Star Performers Eyeing Greener Pastures in the Budding Economic Turnaround

(This article, written by Rick Dacri, was published in Mainebiz on 3/21/11)

 Here comes the recovery. Employment, sales and capital expenditures are expected to increase over the next six months, according to the Business Roundtable survey. CEOs of the nation’s leading companies expressed economic optimism in the CEO Economic Outlook survey. The national unemployment rate dropped from 9% to 8.9% in February, the lowest level in two years, while Maine’s rate in January held steady at 7.5%.

 Some 80% of the CEOs in the Roundtable survey expect their company’s sales to increase and 45% expect more hiring in the next six months. While we aren’t in the clear yet, there is reason for optimism. All signs point to a strengthening economy, though growth will be slow.

 Yet not all this news is promising for employers. As some employees gain confidence in an improving economy, many others will bail in 2011. Frustrated at cuts in pay and benefits, watching fellow employees lose their jobs, and fatigued due to working more with less will push workers to begin searching for better jobs. At the same time, external recruiters will target employers’ star performers for poaching. As business improves, key staff will be in high demand, and those who are unprotected and unappreciated will be vulnerable and open to a recruiter’s pitch.

 The news about employees is alarming. A recent CareerBuilder.com survey paints a disturbing picture: 20% of respondents plan to quit their job this year; 25% are dissatisfied with their current career advancement and training opportunities; 90% are unhappy about not getting pay increases; and 23% rate their bosses as poor. While last year most employees were simply happy to have a job, the tide has turned. Workers now believe they have options and plan to make their feelings known by walking.

So what should Maine employers do to protect their work force? If one-fifth of them plan to quit this year — and you can bet the best workers will find new opportunities elsewhere — then employers must take steps now.

 Taking action

 It’s time to mend fences. The downturn required tough economic decisions. Many employers moved quickly into survival mode and made moves that badly hurt their workers. Some took a slash-and-burn approach to protect their bottom line, not thinking about its impact on their work force. Those who did will likely suffer the consequences. On the other hand, those who took a strategic approach, focused on surviving the downturn while managing and preserving their work force and positioning themselves for the future, will find themselves in a strong position.

 A group of Lewiston-Auburn employers told me that, though affected by the recession, they used the time to position their companies for recovery. They emphasized three themes: 1) the need for flexibility; 2) the urgency of improving efficiency while eliminating waste; and 3) the importance of a well-trained work force. They talked repeatedly about keeping their operations and employees agile to respond to a changing environment and demanding customers. That meant investing heavily in their work force — in training, communicating and recruiting the top talent that became available during the downturn.

 As other organizations cut costs and people while hanging on until the recovery set in, those Lewiston-Auburn executives took advantage of the downturn, gaining new customers and upgrading talent. The recession was hard on everyone, but, as one executive told me, “We are a better company because of it.”

 Employers must take steps now to retain their star performers. Workers consistently report that they want to work for employers who offer competitive pay and benefits; good career advancement opportunities; a positive work culture; and a company that is stable and growing. In that same CareerBuilder survey, employees said they also want flexible work arrangements; a sense of ownership in their positions so they can make a difference; and camaraderie, where they can enjoy a family-like work environment.

 Focus on your best employees. Tell them they are important to you and your organization. That will be a powerful conversation and one most employees never experience in their careers. Retaining workers requires meeting their specific needs. It also means managers must develop a management style that inspires respect, loyalty and appreciation. Employees quit bosses, not jobs.

 Turnover does not have to happen. Strategies focused on growing the business while taking care of your employees will ensure that 2011 is a good year. Your success is dependent on an engaged work force.

 There is reason to feel confident. Employers and employees, working together, can feel optimistic again.

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Filed under careers, Employee Relations, Management

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