A Recruiting Strategy to Counter the Threat of Unions and the EFCA

The recruiting function is constantly looking for ways to improve its business impact and unfortunately, just such an opportunity is about to hit them right in the face.

By now, everyone’s most likely heard of the impending Employee Freedom of Choice Act that will make unionization significantly easier.

As a recruiting professional, have you contemplated what role recruiting can play in maintaining a “union-free” environment at your organization?

Think about it! What better way to ensure that an organization will remain union-free than changing the recruiting, branding, and hiring process so that your organization is more likely to attract new hires who naturally (without any direct influence from management) wouldn’t want to join a union?

Hiring For Tendencies Is a Common Practice

It is common to design recruiting and hiring processes to select individuals with certain mindsets or behavioral tendencies.

Southwest Airlines, for example, has been written up in numerous books and articles for how they successfully attract and hire individuals who naturally behave and act in a certain way. In the case of Southwest, its hiring process targets candidates who naturally put the needs of the individual customer before their own.

Southwest is not alone. A range of organizations, from the FBI to Disney and Google, have all designed recruiting processes that identify and hire individuals prone to certain behaviors and actions. So why not adapt that recruiting concept to focus on individuals who prefer an independent work environment?

The Time to Act Is Now

Now is the opportune time to act before union-related publicity increases to the point where the spotlight is continually on any union-avoidance activities and while most recruiting functions are facing a reduced hiring load.

Rarely do recruiting leaders have as much time as they have now to strategize and to reengineer their processes.

The goal is to redesign your recruiting and hiring processes in order to improve the chances of attracting and hiring individuals who, when given a choice, have a higher probability of selecting independence over “big brother” group action (i.e., unionization).

Don’t Have A Cow

Upfront, you need to realize that it’s ok for management to resist unionization. Most firms rely primarily on the “traditional approach” which focuses heavily on anti-union propaganda campaigns among existing workers.

However, there’s no reason why that approach can’t be supplemented by an effective recruiting campaign that proactively acts “on the front end” before workers are even hired.

Now, I’m not suggesting even for a minute that you go out and purposely hire only “union hating” new employees, because that actually would be illegal.

What I am suggesting is that recruiting can make a major contribution in maintaining your workforce’s flexibility and competitiveness by revising your firm’s employment processes so that they now include elements that “naturally” attract more independent-thinking workers.

Incidentally, I started my working career as a card-carrying union member and now as a professor, am currently represented by a union, so don’t automatically assume that I don’t understand the value unions can provide.

However, I would remind you that as an HR employee, if your executives choose to go down the “maintain a non-union environment road,” it’s your responsibility to make sure that recruiting makes a substantial contribution to that effort.

Start With Market Research

After getting management’s approval for the overall concept and strategy, identify the types of personalities, demographic groups, and regional locations where you’re likely to find a large percentage of “independent thinkers.”

Work with psychologists, sociologists, and market researchers in order to identify the types of individuals and the “traits” that are common among independent thinkers. After you better understand what it takes to excite and attract them, refocus your recruiting process and materials.

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Refocus Your Employment Brand

The next step is to shift your “employment brand message” so that it better highlights the elements of working at your firm that would get the attention of your target candidates. That could include emphasizing the fact that your firm excels in flexibility and allowing your employees to make independent decisions.

In reverse, remember that an over emphasis on security, seniority, and great benefits in your branding campaign might actually attract individuals that prefer a unionized environment, where those features are often heralded.

But branding your organization with characteristics you cannot possibly deliver and have no intention of attempting to deliver will do more harm than good.

If you want to remain union-free and the employer attributes most likely to attract and retain a workforce committed to that status are not attributes that characterize your organization, you may just need to change!

Recruitment Advertising

Work with your recruitment advertising agency and vendors to see if they can help you in repositioning your recruiting collateral so that it focuses on attracting the type of individuals that you are now targeting.

The content of your ads, positioning of your ads, and your position descriptions as well might also have to be modified so that they better attract a more desirable target audience. A little research can help you find out whether you are more likely to find a higher percentage of your target candidates in specific demographic groups, age groups, geographic regions, etc.

Screening Processes

Tread lightly in this area, because you don’t ever want to directly confront the issue of whether applicants are pro-union. All you can reasonably expect to accomplish in the assessment area is to “screen in” a larger percentage of individuals who have characteristics and traits that make them both great workers and a preference for remaining independent.

There are, of course, numerous vendors that specialize in hiring for “fit,” so work with them to see if they have valid and legal ways to target your “assessment” toward traits that are shared both by excellent workers and by individuals with independent leanings.

One of the biggest complaints unionized labor voices about being in a union is that negotiated work standards and seniority-based pay systems are not fair. Focusing your assessment efforts to identify individuals who have historically been frustrated with organizations that define equitable as equal could be a good start. Of course, only if your organization doesn’t do that as well.

Other Employment-Related Approaches

Here are additional actions to consider:

  • Increase the percentage of your workforce classified as contingent workers. Not only are contractors easier to release, working with them for a period of time makes it easier to assess whether they “fit” your independent-minded profile before you act to convert them.
  • Re-design your employee referral program so that it educates your workforce about the types of behaviors and personalities that you’re now targeting.
  • Begin targeting your recruiting at specific firms that are known for attracting and retaining employees that have a long history of independence.
  • Work with consulting and law firms that specialize in maintaining a “union-free environment” to better understand best practices and what other approaches may be acceptable under the law.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re facing unionization efforts or not, focus your recruiting efforts on these independent-minded workers because the traits they possess might by themselves be valuable to the business. Their willingness to try new things and to innovate is likely to be higher than many recruits.

If you’re going to act, now’s the time, before labor laws and policies change to make it more difficult to use recruiting as another “union-free environment” maintenance tool. If you are looking for an opportunity to act strategically and outside the box, this is it.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.