Over the last couple of years, I’ve written several articles for our newsletter on how work attitude impacts job and organization success. The consistent message has been that organizations must address this before hiring an employee, rather than trying to fix a problem after an employee is onboard.
Our readers have seen:
- How we and others define work attitude
- Why you should screen applicants for work attitude
- How a pre-employment attitude test can improve employee success
- A calculated cost of hiring someone with a bad attitude
- Why you should hire for attitude and train for skills
- How to hire in a period with a tight labor market
For those of you who have missed the opportunity to read these previous articles and those of you who have read them all, I will summarize our scientific and practical findings, as well as, our approach to work attitude.
Hire for Attitude, Train for Skills
“Hire for attitude, train for skills” is advice that shouldn’t be surprising. The phrase took on light after the popular book, NUTTS! was published in 1978. It chronicled Southwest Airlines’ formula for success under the reign of the past CEO, Herb Kelleher.
I often refer to work attitude as the fuel in the engine that makes it all happen. It wouldn’t be far from the truth to say that most organizations’ hiring practices are backward and ill-advised. They put too much emphasis on skills, even including those that can be learned on the job. But some organizations do hire the right way. An example I gave in an earlier article is that of Anheuser-Busch Inc. (A-B). As early as 1990 the CEO, August A. Busch, III, insisted on screening all brewery applicants for the “right” work attitude before offering a job. The result was a workforce that became the envy of its competitors with low turnover, high productivity, and high-quality output.
Defining Work Attitude
Some of us think of “work ethic” when work attitude is mentioned. After having conducted over 15 years of research across 39 companies and 9 industries, E.A.S.I-Consult, LLC.® has identified close to a dozen unique behavior patterns that demonstrate work attitude. Five of these continue to be documented through scientific validation as most important to job success by our client organizations.
The five include:
Dependability – can be counted on to take initiative, to do what it takes to get the job done; Productivity Drive – takes the initiative to reach and exceed production levels; Team Orientation – builds positive working relations with others to achieve work goals; Quality Initiative – shows exceptional effort to maintain and improve quality; and Adaptability – can easily adjust to work demands and changing priorities.
These five work attitude categories overlap with Clarion Ledger’s (a USA Today Network participant) description of “work ethic.” In this January 2017 report, Becky Vaughn-Furlow identified “work ethic” as the top attribute desired by employers. In a “Small Business Chronicle” 2018 article, Kimberly Leonard lists five factors that she believes demonstrate strong work ethic. These five factors overlap closely with E.A.S.I-Consult’s work attitude categories.
There are many theories about how work attitude is acquired. To summarize these theories, we can say that work attitude is the result of what is referred to as antecedents. They include personality, motivation, values, and interests. (Hogan, Hogan, & Roberts, 1996; McClelland, 1987; Skinner, 1969; and Strong, Campbell, and Hanson, 1985.)
The Cost of a Bad Attitude
It’s commonly understood that employees are the most important assets of an organization. That’s why leading companies place considerable effort into their recruitment, selection, and hiring process. Hiring the wrong person is more costly than typically thought. Our own research has demonstrated the obvious and the hidden cost of this. Bringing onboard someone lacking the right work attitude is a monetary and organizational mistake. More so than you might think.
The U.S. Department of Labor and Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) have each estimated loss from a bad hire to range from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars per hire. Their focus was simply on the cost of recruitment, interviewing, testing, onboarding, and training employees.
But no one has gone further, and isolated cost based on the work attitude of employees. Our own ROI study purposely restricted the estimated costs of a bad hire to work attitude alone, and focused on productivity.
We chose a large manufacturing company and solicited data from immediate supervisors on performance and organizational culture (see The Hidden Cost of a Bad Attitude and Hiring for a Stronger Workforce). We compared productivity levels of production line workers who scored high on our Work Styles Predictor® (WSP®) – a work attitude pre-employment test – and those who scored low. High scoring applicants were $3,100 more productive on an annual basis. A further look at how other employees are impacted by working next to someone with a poor work attitude was revealing. With a workforce of 500 employees, our estimate showed an annual cost of over $200,000. We refer to this as the “Bad Apple Effect.”
Hiring in a Tight Labor Market
At the end of January 2019, the U.S. economy had 7.6 million unfilled jobs but only 6.5 million people were looking for work. Adding to this, the future of the workplace is changing and so are the candidates coming to the unemployment line. Attitude and expectations of new applicants seem to be wanting. Skill sets are getting thinner. If you can find an applicant with the right attitude, a willingness to learn, and they bring to the job the technical skills you need, you’ve won the lottery!
With the approach of hiring for attitude and training for skills, you have a chance to meet your workforce needs even in today’s labor market. More important than ever, finding diamonds in the rough is today’s challenge. Employees are needed who bring the right work attitude and a willingness to learn. In fact, a recent Harris Poll, on behalf of talent and outsourcing company, YOH, confirmed that soft skills/attitude (e.g., dependability, enthusiasm) overwhelmingly win in the battle over technical skills and experience in their survey of 2,000 employer respondents. In fact, 75% of them would hire a candidate with soft skills over one with the right qualifications or experience.
E.A.S.I-Consult has had close two decades of success with this approach as we’ve built online pre-employment testing (i.e., WSP®) for our customers. We’ve witnessed an increase in productivity, an increase in quality output, a decrease in turnover, and a decrease in absenteeism.
So, what have we learned? We know that attitude is an important ingredient for job success, that employees with a positive work attitude produce more. We know that having an employee with a bad attitude negatively impacts those around them and there is a real cost to this. We know that prescreening for work attitude provides a true payoff. And finally, we know that this approach becomes even more important in a tight labor market.
We believe in the following… Hire for attitude, train for skills!
Watch for our next newsletter where I discuss why too many companies fall short of this approach.
For more information on the Work Styles Predictor® (WSP®) see… https://easiconsult.com/work-styles-predictor/.
David Smith, PhD, is the founder and CEO of E.A.S.I-Consult®. E.A.S.I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. E.A.S.I-Consult’s specialties include leadership assessment, online pre-employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring advisement. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about E.A.S.I-Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI.