Good employee relations in an organization results in better employee relationship management and long term performance of the business. Having good relationship with the employees and creating better engagement helps organizations to achieve their long term financial and non financial goals easily. Apple, the leading technology company in the world has put good emphasis on maintaining good relationship with its employees. It follows a power sharing strategy with its employees where employees are free to express their opinion through an open communication system. Apple’s founder Steve Jobs had started a 360-degree employee engagement program under which efforts are put to continually engage with the employees. Good employee relationship and employee engagement strategies helped the organization to have the revenue generated per each of its employees. At US$ 2 million revenue per employee, Apple leads the industry in employee productivity (Sullivan 2011). However, despite the strong emphasis on employee engagement, the company does not have a system to evaluate its employee engagement levels. The company can do well in terms of employee engagement if it can develop a system to continually monitor employee engagement.
Apple is one of the leading consumer electronics company in world. It was founded in the year 1976 as a developer and manufacturers of personal computers by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne (Apple 2014). In the late 2000s, the company diversified itself the manufacture of other electronic devices like portable music players, smartphones and tablet computers and emerged as the top consumer electronics company in the world. Unlike other maker of consumer electronics products, the core competency of Apple lies in manufacturing innovative products that are intuitively designed. Apple employed some of the best brains in the industry for coming out with innovative products. Other than the people who are involved in designing its core products, Apple also owned thousands of low end employees who worked in its Apple retail stores. These low end workers manning its retail outlets have direct customer contact and were instrumental in projecting the Apple brand. Apple used to follow industry leading HR policies so that its employees stay motivated and deliver their best performances.
EMPLOYEE RELATIONS STRATEGY AT APPLE
Maintaining appropriate relationship with its employees goes a long way in keeping them motivated, avoid confrontation with employees, and improve the organizational performance. Employee relationships involve building a stable and sustainable relationship with the employees of the organization. Employee relationship strategy can be defined as, “the intention of the organization about what needs to be changed in the ways in which the organization manages its relationship with employees and their trade unions” (Tsui et al. 1997). Employee relationship strategy that is followed by an organization is rooted in the broad business strategy adopted by the organization. But employee relationship strategy can in many times end up supporting the broad business strategy. A good employee relationship strategy achieves commitment through involvement and the communication process between the management and the employees of the organization. Another key objective of an employee relationship strategy is to develop mutuality –common interest in achieving the goals set for the organization by developing organization cultures rooted in the shared values between the employees and management.
There are different kinds of approaches which are generally followed by companies in developing their employee relationship strategy, viz. adversarial strategy, traditional strategy, partnership strategy, and power sharing strategy (Venkataraman 2006). Each of them are explained in detail below:
Under adversarial strategy the organization decides what it wants to do and the employees should fit in. Employees have no power in planning and implementing the strategy other than refusing to cooperate.
Under the traditional strategy, a good day-to-day relationship is built between the employees and management. But management proposes all the policies impacting the employees and the employees react through their elected representatives and trade union leaders.
Partnership strategy is more democratic when compared with the above two strategies. Under the partnership strategy, organization involves its employees in the formulation and execution of employee related organizational policies, but retains the right to veto any changes proposed by the employees.
Power Sharing Strategy
Under the power sharing strategy employees are given full freedom in the formulation and execution of employee related policies. Employees are consulted and their opinions highly valued in both day-to-day and strategic decision making of the organization.
In companies like Apple which relies mostly on relying its employees for coming out with world beating products, a good employee relationship strategy had helped in keeping its employees satisfied and stay loyal to the firm in the long-term. Right from the time the firm was founded, Steve Jobs made sure that the opinions of the employees are given importance. In other words, Apple followed a power sharing strategy in its relationship with its employees. Apple’s employees can raise issues which can benefit the organization and discuss them with the top management without any problem. An open communication system played a key role in helping the employees to express themselves freely. Employees could raise any issue which is of their concern with the top management by posting a query on the ‘Can we Talk’ section of the company’s intranet site. Interesting issues raised by the employees are discussed in detail by the top management by sitting together with the employee and suitable action is taken.
Instead of just focussing on the compensation that is paid to the employees, Steve Jobs considered ‘A Players’ (as employees of Apple are called) to be continually striving to the make the lives of other people easy. This notion made many employees of Apple to work for near minimum wages but enjoying excellent job satisfaction levels (Schroeder 2011). This perception among the employees also lead to lesser conflicts with the management regarding their pay and other perks they are offered. It is because of this reason that a never ending stream of prospective employees always line-up before the offices to Apple to join the organization. These employees believe that they are helping to make the lives of others easy and are themselves fans of Apple’s products. Commenting on his work experience at Apple, one of its former sales man said, “When you’re working for Apple you feel like you’re working for this greater good. That’s why they don’t have a revolution on their hands” (Opi n.d.).
EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT AT APPLE
Apart from maintaining employee relationships, proper engagement is also crucial for getting the best out of them. Employee engagement measures an employee’s affection and association with the organization where he works, the prevalent work culture, their job role, and relationships with their colleagues. The level of engagement that an employee has with the organization where he works will have a positive or negative impact on the willingness of employees to stretch themselves a work, use imagination and help the company its goals effectively. Evidence from past research shows that companies with highly engaged employees perform well in the long-term and reach their organizational goals (both financial and nonfinancial) easily. In a study done by KPMG in UK showed that companies with engaged employees their operating income by 19.2 percent during the study period, while the operating incomes of companies with disengaged employees declined by 32.7 percent over the study period (KPMG 2014). Proper engagement of organization’s employees also ensures that they stay committed to the achievement of the organization’s goals and values, properly motivated to contribute to the success of the organization, and also enhance their own wisdom of well-being. According to Kahn (1990), employee engagement can be defined as, “the harnessing of organization’s members selves to their work roles; in engagement, people employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally during role performances”.
Apple knows that an engaged employee experiences good job satisfaction levels, commitment to the organization where he/she works, feeling of empowerment, and job involvement. Employee engagement is a concept whose result is greater than the sum of the parts. To engage their employees well, Apple followed several creative strategies. With a good employee engagement strategy, Apple had been able to outperform is rivals in revenue and profit growth while continually spending less on innovation. Engaged employees put more effort on coming out with innovative ideas, which worked wonders for Apple. The founder of Apple, Steve Jobs created a system of 360-degree engagement with its employees where efforts were to continually engage with its employees. The 360-degree employee engagement strategy puts an emphasis on the association between passionate employees and customer satisfaction/retention leading to increased business profitability. Below are some of the ways in which Apple increased its engagement with its employees as part of the 360-degree employee engagement strategy:
Create a Culture of Fandom
Apple created an environment where the biggest fans of the company and its products are the employees themselves. To make this possible, Apple allows its employees to use its regular products on a daily basis. Regular discounts ranging from 15 to 25 percent are offered to the employees of Apple for buying their products. Sometimes products like iPods and iPads are given to employees as free gifts. Employees are given an opportunity to take any old computers to their homes before they are recycled. Giving out its own products for a discount or for free of cost make the employees as the fans of the company and make them its very own brand ambassadors. Apple’s employees who are themselves big fans of the company put their best efforts in helping the company to reach its goals. Controlling and influencing the employee impact on consumer and channel partners bolstered the financial and nonfinancial goals of Apple. It also helped in building a good long-term relationship with its emploees.
Emphasize Employee Retention
Apple had put lot of emphasis on retaining its talent pool. Apple attitude had a long-lasting impact on Apple’s employees. Even after leaving the company, Apple’s employees said that they bled the six colours of Apple. Industry leading pay structure and empathy to the needs of the employees play an important role at Apple in retaining the employees. The company had an excellent appraisal system for the organization’s employees and good performers were rewarded for their performance. This helped the company to retain its talented employees and increase the engagement levels with them.
Create Great Employee Experiences
Apple always focused on creating great experiences to its employees. This was visible in encouraging its employees to build products that they want to use. A case in point is Steve Jobs’ comment on the first computer built by Apple, “Apple build the first computer because, we we really wanted one” (Business Insider, n.d.). Even while developing the iPhone, its employees were encouraged to focus on building a smartphone which was better than the ones that are available in the market and which they would themselves want to use. Employees were offered regular training sessions to increase their skills and come out with better ideas. All this increased the employee experience and helped in boosting the engagement levels of its employees with the organization. Creating good experiences for its employees also aided in creating good product experiences for its customers. Apple’s HR electronic tool called ‘job finder’ was another tool which was focused on increasing the engagement levels of employees. The job finder made it possible for employees to find jobs within the organization and get transferred to their chosen location and departments.
Focus on Employee Development
At Apple, an employee’s contribution is not measured on the basis of how long he had worked with the organization, but on the basis of how many projects he had worked on. The best employees are rotated between the current top projects of the organization (Business Insider, n.d.). This created an image of the company that constantly works for their development resulting in improved engagement levels. It organized weekly ‘network groups’ whose main purpose was to making employees aware of all the functional areas at Apple (Caudron 1994). The information that is shared at these network groups can be either from the developmental or career-change perspective. Networking groups also shared information regarding the work outside the company. This resulted in employees knowing well about the company and bond with it well.
ANALYSIS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The employee relations and employee engagement strategies practised at Apple fit with each other well and create an environment where employees can grow in the organization and learn the required skills through the training facilities offered by the organization. The culture of fandom and the facility to express their opinions freely to the top management makes it easy for the company to retain the employees without much problem. Despite the excellent job done by Apple in creating this employee friendly environment, there are certain areas where the employees have expressed their displeasure regarding Apple. The extreme form of secretiveness that is maintained by Apple means that employees didn’t understand what they are expected to do on a particular job. This becomes even tougher in case of cross functional projects. Many times, the employees of Apple felt that they didn’t understand why they were asked to do a certain task (Business Insider n.d.). Secrecy also meant that doing the same task twice when there were changes in between the schedule or releases. This leads to a situation which can lead to employees feeling less empowered leading to reduced motivational levels. Apple should try to correct this problem by specifying the exact job roles that need to be performed by each of their employees.
There were also complaints from employees regarding the lack of work life balance at Apple and the provision of lesser perks like free lunches and gyms when compared with other technology companies like Facebook and Google (Business Insider n.d.). Provision of better work life balance for employees and perks could increase the relationships with employees and increase their commitment to the organization. One last problem with employee relationship strategy at Apple that should be addressed properly is the lack of any proper system to measure the engagement levels of employees. At best, the engagement levels of employees are subjectively measured by the concerned managers. But a more formal tool to measure employee engagement like conducting periodic surveys on the perceptions of the employees can go a long way in measuring the opinions of employees. Once the employee engagement levels are properly analysed, corrective action can be initiated where the company is lacking.
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