Thursday, April 15, 2010

Don't Let a Recovering Economy Take Your Talent

"I need to find a new job."
"Why do I bother? I know they will cut me next."
"I'm happy I have a job, but it's just a paycheck."
"I'm not learning anything new."

Have you ever asked yourself these or similar questions? If you have, and even if you have not, you can bet the employees around you have, and I'm sure at least one is thinking it right now.

While some employees are actively looking for a new job (19%), many employees are seeking stability in employment (86%).* Of those that are currently looking for a job and those that want stability, how many think that the desired stability is coming from their current organization, the one with unpaid hours, less pay, and layoffs? To these employees, having a job and staying employed during the recession isn't considered stable. Metaphorically, it is like living on a fault line that has yet to shift.

We, as HR professionals, know that many companies have implemented the same cost-cutting measures our companies are doing, but it isn't always clear to the employee. Not every employee has access to or knowledge of the latest SHRM survey or benchmark data that details what organizations plan to do in 2010 and beyond. Employees become worried about the uncertainty, sometimes escaping before the ground begins to shake. The choices that employees make center around which organizations are more stable than the current one, and it is up to us to make ours the most stable for those employees that we do not want to lose.

Will our employees forget about frozen compensation increases when compensation is restored to the median increase of 3%**. Will our employees forget about the increased cost of medical they've had to pay? How about the unpaid days they had to take? I've heard it said that people will be happy to still have a job, and that they'll welcome increases from the same employer that took it away. But I say, why take that risk?

How do we win over our employees again to the point that we can retain motivated and engaged employees? I will admit that I am not an expert in retention, engagement, and motivation, but I do know that either we engage and motivate our employees and make the employment experience meaningful, rewarding, and safe, or we prepare to conduct exit interviews. If only 13%*** of employers are taking extra steps to retain employees, perhaps we'll be conducting many more exit interviews than we thought.

Pay and benefits are important to employees, but whether or not pay and benefits increases are feasible, we can not forget that inducements such as work-life balance and career development are important too. Beyond just giving to our employees, here are a few ways that we can become proactive in letting our employees see that we care about retaining their services, and hopefully, they'll see that we are making an effort to fix what they feel or know is broken.

Learn Employee Aspirations

We must make sure we are working with our employees, learning about their career aspirations and working with their managers to lead them in those directions. For example, if someone is "shouldering the load" of a former employee but someone else would like those responsibilities, consider giving them to the interested party. That person may do a better job and be happier. It may also free up the other person to do something else as well. This is a win for everyone, but it means getting out there and learning what people want and helping them achieve their goals.

Train and Develop for Free

The paragraph above segues into training and development. Not all T&D needs to cost money. For example, if an organization has an Excel guru, consider having that person train others in using Excel to build macros, pivot tables, and vlookups. Write down who has gone through the training and add it to their KSAOs. Why pay a trainer when we may have one in-house that can do it for free!

Hold Managers Accountable

Something I read in "Study: Economy Doesn’t Change Workers’ Retention Expectations," from November 2009 on SHRM's website stuck with me too. Get those manager's involved. Managers need to improve their relationships with their employees. They don't have to be "buddy-buddy," but now is a great time to mend relationships that are strained and strengthen those that are still good. Get managers to conduct more one-on-one and team meetings to learn more about the team and employee interests. Giving employees a voice that is now heard can work wonders. What I like about this, as the article mentions, is holding the manager responsible for retention. Sure some turnover is unavoidable, but if employee can be kept, that manager should be involved and rewarded.

Market the Organization to Itself

Finally, I think now is a great time to market the organization internally. It is the perfect time to stand out against other companies by showing what we have done better than other companies during the recession. If the organization has done worse, then describe and execute the plan on how we'll do better in the future! If it takes getting the marketing team involved, then get that team's help. Employees will appreciate the communication, especially when it concerns them.

There are many more things we can do to retain our employees and provide them with a stable environment, but the suggestions above can show that we are ready to build our workforce again, starting with those employees we have in-house. Aren't they worth it?

What other suggestions would you recommend? I'd love to hear more.

* Recession Alters Relationship Between Employers, Workers

**U.S. Salary Increase Budgets Barely Matching Inflation

***Study: Economy Doesn’t Change Workers’ Retention Expectations

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