Companies must start shifting their focus from downsizing to worker retention, so says Jon Picoult in a N.Y. Times article. He writes, “A turnover storm is looming, and most businesses are ill prepared for it.” I agree and have blogged about this issue previously. Retention will become a serious problem for any company seeking high performance. As soon as the economy starts to improve substantially, many of the best employees will choose to leave organizations that have gone through cut-backs and layoffs. They have watched their co-workers be pushed out or edged out and are now being asked to do more work with less resources. Learning opportunities have been postponed or eliminated entirely. Opportunities for advancement have been delayed. And open communication about the future of their employers is minimal. All of these factors have created an environment that is not conducive to engagement. Without a sense of engagement, the best performers will not want to stay.
Picoult blames this problem partly on executives who think of employees as human capital (Or is that “cattle”?). He writes:
Lost in this analogy is the fact that capital assets like aircraft depreciate over time. From an accounting and market-value standpoint, they’re gradually worth less. Eventually, they’re written off entirely. So just what message are companies sending to their employees when they wave the human-capital banner?
People are not equipment. They’re not investment capital. They have needs, wants, aspirations, worries, insecurities and lives outside of work. Companies that recognize this fact will shape their employer-employee interactions accordingly. These companies, and their managers, become more communicative, more appreciative, more connected and more civil. In a word, they become more human. The employee loyalty engendered by this simple approach can be striking.
Loyalty might not be possible or desirable in 21rst century companies, but engagement is essential. See my blog post on this topic. So the question is, “How can downsized companies create employee-employer interactions that engender employee engagement and retention?” Shawn Murphy, in his blog post, “Bring Humanity Back to Work” offers suggestions to CEOs regarding what they can do to quell the turnover storm. He recommends: 1) getting out and making contact with employees; 2) communicating your values and then acting in a manner that is consistent with those values; 3) focusing on what could be rather than the current circumstances. I would add that it is critical that bosses develop a learning-alliance with their direct reports. Many additional suggestions can be found at The Employee Engagement Network.