By Barbara Mitchell
HR Expert and Co-Author
The Essential HR Handbook
I was fortunate to spend the month of October in Paris doing some client work, but mostly I just pretended I lived there. While I was having a wonderful time enjoying the culture, food, people, and wines, I also had some great experiences meeting people from all over the world.
One example is when our tour guide, Trong, took a small group of my friends on a tour through the Champagne region.
He told us that he had been born in Vietnam, but immigrated to France at the age of 15. He didn’t speak French when he arrived, but quickly learned. After he graduated from a university in Paris, where he learned to speak English fluently, he moved to New York City and worked on Wall Street for several years.
He was then recruited back to France to run a large food company, and now owns a firm that works to promote the Champagne region through tourism conventions around the world.
Trong commutes on the high-speed train into Paris most days, and just happened to lead the tour I was on—most of the time he is in the office or traveling. It was a gift, because his knowledge of the region we were visiting, and of French history, was remarkable. As a history major in undergraduate school, I was in awe of his World War I stories.
What does this have to do with HR?
Quite a bit. On our tour there were five other people traveling with me and my friends. They included a couple from Florida, and three long-time friends all born in Hong Kong, but who had met at university in Australia.
One of them still lives in Australia, one has returned home to Hong Kong and the third lives and works in London. They had come to Paris for a reunion, having not seen each other for several years.
Each of these people shared their experiences of working in their own country and the issues they were facing, including how to motivate the younger generation (and they were only in their late 20’s) and how to balance work and life. Trong, agreed that the issues we were discussing were relevant to his company, and to companies in other countries in which he has worked and traveled.
I was amazed at how similar our problems were, though we lived and worked in more than five different countries.
That day, we had planned to visit two Champagne producers—a family-owned business that produces high quality Champagne that never leaves France, and one of the largest Champagne exporters in the world that employs hundreds of people.
Unfortunately, that day was the first day of the October strikes in France resulting from the government’s decision to increase the retirement age from 60 to 62. The employees at the large producer were on strike and so we were only able to tour the smaller producer. It was here that I learned even more about our common problems.
Apparently, succession planning is a problem around the world.
Of course, the Americans in the group were incredulous at this retirement issue. After all, our country may move the retirement age to perhaps 70 or higher. “What is wrong with these people?” we wondered aloud.
We came to understand that France’s labour market is a two-sided coin. On one side, it boasts one of the highest productivity rates per employed worker in the OECD, but there are whole sections of the adult population not in work. Apart from unemployment, which is stubbornly high, the employment of older people is now absorbing considerable public attention.
During these discussions, I realized that business owners, managers, and employees have the same needs and wants—wherever they live or work.
Employees are looking for good wages and benefits and a job that doesn’t take over their life. Managers are seeking ways to get more from their employees since most businesses have downsized. Business owners are looking to maximize profits.
My advice to anyone who manages people is quite simple.
• Hire the right people, provide them with the best benefits you can.
• Allow them to learn and grow by providing outstanding development opportunities.
• Listen to what they want and don’t assume you know.
• Reward them with competitive benefits and recognition.
And remember: No matter where you work in the world, a simple thank you will go a long way toward motivating employees.
For additional information on HR management, click here to check out The Essential HR Handbook.
About Barbara Mitchell
Barbara is a human resources and organization development consultant who is widely known as an expert in the areas of recruitment and retention. She has experience in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors and has consulted to a variety of organizations around the world.
She served in senior human resources leadership positions with Marriott International and several technology firms in the Washington, DC, area before co-founding the Millennium Group International, which she sold in 2008.
Barbara is a graduate of North Park University in Chicago, with a degree in history and political science. Contact Barbara by email.