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Employee Engagement Is Key to Post-Recession Retention

The past two plus years of economic troubles have created a perception that companies needn’t worry about employee turnover and retention. Conventional wisdom suggests that because of layoffs and downsizing all around, employees have stepped up, absorbed additional duties, and are satisfied with just having a job.

Man Thinking Looking Two WaysMy own anecdotal observations as a recruiter, in which I speak with C-level executives nearly every day, would support this notion. Generally, I have noticed senior execs are hunkering down in their current positions.

However, as economic momentum begins to increase (assuming the lagging jobs indicators rights itself), that old nemesis—employee turnover—will come roaring back. Even more critical are the key departures that can shake up an organization—such as a CFO.

Recent articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal suggest that within the general employed population, there exists a desire to find other employment. These reports are echoed with a survey by the human resource consulting firm Hewitt, which reported 50 percent of the U.S. workforce will “consider” or “actively look for” other employment as soon as the economy improves.

Nevertheless, that same survey also indicates people who are “highly engaged” with their employer are significantly less likely to consider a move. Some of the attributes that add to employee loyalty and engagement include:

  • A sense of connection to the organization’s strategy and goals
  • Acknowledgment for work well done
  • Opportunity for learning and development

My own discussions with prospective candidates confirm this notion. Even when extrinsic options are better—a higher salary, improved benefits, and advanced job responsibilities—many people I talk to feel compelled to stay, turning down a better offer. When I ask why, they often cite things I can’t offer—a sense of loyalty to an organization that has roots in the factors listed above.

So how can organizations minimize an employee shuffle as we approach an economic turnaround? Start by understanding how engaged you are with your employees. An annual climate poll can be a good way to gauge the cultural temperature of your business. But it doesn’t have to be over-engineered, especially with senior leaders. Ask yourself, do I acknowledge the efforts of my CFO to get a budget in every year despite ever increasing constraints? Do I offer my operations director an opportunity to grow professionally? Does my head of IT feel connected to the bigger picture? Then do the right thing, ask these professionals directly.

Don’t be afraid of the answers you might receive. Embrace them as honest feedback and as an opportunity to improve your company and yourself as a business leader.

As our economy expands, and competition for sought-after skills increases, your employee engagement will be tested. That level of investment will help determine whether people are productive and stay with the organization, or make a move to the competition. Don’t leave it to chance.


Jay SjostromJay Sjostrom is an executive search consultant with LarsonAllen. or 612-376-4849


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