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October 29, 2019

When the employees are the boss

PHOTO | New Haven Biz John Frehse addresses the 2019 Manufacturing Summit last Thursday in Trumbull.

It’s a management cliché that your company’s most important assets go home every night at 5.

But labor and operations expert John Frehse, senior managing director for Ankura, said workers today have more power than ever before.

Frehse presented a talk entitled “The Future of Work: Hiring & Retaining Great Employees in a Boom-or-Bust Economy” at the 2019 Manufacturing Summit last Thursday (Oct. 25) at the Trumbull Marriott. The event, which drew some 250 manufacturers from across the state, was presented  by the Connecticut Business & Industry Association and the Connecticut State Technology Extension Program (ConnSTEP).

Based in New York, Frehse is a professional labor and operations strategist who believes that people are the most valuable resource of any company.

And, as a consequence of record-low unemployment, skilled and experienced employees today wield economic power unmatched in generations.

“You guys are in a lot of trouble,” Frehse told the assembled audience, most of them employers. Because high-value workers are at a premium, “Hotels used to care about occupancy rates,” he observed. “Now they care about finding maids to clean the rooms.”

The power workers wield today stems not just from their relative scarcity, but also due to their unprecedented access to information, Frehse said — especially information about prospective employers.

“Google is the enemy,” said Frehse, since workers now can access virtually unlimited information about prospective employers — placing unprecedented pressure on employers to use candor about describing their companies and what it’s like to work there.

“It’s not enough to say you have a great culture,” Frehse said, “it’s another to actually have a great culture.”

Because of that, he urged employers above all to “Tell the truth.” If companies withhold information, distort facts or outright lie, “Your employees will find information elsewhere.”

Sometimes sharing information about sensitive subjects such as compensation can actually benefit employers. Frehse cited a survey from Payscale.com revealing that more than a third (35 percent) of workers who were paid above the market for equivalent responsibilities believed they were actually being paid less.

Frehse said that the qualities most valued by employees in countless worker surveys — feeling valued, having access to information and input into important decisions — cost employers nothing.

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