The Door Is Opening and People Are Leaving

Jul 6, 2011

There is going to be an exodus of workers soon from businesses all across the U.S. It seems that for all the work recruiters do at the front end, organizations are undoing it at the backend. Frustrated employees are seeking new opportunities in record numbers, but if you are prepared, your talent shortages may be over.

Earlier this week, Mercer released its What’s Working survey that found that “one in two U.S. employees [are] looking to leave or [have] checked out on the job.” Other surveys support these findings, including ones by Right Management.

Is this simply the grass-is-greener syndrome, or is there something else going on? Even though there are plenty of jobs for certain types of people — Amazon is adding 5,000 people, and McDonald’s, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple are just a few others that have announced fairly large hiring plans — we are not actually out of this recession, and changing jobs is a risky business.

While money and benefits are not the primary reason people leave their employers in normal times, these times are very different.

This recession has lingered longer than most and is impacting a generation of workers who have not suffered much from recessions in the past. Their tolerance is different, and so are their expectations.

Today I think there are four primary drivers of these rather frightening statistics. And these same reasons will eventually drive away the new people you recruit as well, unless you are candid and realistic right up front with the candidates.

The first driver is actually pay this time. For many employees it has been a long time since they have gotten much in the way of a pay increase. The recession is often used as a reason for not granting reasonable increases, and managers have been more focused on performance — of lack of performance as a way to hold down these increases.

Yet, employees see their organizations making good profits and in some cases even record profits. Corporate coffers are flush with cash, yet this has not translated into significant pay increases. At the same time, option grants have shrunk due to changes in how they are taxed, giving some employees even less reason to stay.

Employees perceive a unfairness in how they are paid compared to how firms are profiting.

Second, and not completely separated from pay, is the amount of work that is being asked of employees. Many people I speak with are really doing what two or more would have done prior to this recession. Managers have asked for more and gotten it as employees fear there are few other jobs.

Yet the perception about jobs is changing, and many are starting to make a move if for no other reason than to lessen their workload or find a more flexible employer.

A third growing issue is the attitude younger workers, especially those in the Gen Y category, have about work. They feel their personal freedom is threatened by restrictive social media polices. And they are unhappy with the unwillingness of many firms to allow flexible working hours. They are also inclined to want open, authentic cultures and this recession has caused firms to tighten up communications, keep more secrets, and allow much less open discussion. This is all negative to the younger folks who will seek out more open and flexible environments.

A fourth element is lack of development. Many surveys have pointed out that Gen Y in particular, but all of us at some time, want to take on new responsibilities and learn new skills. During the recession organizations cut back on training and limited development opportunities. In some cases when development was available no one could take advantage oif it because of high-demand work requirements that left no time available. This has resulted in frustrated and bored employees who are looking for a change.

In reality, it’s not hard to see why these surveys are showing a potentially devastating amount of turnover about to happen.

I also realize that while there may not be a lot you can do about these things; there are always creative tactics that can help. Here are some thoughts.

First of all, make internal mobility the most important thing you focus on. Helping employees find new positions may be the best and most direct way you can influence them to stay. Yet, most organizations either erect numerous bureaucratic hurdles that make moving around tough, or they simply do not offer any simple way for an employee to learn about possibilities.

The intranet or some other internal website should be designed so that employees can learn about open positions and can apply for those positions. Work with HR to take down barriers and make it as easy to move between positions as it is to move outside the firm. This probably means that many current practices will have to change. Organizations with low turnover generally follow several rules that guide the internal application and transfer process.

  1. Employees should be able to interview for new positions without permission from anyone.
  2. They should not have to complete any sort of application form, and resumes should be very simple, if used at all.
  3. They should be able to leave their current position within a maximum of two weeks after accepting another offer — even if their old position has not been filled.
  4. Salaries offered should be similar to those an external hire would receive.

Second, help hiring managers reposition jobs to match the available skills rather than seek out only those who are perfect fits.

Don’t go for the exact match. Encourage hiring managers to be more open to giving internal candidates an opportunity. Exact matching is expensive and pays little in return. No one is good enough at predicting what the exact set of skills are going to be for every project and job. Hiring internal people with basic qualifications is often the better decision as these people not only bring enthusiasm and freshness, but also fit the culture. Recruiters need to encourage managers to experiment and realize that most of us are not doing the exact job we were trained to do or even the work our degrees prepared us for.

And, finally, be open with potential candidates about what’s going on in the company.

When you set realistic expectations up front, you lessen the disillusionment that will come after the new hire starts. Strive for authenticity. Encourage them to talk to employees who are happy and engaged. Make sure candidates are good culture fits and that they are fully informed about the work they are going to be expected to do.

Working with the hiring managers is key to success, as talent shortages are partly caused by lack of imagination. Jobs can be tailored to fit candidates, job descriptions can be changed, and managers can be flexible. It takes negotiating with them and providing them information about what’s going on. Turnover may happen, but you may be able to lessen its impact or bring in new people better fitted to your culture.