Sunday, July 18, 2010

Do Retention And Engagement Still Matter?

What happened? Wasn't it just yesterday that "retention" was the most important item on the plates of HR execs everywhere, who envisioned employees bolting out the door if not kept happy?

Fast forward to today, with double-digit unemployment the new norm in much of the country and the question has become - is anybody concerned about retention anymore? And, in this climate, should they be?

What about engagement...

I used to find it hard to meet with any of my client companies without them wanting to talk about their latest engagement survey. They were concerned with what motivates their employees and what they needed to do to keep those employees happy.

What they learned from those surveys was that the key ingredient in motivating people - more than money, more than title - was the opportunity to contribute. To be involved in meaningful work that is important to their company and at the same time helps advance their career.

That's what people wanted - or at least so we thought.

Jobs trump engagement...

What we forgot was that the number one thing people really want is a job and the last thing they want is to be unemployed - cut adrift in a sea where good, available jobs are few and far between.

Those surveys were conducted during a time when jobs were plentiful. When, in the parlance of the marketers, it was a "sellers" market and job hunters didn't have to hunt too hard to find satisfying work.

And, it was during those boom times that the idea of executive career development programs took root as the key to ensuring engagement and retention. Companies were eager to offer their employees the help needed to identify long range career goals and help them determine the steps and acquire the skills required to get there,

It was seen as money well spent, the classic win-win....good for the company and good for the employee. It seemed that every company wanted to be, "The Employer of Choice."

What a difference time makes...

That's no longer the case. In a time we now call The Great Recession, holding onto a job - that is if you have one - is often the most important thing in one's life. Companies know it and all too many of them treat their employees accordingly.

At many companies, executive career development services have gone from being seen as a critical retention and engagement tool to an unneccessary extravagance by top management no longer concerned with employee satisfaction and secure in their belief that employees will accept almost anything in exchange for a steady paycheck.

And while employees at companies who practice that philosophy are indeed "hunkering" down during this economic upheaval two things are true: one, they will leave the moment a new opportunity arises and two, the pychological toll created by working in an overworked, unappreciated environment often means they are no where near as productive as they could be.

But there are exceptions and it's interesting that many of the companies who regularly wind up on those "Best Places to Work" lists - and who consistently produce profits - are still very much concerned about employee engagement, career development and retention.

They preach it, they believe it and from first-hand experience I can tell you that they deliver on it by providing executive career development services to their key leaders, high-potentials and others throughout their management chain.

They know that especially in these tough economic times, those with a clear line-of-sight to their long range career goals, who are confident that their work advances the objectives of both the company and themselves and secure in the knowledge of how to manage their career are the most productive workers one can find and the ones whose efforts translate directly to the bottom line.

So yes, there are companies still concerned with retention and engagement and in this climate more should be.

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