by Michael Nossaman
Simple low-cost no-cost ways to keep your security officers happy and boost your bottom line.
“Be happy in your work.” That is what Colonel Saito, the fictional commander of a World War II Japanese prisoner of war camp in the movie “Bridge On The River Kwai,” said to the British soldiers he held captive.
Col. Saito’s mission was to build a bridge across the river. It was a critical element of the railway the Japanese needed to connect Bangkok to Rangoon. His labor force was captured British soldiers.
He was a brutal taskmaster who forced the soldiers to work in slave like conditions in an inhospitable environment with only minimal sustenance.
Colonel Saito was not concerned about British morale; his only objective was to extract as much labor as possible from the soldiers in order to finish the bridge by the deadline set by his superiors.
Not surprising, the soldiers were not happy and, in response to Saito’s inhumanity, they labored just enough to avoid being further brutalized.
CareerBliss, an online jobs site, released the latest edition of its list of the “Happiest and Unhappiest Jobs in 2015.” The list, according to Forbes.com, is the product of a two-year survey of 25,000 people who were asked to “rate their job on a scale of one to five by answering questions in the following six categories:
1. Person one works for
2. People one works with
3. Support one receives
4. Growth opportunities
5. Company culture
6. Way one works and handles daily tasks
The dubious honor of the Number One Unhappiest Job in 2015: security guard.
In its reporting on the CareerBliss survey, Forbes characterized the job of security guard this way, “They patrol company property, looking out for vandals and monitoring employees’ comings and goings. The job can be boring, there is rarely room for advancement and the average annual pay is just $24,000, according to CareerBliss.”
Notwithstanding the superficial description of the value and duties of a security officer, the distinction as the unhappiest job still has a sting. And if that weren’t enough, “security guard” was the CareerBliss Unhappiest Job in 2014. That is a back-to-back two-year streak.
The CareerBliss survey is not an exhaustive scientific study; it is the product of an online survey of current or former security service employees and consists of only six highly subjective questions.
Nonetheless, the conclusion that security guards are the unhappiest workers in the U.S. has merit because there is other valid empirical evidence that supports that characterization.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2013, the median hourly wage for a security officer was $11.57. That is consistent with a 2015 review of online postings for the job of security officer; both from large and small firms. In fact, the BLS wage is slightly higher than current offerings reviewed for this article.
The fact is that half of the men and women employed in the U.S as “security guards” earn just $24,000 a year or less.
Compare the wages of security officers to the rest of U.S. workers. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in September 2014 that real median household income was $51,939 in 2013. Assuming two adults in a household worked full-time as security officers, their combined income of $48,140 would still fall short of the amount earned by a majority of Americans.
Further assume that only one of the adults in a two adult household works as a security officer, and there are two children in the household. The officer making $24,070 for full-time work and supporting a spouse and two children would qualify for food stamps and Medicaid. How’s that for a wage and benefit package that will make for a happy worker?
By comparison, according to the BLS, the median hourly wage for a janitor is $10.86; just $.71 an hour less than a security officer. The market value premium for asset protection over cleanliness: $28.40 a week!
The low wages conundrum is the result of reliance on the outdated Wage Rate/Bill Rate model for pricing security services. But discussing a change in pricing methods is not the purpose of this article. The reality is that-for the present-the market value of security officers is near the bottom of the economic scale. That is the reality you have to deal with while trying to retain competent and reliable employees.
Nature Of The Work
The work of a security officer is sometimes routine and boring. Security officers are generally in place, at a post or on patrol which varies little, if at all. They often work alone. Sometimes it is extremely dangerous. In the majority of jurisdictions, it requires training and licensing, and often, the costs of these legal requirements are the responsibility of the individual.
Opportunities For Advancement
The opportunities for advancement may be limited and rarely under the control of the individual officer. Promotion opportunities may come only as the result of supervisor/manager openings, expansion of the company client list, and adding and expanding company services.
Client list expansion or new service offerings are solely the result of management decisions over which the first line security officer has no control or probably even input. If manager/supervisor openings are the only advancement path, there will be little incentive for subordinate people to stay. On the other hand, if manager/supervisor turnover is as high as it is among first line officers, your problem is doubled, and it is probable that your best first line officers will be long gone before their supervisor goes.
In summary, the bad news is that the job of the first line security officer is low paying bordering on poverty; routine, boring, lonely, and potentially dangerous; and offers little in the way of advancement opportunity.
The effect of these three factors has two primary results: high turnover and poor customer service.
That in turn cascades into loss of revenue, low margins, higher employment recruitment and training costs, loss of productivity, stunted new business and service opportunities, and competitive disadvantage.
What will you do, capitulate? Just give up? Stop investing in your people and accept the industry standard employee turnover rate – in excess of 100 percent – as the cost of doing business? Or find other solutions? There are alternatives.
What follows begins with the assumption that you have little or no budget or resources such as money and personnel to do all the things that will make your people happy.
Nevertheless, you can also assume that if you invest what you do have and do what you can do, you will likely increase your treasure chest of resources through a reduction in turnover cost, cost savings through more efficient operations, both of which drop to the bottom line, and possibly new business opportunities or expansion.
These are “soft” items that do not require new equipment or systems investment.
If you are fortunate enough to have additional resources -especially money- then you really have expanded your range of options for making positive improvements. If it is just time, or time and money, this investment in your workforce will likely return handsome rewards.
Here are the six CareerBliss questions and what you can do to improve your score.
Person one works for.
Bad manager is one of the most common reasons people quit their job. People quit people, not the company.
Solution: train your managers and supervisors.
Don’t just promote a good performer and put them in charge. They may be the best at the job they were doing, but how do you know they are naturally capable of managing other people.
What is their Manager Quotient (MQ)? What skills or previous experience do they have that qualifies them to manage others?
Do you have a written description of the manager’s job, values, standards, expectations, accountability, performance metrics and evaluations?
What’s your own MQ?
Do you have a mechanism to objectively measure and observe the performance of your managers against expectations? If there is a gap between what is expected and what is occurring, you have a performance problem. Do a Gap Analysis.
Is the problem with the first line officers or their manager? If you do not have clear metrics against which you analyze performance of both positions, how will you ever know where the problem is?
People one works with.
Again, a common reason people give for quitting. There are myriad reasons why people cannot work together. Is there a conflict of some sort? Are all officers similarly trained and understand the job standards and expectations? Are there high-performers, and low-performers? Are they working together? Is there incentive for high performance and consequence for low performance?
A first line manager, by the nature of the position, must have answers to these questions. If not, you have two problems.
Do not automatically assume that all low-performers are slackers. The problem might be easily solved with some simple and gentle redirection back to the path of acceptable performance. Along the same lines of suspecting a slacker, try this rule for a change; never underestimate someone’s intelligence or overestimate their knowledge. They may be ignorant, but they are not stupid. They may not know how to do something but, they are smart enough to learn how to do it.
Support one receives.
Do your officers have all the equipment they need? Is it in good working order and reliable? Does the employee know how to use it and are they proficient with it? Do they understand the utility and importance of the equipment?
Do they understand the rationale for why they are required to do things, and do things a certain way? A translation of rationale is: purpose and importance. What is the purpose of this piece of equipment or procedure and its use, and why is that important?
Is the performance of your officers observed and measured and are they given feedback about their performance?
Are they regularly rewarded for good performance or redirected toward expected performance when it is below expectation. Performance support is a continuous task. In addition, you must provide support in a timely manner; as soon as reward or redirection is necessary. Do not wait for the “perfect” time or periodic reviews.
Are your officers coached and mentored, and is there someone in the organization they can go to for questions or to make suggestions? The best suggestions for improvement usually come from employees. After all, the person doing the job is the most knowledgeable person about that job.
Is there regular one-on-one communication with every officer about their job and their performance?
Do officers ever have the opportunity to interact with others in the company, especially higher ups, or is their only view of company management their immediate manager/supervisor? See reason No.1 for unhappiness and quitting.
Are there upward opportunities in your organization or is it a dead-end job? If there are opportunities, do employees know of them and what path they can pursue to achieve growth through higher pay, promotion, more responsibility? Do they know the details about advanced jobs? Do they know what they need to do to advance? Are there any company resources they can tap to help them advance, and what are the details?
Are there mentors and coaches who will help them along the way? (Note: research indicates that older generations have a lot in common with Generation Y people – those roughly between the age of 18 and 35.) Older employees know a lot and have a propensity to share their knowledge with younger workers. Many of them enjoy teaching younger workers. Tap into that built in resource.
Do you promote advancement opportunities to your officers? In other words, how robust is your communication about advancement opportunities? Are you really selling it to your current employees? Do you have a well-developed talent development strategy and process? It should be obvious that it costs less to hire from within than from the outside.
This topic bears a much deeper examination than the scope of this article because it is at the heart of the work world today, so the following is little more than just the basics.
Is your business a modern day sweatshop? If it is, then you can expect to see the same high turnover and poor performance that plagues your low road competitors.
Or is yours a culture of engagement?
Culture is not difficult to define. It boils down to, “What kind of company is this to work for?” And it doesn’t take long for new employees to figure it out. According to SmartBlogs.com Leadership, “…20 percent of new hires either quit or are terminally disengaged after only 45 days on the job.”
Culture is the totality of the workplace, and it is born of the philosophy, behavior, and tangible efforts of top management. Another way to say it is that culture to a company is what personality is to an individual.
Do you have a culture that you can articulate to other people? Is there a written statement that describes it? Is it measurable and observable? Do your employees understand it and can they describe it in their own words? You might be surprised at the answers you get if you ask your employees to describe your company culture.
What are the obvious manifestations of your company’s culture among first line officers, among their immediate supervisors, among managers, and top management?
Are there any discrepancies in culture between the various levels of employees? If there are, you have a problem. Is the culture evident at every level?
Are there certain behaviors that are expected at every level? Are you doing tangible things to prove to every employee that the company culture is a living thing and not just fancy words?
There is a direct and deep relationship between company culture and employee engagement. A bad culture will result in employee disengagement and, again, high turnover. Too often, the refrain is “I’m not going to invest in my people because they are going to quit any way.”
Way one works and handles daily tasks.
This is a rather vague question; it could cover myriad issues. Interpreted literally it refers to what one does and how one does it.
A discussion of this aspect of work must first begin with a look at the demographic composition of your workforce. Today, more than 50 percent of the American workforce is under the age of 35: the Millennial Generation also called Millennials, Generation Y, or Gen Y for short. By 2025, it is estimated that they will comprise 70 percent of the workforce.
Today, more than 40 percent of security industry employees are under the age of 34, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2012.
Much, perhaps too much, has been written about the differences between Millennials and other generations and a lot of it is simply pure speculation and opinion. There is scant empirical evidence that the expectations about working conditions among Millennials are radically different from previous generations when they first entered the job market and were early in their careers.
Nonetheless, there are unique characteristics that distinguish Millennials from other generations that-it is hypothesized-have forced changes in the way employers respond to workplace issues such as employee engagement, productivity, and longevity.
The big difference between Gen Y’s and other Gen’s is that Y’s are technologically savvy. They are connected! They communicate and interact electronically, some to the extent that their interpersonal skills are insufficient for many business situations. They may also be deficient in writing skills, that is, the ability to communicate coherently using more than 140 characters.
Millennials like variety. That is likely the by-product of being able to flit from one subject to another on the Internet. It may be possible to cure Attention Deficit Disorder in many people by simply taking away their phone.
What this means is that Millennials have a strong desire and impulse to plug in to whatever interests them, and in the case of their job, what they are doing.
There are other supposedly unique characteristics ascribed to Millennials and, while it is useful to consider them, they are probably the same things that preceding generations would deem desirable. Attention to these employee needs and wants, regardless the generational tag, will probably result in a happier workforce
They want some flexibility in their work and the way they work; a feature that aligns with their desire for a life/work balance.
They want to make a difference and they will gravitate toward work in which they can make a meaningful contribution. This closely aligns with taking pride in one’s work.
Finally, they are more prone to speak up and speak out. This behavior is sometimes viewed negatively, if not insubordinate or demanding. That is why Millennials are often euphemistically referred to as “Generation Why?” It is more likely that for them, asking is simply a manifestation of their access to massive amounts of information and connections with their social media cohorts. It may be off putting at first to highly structured and hierarchical organizations, but it should be received as simply a blunt method of asking questions, not resistance to or a challenge to authority. You may remember that one of the rally cries of the Baby Boomer Generation when they were coming of age in the Sixties was, “Question Authority.” Irony?
There is no credible research yet that empirically validates that Millennials expect to jump from job to job or career to career any more than previous generations. That does not alter the fact that there is a higher rate of job changing among younger workers than older ones. It is more likely that they are still in search of the job and career that most suits their personal likes or skill.
However, there is one conclusion from available evidence that the reason that turnover among first line security officers is higher than in other industries is directly related to the nature of the work.
So the question is, how to do you provide work and a workplace that makes people happy in an industry that, by the nature of the work, has challenges in terms of personal stimulation, variety, and the satisfaction that comes from making a meaningful contribution in which they can take pride? Happy enough that they work hard, fast, efficiently, and productively all the time; and that they stay with the company?
The answers to those questions start with attention to the first five items in the CareerBliss survey. That will make dealing with the last question…“nature of the work”…much easier.
Admittedly, much of a security officer’s daily work is mundane, boring, repetitious, and monotonous: stand a post, patrol, stare at a screen. Moreover, security company owners and managers do not have as much latitude or range of options as those enjoyed in many other industries. It is not easy to move people around to other duties and jobs, or even mix up an officer’s duties. Nevertheless, it is not impossible; it just takes open-minded thinking. Furthermore, there are ways to “spice-up” the job or workplace. That does not mean that you must provide a ping-pong table or bowling alley, nap lounges, free food buffets, and a company beer tap. Ignore Google. See instead, Costco.
Here are some things that might be available, and some suggestions for consideration.
Ask your officers about their job. What part of the job do they enjoy and what part they do not? Ask them what they do not know how to do as well as expected, or at all? This assumes that you have established a trusted communication channel with your employees. They trust that their answer will result in you mentoring and coaching them, not punishment. There is more about communication later.
Ask if they have any ideas about how to do the job better, faster, cheaper, or even just more efficiently. No one knows better how to do a job than the person doing it. Ever!
Ask if they know of any task or duty that is redundant or could be eliminated. The answer might save you considerable time and money.
Ask if there are things that could or should be done to improve the quality of security service that are not being done. If you are private contractor, this could be lead to additional services. If you are an in-house security director, it has the same effect; you have increased the value of your department.
What will happen if you “Ask?” You may not be able to change much about the post duties but you have accomplished several things by just Asking:
1. You have shown respect for your officers and that you have a genuine concern for how they feel and what they think.
2. You have the opportunity to explain why the job cannot be changed and why some things must be “done by the book.”
3. You have maintained an open communication with your officer.
This is also an opportunity to consider how much of what they do and the way they are told to do it are legacy issues. In other words, “This is the way it’s always been done.” It may be that the way it has always been done is a good way to do it. But is it the only way, and is there room to maneuver? At the very least, you have ventured to tap what might be the unrealized potential of the officer, and at best new, better, faster ways to do the job, and perhaps even new business opportunities.
What is a vacation but a change of scenery? Are there opportunities for a work vacation – a change of scenery? Even better, build in some different duties and tasks. This might be a good opportunity to cross-train; move officers around to different jobs. It may take some creative thinking but it is possible to inject variety in the job. A drill press operator stands in front of the same machine every day, but he does not drill the same hole all day every day. Look for other holes to drill.
For everyone, there is at least one job at which they are exceptionally talented to perform and capable of doing. You can only hope that it is a job that makes them happy and that you need done. That’s a bonus! Problem is, not everyone knows what that job is, especially younger employees with a shallow depth of experience. Help them find that job in your organization. Cross-training is one way to do that. Cross-training has other benefits. It injects variety in the workday. It communicates to the officer that you value them and are willing to invest in them. It tells them that you want to discover their potential.
A winning team has a reserve bench of players because it is an essential element in maintaining your continuity of service capability. Cross-training expands your bench. If you ever need a replacement in another job or post, you are going to need a bench.
Is every task so checklist and time clock bound that there is zero tolerance for variation. If so, then so be it. That’s the way it’s done…but not because “it’s always been done that way.” Always be on the lookout for that trap. Probably a lot of every rigid job, process, and procedure that has never changed is because someone is too lazy or complacent to invest the time and effort to analyze the task, duty, or routine. (See Bad Manager).
Is there any flexibility in route, schedule, and days worked, shifts, or length of shift. What about schedules; when do you post them? One of the major complaints by Walmart employees, a policy that the company agreed to change, was the amount of advance notice of work schedules. A simple change in timing now gives employees more time and flexibility to arrange and schedule their personal lives around their work life. You do remember that your officers have personal lives that, with most individuals, are slightly more important to them than their work life. The cost to Walmart, if any, was minimal. But the message it sent to employees will pay off. It is a clear message that the company is listening to employees, the company cares, and it honors employees’ life outside of work. The more stable and consistent your workforce (lower turnover and higher engagement) makes this no/low cost policy possible and will further reduce absenteeism and turnover.
Hard Work Pays Back
The focus of this article has been the first line security officer; the low man on the security totem pole. The problems discussed here diminish somewhat as an individual moves up the ladder of security function but are still common and prevalent at all but perhaps the highest levels of security management. I have heard these complaints from first line officers, surveillance experts, investigators, executive protection specialists, managers, and yes, even security directors of major corporations.
Keeping workers happy takes time and effort. It’s hard work. You may need to change the way things have been done and do a lot of new things. But that is the job of owners and their managers. The payback is that fostering happy workers is a lot easier and far less costly than replacing all of them every year. Calculate the savings of time and money if you didn’t need to spend it on new hires, and then calculate what you could accomplish with that savings.
The remedial measures presented here are applicable in nearly every situation but it is by no means a complete list of all that can be done, there is no such list. But it is possible, if you commit to and invest in finding and applying creative solutions to these problems, to achieve the desired results.
Michael Nossaman is the founder of the Security Business Council. Contact him at [email protected]
Photo Credit: FreeImages.com-Monte Van Tassel