Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The New Workplace Reality

It’s amazing how quickly things can change.

With the calamitous shock to the stock market and business leaders like Bill Gates predicting that unemployment “may peak at more than nine percent,” the prospects of easy job finding have all but vanished overnight.

And with that has come a sudden change in business priorities and an altered outlook among employees.

What a difference a year makes

This time last year, long before the economy went haywire and free market nations opted to nationalize their banks, businesses and their HR professionals were focused on the twin issues of engagement and retention.

Holding on to top performers and dissuading them from venturing out into the friendly waters of the job market was a critical priority. Companies knew jobs were easy to come by and they made every effort to identify and meet the needs of their workers while brushing up the welcome mat to attract new ones.

The results of engagement surveys were obsessed over and programs were rolled out designed to ensure employees did not roam.

But the pendulum has swung and what was recently a “sellers” market for employees has gone the way of the dodo bird as the anxiety felt by those who fear their jobs are in jeopardy grows with each new negative headline.

Couple this with the rash of downsizings now being announced and you have a scenario designed to keep employees chained to their jobs and fearful of even considering options.

Talent management still matters

In times like these, cost cutting becomes the name of the game. And the easiest way to reduce cost is to reduce headcount while simultaneously freezing the number of new hires.

As employers “pull in their horns,” so too do employees. Survival becomes paramount, trepidation about pursuing outside options grows and career advancement takes a backseat to job security.

But employees paralyzed by dread is not a formula for moving business forward.

Evolved employers know that people really are their most important asset and that retaining them through fear rarely leads to increased productivity or business success. While cutting staff may be necessary and running lean an imperative, maintaining employee engagement is now more important than ever.

So while the reality of finding jobs in the current workplace has changed, the need for engaged and committed employees has not.

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