staff to improve performance (Robbins and Judge 2007). Secondary employment conditions, such as annual leave are also considered Hygiene Factors, specially in countries where these are considered basic entitlements. The tertiary level of employee rewards relates to those aspects of the employment relationship that are usually not controlled through a formal agreement. They can be social benefits, work conditions or more ephemeral aspects of a working relationship such as a sense of achievement or recognition. An example of a company that uses tertiary benefits to motivate and retain staff is Google. Their offices are known for their informal atmosphere, including many opportunities to relax and play games (de Cieri et al. 2008).

Providing better tools of the trade can also be a means to motivate staff and improve performance. One example is knowledge management which, besides having the ability to create a competitive advantage through the creation of intellectual property, also assist individuals to perform better because effective knowledge management systems may relieve individuals of the burden of reinventing the wheel, freeing them to engage in more creative tasks (Child and Shumate 2007: 30). Research by Child and Shumate (2007) lead them to conclude that knowledge management that is based on tacit knowledge held by individuals, rather than moving that knowledge to repositories, has a positive effect on team performance. Managers should focus on communication training, relationship building and other social knowledge management techniques. This research illustrates that opportunities to motivate staff and improve organisational performance go beyond traditional primary and secondary reward systems. Besides recruiting, selecting and managing the performance of staff, it is also imperative for organisations to minimise staff turnover. An employee leaving an organisation can cost about two times their annual salary to replace (Eaton 2003). Many professional firms record staff turnover among young professionals of around 25%. The most often cited cause for this is that the younger generations have high expectations of their career and actively seek out opportunities to improve their situation. The younger generation have a whole-of-life orientation, rather than a focus on work-life balance and for them work is just another aspect of their lives that has to match the rest of their existence (Heathcote 2004).

Many solutions have been proposed to maximise staff retention. For example, organisations offering family-friendly policies are successful at retaining employees, even if individuals did not use the policies themselves (Eaton 2003). However, “few scholars have demonstrated the mechanisms through which such policies function (or do not) to enhance firm performance” (Eaton 2003: 163). Eaton (2003) also found that control over work time, flexibility and pace of work are important determinants in creating positive levels of commitment and productivity. Other possible solutions to retain staff are talent management, including career customisation, work solutions such as changing the design of an organisation or moving into virtual workplaces; and having clear and powerful employee value propositions (Brown 2008).

In conclusion, the statement “management gets the employees it deserves” is correct as ‘deserving’ implies that the quality of staff is related to the quality of the effort an organisation invests in Human Rescource Management. The methods and strategies discussed in this essay show that an organisation can have active control over the employees it gets. More specifically, an organisation needs to be actively involved in developing Human Resource policies to ensure jobs are designed to maximise the likelihood of a good job fit.

Recruiting also needs to be undertaken through appropriate sources to ensure that the right segment of the job market is targeted and recruiters need to be selected and trained to ensure the best outcome in the recruitment process.

Selection methods also have an impact on the ability of an organisation to the find employees it wants. Finding the right method is problematic in light of issues with reliability and validity. Quantitative methods, such as personality testing, can give a false sense of validity and qualitative methods suffer from hermeneutic problems. To mitigate these issues, recruiter training and experience are the most effective means to enhance the selection process.

Lastly, motivational theories show that employee reward, specially beyond remuneration can have a positive effect on staff motivation and performance. Organisations need to actively seek out what type of reward works best with their staff and ensure that the benefits for high performing staff are communicated.


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