Recession to Succession: The importance of investing in employee engagement (Part 2)

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Posted by Mindy Fineout

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May 17, 2010

The second installment of Recession to Succession: The importance of investing in employee engagement ... or ... Should I stay or should I go?

As the job market mends, and the war for talent becomes more and more prominent, employees are seeing the light, and the options. We are getting further away from the day when a good employee had no choice but to hold on to his current job for dear life, regardless of the treatment he endured.

Now that the economical turbulence has slowed, employees are feeling safe to roam about the cabin and explore other opportunities. Companies who embraced the challenge of the economy with tact and maintained good values will also maintain their valued employees. Companies who lost their cool, will now be faced with the loss of their talent.

It's hard to remember your manners in a crisis. As humans, we follow a social code, which is sometimes forgotten when we're scared enough. People often don't think of the aftermath -- what happens after the crisis if we take the "each man for himself" approach?

When considering this topic, I was reminded of my favorite "Twilight Zone" episode, "The Shelter." In this episode, a dinner party is interrupted by a warning of an impending nuclear attack. As the neighborhood scrambles to prepare, they turn against a family who had installed a bomb shelter in their house.

Quickly, mob mentality takes over to the point that the neighbors end up destroying the bomb shelter, so no one can use it. Lo and behold, the sirens stop and the news arrives that this was a false alarm. They can return to their normal lives, or at least as normal as things can be when no one can escape the memory of how harshly they treated one another.

I'm not going to list all the ways that companies have mistreated their employees in the last two years, and I do not intend to imply that their conscious purpose was to be hurtful to their talent. I will also note that there were situations where pay cuts, layoffs, and increased work and hours for those still employed were inescapable solutions to save a company's future.

While these measures might be out of a company's control, how it is communicated and handled is not. If bad news is being served, it's easier to swallow when attached to an explanation and accompanied by a dose of empathy and sensitivity. For example, telling an employee you are cutting their pay by 15 percent because of the poor economy and leaving it at that, will not do anything to help retention when things improve.

However, cutting pay by 15 percent and explaining that it will save jobs and help to prevent layoffs, sharing as much financial details as possible, and expressing how valued that employee is, will be less detrimental in the end. Employees who lost pay or worked more hours, but were treated with respect and shown appreciation in most scenarios do not harbor resentment.

If your company has created a culture of appreciation and shows employees they are valued, you're in a good place right now. If your company hasn't, it's never too late to start. But now is the time to do so when employees are remembering their treatment during their tenure, and like Joe Strummer, are considering the question, "Should I stay or should I go?"

In a recent Fistful of Talent post, "Three Counter Offers Later, I Lost the Candidate. And This Rant is for Her Employer," recruiter Jessica Lee tells the story of how she lost a candidate when her current employer came back with three counter offers to convince her not to leave. This post questions the excessiveness and desperateness of this move by the employer, who offers more money, increased responsibility, etc. only after the employee has threatened to walk out the door.

The employer waited until the last minute to do the right thing. Had the employer been doing the right thing all along, rather than just slapping a band-aid on the problem at the very end, there likely would have been no wound to bandage.

HR 101 tells us to explore the root cause of a problem rather than always resorting to stopping the bleeding. If a company culture is to reward employees appropriately and consistently show them they are valued, then once the storm has passed, rather than abandoning the wreckage, they will stick around and help rebuild the empire.

Topics: HR Strategies

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