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Gallup Poll: Fort Smith region ranks well in workforce contentment

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

A recent Gallup poll exploring workplace satisfaction has ranked Fort Smith as the fifth most content workforce in the United States, while the Northwest Arkansas workforce failed to rank.

According to USA Today, Gallup reported the Fort Smith metropolitan area's work environment index score a 56.4. The same survey showed that 91.5% of workers in the area "feel treated with respect," while 59.2% "learned something new that day."

The survey showed 15.8% of the workforce had a college education.

As USA Today pointed out, Fort Smith ranked high despite having one of the lowest median household incomes in the nation as of 2012.

"According to (Dan) Witters (research director of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index), this is due primarily to the weight a supervisor carries in determining the quality of a work environment," the article said. "If you have a bad supervisor, your work experience will be poor regardless of the level of your education and financial situation."

It was a point echoed by Clifford Sandsmark, president of the Fayetteville-based Northwest Arkansas Human Resources Association, a chapter of the Society of Human Resources Management.

"On the micro level, it relates to what type of relationship that person has with their manager. That is the bottom line of any place where you work — how the manager treats you. How they treat you, how they develop you — the immediate manager makes that environment where you're at."

According to Sandsmark, while financial considerations are often cited for departures from specific companies, the experiences he and other HR professionals have seen prove otherwise.

"Most people say they leave jobs for money, but most leave because they don't like their managers."

And the truth of the matter, according to Sandsmark, is a manager is only as good as his corporate-level supervisors. He said at a macro level, a company must be supportive of lower-level managers in order for those managers' employees to perform their best, even though disgruntled employees may direct ill will toward the human resources office.

"I think it's the mistaken notion that it needs to start with HR. It really starts with upper management. The culture that they create and sustain — they leadership the provide — HR can influence it, can facilitate it. But unless it exists up there on the top levels, there's not a whole lot HR can do."

While no one who spoke to The City Wire can pinpoint exact reasons why the Fort Smith area ranked nationally on workforce contentment and Northwest Arkansas did not, some local HR representatives chimed in on the conversation.

According to Jim Harris, human resources director for Fort Smith-based Bost and co-chair of the recently wrapped Arkansas SPRM Human Resources Conference Expo that was held at the Fort Smith Convention Center, employers across the Fort Smith and Northwest Arkansas regions have to step up in their abilities in order to keep workers content and productive. It's all about leadership, he said.

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"If you've ever worked for a real leader and 10 years later, that leader that you worked for, that you respected and you went to (the end of the Earth for) — if they called you tomorrow and said they're doing a new startup and wanted you, you'd quit your job and go with them…that's the difference between a leader and a manager. A manager just manages stuff."

As for whether the recent economic conditions had anything to do with workers finding more contentment in their jobs due to the lack of opportunities elsewhere, Sandsmark said it is likely that "people hunkered down." But as the economy has improved, he said movement is starting to happen again and that could mean more shifting in employee contentment. But he said even for what he called the "top 10% of performers" who will always have a job no matter what the economic conditions due to their ability to produce results, it is not all about money.

"What really drives the top performers is recognition for what they do. It's an intangible quality. If they don't feel like they are getting their recognition for their performance, they will find a job somewhere else where they can find that."

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