Friday, February 12, 2010

Jumping Ship: As recession ends, out-of-touch employers run risk of losing talent

Jumping Ship: As recession ends, out-of-touch employers run risk of losing talent

By Austin Light

CHARLOTTE — According to a survey of 700 companies and 5,000 workers released last week, a chilly disconnect between employers and employees could lead to a mass exodus of talent as the recession ends if employers aren’t careful.

The study was conducted in May and June by on-line job search engine and the Human Capital Institute, a think tank and research organization that studies human resources.

According to the study, which was designed to examine the effects of the recession, employers are significantly overestimating just how content workers are these days. While 84 percent of employers believe workers are happy to “just have a job” in a down economy, 57 percent of employees feel otherwise.

The study also found that 57 percent of workers believe employers are exploiting the recession to drive longer hours and lower pay.

Denise Dwight Smith, who directs the career center at UNC Charlotte, said such figures can be expected given the current state of the economy.

“It’s a trend, actually. In times of recession there is a disconnect … and then afterwards a mass movement,” she said. “That doesn’t mean employers shouldn’t be concerned.”

According to the study, employers are concerned, at least a little. About 36 percent of employers said they were more worried about losing top talent than they were just 18 months ago.

Those fears could be well-grounded, according to Will Sparks, an associate professor of management science at Queens University’s McColl School of Business.

Between top talent that can find a job in any economy, and younger generations more prone to leave jobs for better opportunities, the risk of losing employees is greater, Sparks said.

“Employers need to recognize that the traditional models of motivation and retention do not apply,” he said. “Things that worked in the past do not work now.”
Sparks pointed to the economic crises and a new generation of workers — “the Millennials” — as contributors to the growing disconnect. Employers who fail to address the changing landscape could be in danger of losing their best employees when the economy turns around, he said.

“Millennials, especially, have a different view on what their work-life balance should be,” Sparks said. “I don’t think we’ll see a mass exodus until everything fully recovers, but when it does, they’ll probably be the first to go if they feel there are better opportunities.”

For now, though, Sparks said he doesn’t see many Queen City workers leaving their jobs because at the moment “there’s no where else to go,” especially in the banking industry.

“We’ve had a catastrophic event with Wachovia being bought by Wells Fargo, and then the losses at Bank of America — it’s not the same job market that it was,” Sparks said. “I have MBA students come in and tell me they don’t know where they would go if they could leave their jobs.”

Employers Who Do It Right

Alston & Bird, a national law firm, has been on Fortune Magazine’s Best Places To Work list for 10 consecutive years. The reason? To put it simply, communication, said Claudine Woods, who manages human resources for the Charlotte office.

“We really go out of our way to keep people talking,” Woods said. “Communication is really the key.”

The firm holds town hall meetings once or twice a year where employees can ask whatever is on their minds. “Fireside chats” provide smaller forums to discuss concerns specific to employees’ departments. The firm also has daily meetings, an on-line suggestion box and multiple opportunities for employees to meet outside of work for community service.

“These are the things that are intrinsically motivating to today’s workforce,” Sparks said. “They are looking for community service, collaboration … value and connection with their employers.”

Alston & Bird ranked 36th out of 100 this year, down five spots from its 2008 ranking. Among other factors, Fortune cited the firm’s family-friendly policies and work-life perks.

Being on the Fortune list for a decade has another benefit, Woods said: The survey goes to 350 to 400 of the firm’s employees at all management levels, and the firm can compare the annual results to measure morale and satisfaction.

This year’s results weren’t as dynamic as they had been in years past, Woods

“We don’t know for sure that people aren’t feeling resentful, or that they are feeling the way the ( study) indicates some are,” Woods said. “But we’re doing all we can to keep morale up and communication open.”

Let’s Talk About It

According to the study, communication is a central strategy for staying on the same page with employees during a recession.

“Lack of communication creates anxiety that stymies productivity,” the study stated. “By communicating honestly and consistently with your employees, you send the message that everyone is working together to solve problems.”
Sparks agreed. “You have to talk about these things. Because talking about them takes some of the fear out of it, and that’s the way to create a healthy environment of candor.”

According to Smith, employers should not only ensure employees have an outlet for airing concerns and frustrations, but also should acknowledge the problems the economy creates and show appreciation when workers handle them adeptly.

“A lot of people might be dealing with family issues at home; maybe they used to be a dual-income home and now they’re not,” she said. “Good employers will acknowledge that and help employees work around those issues.”

But, according to Smith, the advice to retain talent and improve miscommunication is deceptively simple. Good communication, flexible scheduling and employee development isn’t always as easy to implement as it may seem.

“I’ve seen employers that are really trying to do the right things, and it doesn’t always work,” she said. “But if you keep your employees informed and reward them for talking and communicating, you’re on the right track.”

Sparks cautioned companies not to be too quick to dismiss employees’ concerns, particularly if they have talented staff they want to keep.

“It behooves employers — and Charlotte — to think about this,” he said. “We don’t want to be behind, because we don’t want our talent going somewhere else when everything gets better.”

1 comment:

  1. Keeping top performing employees engaged is critical in ANY economy. As the economy improves those employers who have not built a culture of loyalty are likely to exeprience an exodus!

    Loribeth Dalton
    Executive Career Coach