11 Aug Return of Retention
During the late 1990s, most companies had to scramble to attract and retain high-caliber talent. Even mediocre workers were hard to keep. Retaining employees became so important that it was at the top of the HR agenda in many companies. Some CEOs even mentioned it as a critical business imperative. But all this suddenly changed when the economy tanked in 2001. The war for talent morphed into a war ON talent. For the past-three plus years companies have been focused on getting rid of people, not keeping them, and encouraging workers to leave rather than convincing them to stay. The time-tested triad of retention practices – pay, perks and pats – went into cold storage. Pay increases for all levels of workers (except CEOs) were limited or stopped altogether. Every manner of perk introduced during the late 1990’s boom, from flex time to foosball, quickly disappeared. Even cost-free pats on the back became rare as performance pressures on managers and staff continually ratcheted up, leaving little time or energy for this most basic of retention measures.
Many workers are disenchanted with the grim and depressing corporate environments they inhabit. But they understand that being unemployed is worse. Executives well appreciate that labor remains a buyer’s market and most see little need to motivate or retain talent. After all, why bother if you don’t have to? Indeed, many executives react to pleas to do more to retain talent in the same way young children respond to exhortations to eat their spinach. They act only when absolutely forced to. It was this obdurate attitude that exacerbated problems caused by the talent shortage in the late 1990s and it may now be setting up companies for a repeat of serious problems if labor markets shift again in favor of workers.
Well spinach swallowing time may soon be upon reluctant executives again. Despite the turnaround in the economy over the last twelve months, labor markets have remained in a funk. But anecdotal indicators like the number of articles appearing in newspapers and business magazines are beginning to suggest that the issue of employee retention may be making a comeback. After a three year absence, employee retention-related pieces on topics such as what benefits and perks companies should introduce to keep people, how to re-engage employees, etc., are beginning to appear again in a wide variety of print and electronic media. My own firm’s recent interactions with business executives indicate they are becoming concerned again about keeping people, especially their top performers. But many companies are out of practice when it comes to managing to retain employees. If your organization is one of them, here are some steps you can take to quickly regain your talent retention form:
1. Get Input From Employees – Do you know what’s on the minds of your talent? Are they tuned out and/or burned out? What pay or perk did you take away that they really miss and want back? Find out and reinstate it, now.
2. Make Recognition a Priority – Don’t wait to tell people they are valued. Praise is free and unlike salt should be sprinkled liberally and used at every opportunity to enhance the taste of your workplace experience.
3. Put Some Money Where Your Mouth Is – Money alone won’t keep talent intent on leaving but upping compensation sends a pre-emptive signal that the contributions of talent are appreciated.
4. Explain Why Employees Should Care – It’s time to dust off your employee value proposition. Why should workers want to stay with your organization instead of taking the first offer they get to escape elsewhere? You’ll need to increase pay and benefits to erase dissatisfaction but having a compelling workplace proposition is the only thing that will convince people to stay and recommit to your company.
5. Give Talent Some Freedom to Make a Change They Want – There’s no more powerful signal that you trust and care about employees than letting them choose what they want and need from the organization. Whether it’s a special perk, a development opportunity or a new role, employees will stay if they have a say.
Even if the job market remains stalled, paying more attention to talent will pay off in renewed employee commitment and better performance. And should retention again become an issue for your organization, by acting now you will be one step ahead instead of having to play catch up when recruiters start phoning your key talent again.
Tony DiRomualdo is a business researcher, writer, and advisor with Next Generation Consulting. He works at the intersection of people, business strategy, and information technology to help companies create a committed and high performance workforce. Tony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.