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In a survey conducted by the global Manpower company among 12,000 candidates for various jobs in 15 Western countries, including Israel, the respondents were asked to define what they consider to be an excellent employer. The largest group - 49 percent of the respondents - noted that an excellent employer is one that offers job security to its workers.

This finding indicates that today, job stability is the decisive factor in the eyes of job seekers, carrying more weight than salary levels. No less than two-thirds of those questioned said that they fear losing their jobs during their initial year at work. Some 15 percent said they are afraid their jobs will be cut within the organization or outsourced. This is a much higher percentage when compared with data from similar surveys conducted 10 or 20 years ago.

There is no organization in Israel that conducts surveys about the expectations of job seekers. That said, several companies conduct internal surveys aimed at learning about the views of their employees. Most of the companies that show interest in this issue operate in the high-tech sector, which is experiencing a recovery and absorbed an increasing number of new employees during the past year. The surveys conducted by these companies are quite haphazard, with some based on conversations between employees and their bosses, so one cannot say necessarily that they are "scientific."

Professional advancement first

Nati Avrahami, the managing director of Yael Software, which conducts computerization projects and develops software products, says internal job-satisfaction surveys that the company occasionally conducts indicate that employees cite three qualities that characterize an excellent employer. The first of these is professional advancement.

"According to our surveys, an excellent employer is one whose employees are not stuck in place for a long period of time, but are given instead - for the most part, at least - an opportunity for upward mobility in the workplace, advancement that allows them to enter new and more challenging fields of endeavor," Avrahami says.

"An employee whose job description has not changed in a year or two, without any reasonable cause for this from his perspective, gives his employers a `disappointing' grade."

The second quality of an excellent employer, according to Yael Software employees, is a concern for the job security of its workers. "The workers, according to our analysis, want the workplace to be a sort of second home. They expect the employer to respond appropriately to special events that concern them, for better or worse, such as births, bar mitzvahs, or serious illness," Avrahami notes.

The third-ranked quality of an excellent employer in the internal surveys conducted by Yael Software is "team pride." According to Avrahami, workers like to show up in the morning at a workplace that is successful from a business perspective and from the perspective of community involvement. An employer that assists the weaker members of the community - an activity that has won supportive headlines in recent years - gains important points of appreciation from its workers.

Nonetheless, Avrahami says that this division into three qualities is not uniform among all types of employees. He explains that the age of the workers influences their views on the excellence of an employer: Workers in their 20s place primary importance on realizing their professional abilities. Older workers, especially those 35 and above, attribute greater importance to the personal aspect when relating to an employer. For example, to what extent is he ready to provide them with a loan in the event of economic distress, or to offer assistance with a mortgage.

"From these qualities, we can deduce who a lousy employer is," Avrahami says. "It is an employer that does not succeed in offering employees an opportunity for professional advancement, does not provide training for them, does not give them a feeling of a `warm home' and does not stand at their side during moments of hardship. In short, it is an employer that operates as a money-making machine."

Prestige, notoriety, power

Esty Applebaum-Polani, the CEO of Brand Vision, a company specializing in corporate branding and identity, disputes the findings of the Manpower survey. "It is illogical in my view that the primary quality workers seek in an employer is job security," she argues.

"There is a turnover of workers every few months in the president's office in the United States; it's a real transit station," Applebaum-Polani says.

People hired in the president's office as advisors or department heads receive no long-term or even short-term job stability. At any given moment, they are liable to find themselves on the outside. Nonetheless, they aspire to be appointed to a job at the White House. Why? Because it is a prestigious workplace that offers workers enormous interest, fame and power.

"I won't be revealing any great secret if I say that job seekers view a prestigious employer that offers its workers notoriety and power as an excellent employer and place to work," Applebaum-Polani says. "They are convinced that the experience of working in a place like the president's office, a minister's bureau or even the office of a member of Knesset will add an important component to their resume and help them in their subsequent career.

"The same goes for commercial companies that have become brand names," she continues. "They are a source of attraction for job seekers, regardless of whether they offer job security. In the food sector, one can point to Strauss-Elite, Tnuva and Osem; in banking - Hapoalim, Leumi, First International; in the cellular field - Partner, Cellcom and Pelephone; and in the field of pharmaceuticals - Teva."

She says that 20 years ago, one could also point to Koor and even the Histadrut labor federation as coveted workplaces because of the power these organizations wielded.

Applebaum-Polani gives the following ranking to the characteristics of an excellent employer in the eyes of job seekers:

1. A famous, brand-name employer.

2. An employer that treats its workers in the same way that it aspires to treat its customers.

3. An employer that maintains "open" communication, operates transparently and updates its employees about each important move, such as a corporate restructuring.

4. Salary: "There are organizations in which the salary is not high, but the top management is thought of as an excellent employer."

5. Personal ethical behavior that is expressed, among other ways, in promoting workers regardless of family or romantic connections, and in conducting a lifestyle that is not profligate.