Today’s full-employment economy could also be a bonanza for a company’s sales figures, but it has an enormous corporate downside: It’s hard to maintain the best-performing employees from jumping ship.
Even business leaders who’re old enough to remember the last time unemployment was below 4% say the poaching is worse this time around, thanks to the advent of LinkedIn and other social media geared toward professionals. These allow employers with jobs to fill to mine the “passive talent market”—that’s, the universe of professionals who haven’t even put themselves on the market.
What can employers do, now that even their most loyal talent is vulnerable? The very best managers are getting creative—not by offering higher pay pre-emptively, however by thinking more about what would make somebody sad to leave, and about whether they’re giving employees enough of those things. They begin with a simple question: Even when employees could get more cash elsewhere by switching jobs, what would they miss and even feel wistful about?
Give people more of those, and so they’re less likely to entertain come-ons from competitors—let alone look for jobs on their own.
• Improve your space. In some methods the easiest thing to fix is a change that has swept through workplaces since the last full-employment economy: the trend towards bare-bones workstations. The vast majority of workers, I believe, now sit at desks with either no walls or low walls. Researchers are now starting to indicate what employees have long known: Open workplaces are a colossal mistake unless the only thing a company is worried about is real-estate costs. It’s the thing that drives knowledge workers craziest as everybody craves more personal space.
On the Move
Employees in the U.S. have shown a tendency in recent times to spend much less time with the same employer.
The upside, of course, is that managers have been handed a rare opportunity to make folks immensely happier. Think about what it’ll mean when a recruiter comes calling. While anybody is ready at a moment’s notice to leave a soulless workstation, it’s a lot harder nowadays for folks to decamp from an office where not only are they productive, but they’ve invested in making it their own—filling shelves with things that reflect who they’re and what they care about.
• Honor families. Imagine how nice it will be if, when an worker got a tempting call from a headhunter and talked about it at home, the family’s response was, “Aw, I’d be kind of sad if you left XYZ Co.”
Lately, a biotech firm I know held its ninth Youth Leadership Day, with the spouse of the chief executive serving as MC. More learning-oriented than the everyday annual summer outing, this one includes TED-style talks and interactive workshops. Workers and their children may take a beginner’s judo lesson with an Olympic athlete, for instance, or participate in a “mad scientist” lab, or do copper enameling under an artist’s guidance and go home with a handmade creation.
This is just one example of how some corporations are discovering their way to employees’ hearts via their families. Some of that is simply extending the same courtesies a little further—like sending flowers to quinceañeras and not just to funerals. But a lot of it goes further to consider how a family may benefit from having their family member work with a company. At one of the world’s largest retail corporations, for instance, high-school age employees are entitled to free SAT and ACT prep classes. Why not do the same for employees’ children? Another firm, Salesforce, makes well-appointed meeting areas available for its folks to host meetings for outdoor, nonprofit groups they participate in.
• Look for the holes in their résumés. It’s straightforward to leave a boss who seems more like an adversary than a coach. By contrast, it’s really hard to leave a boss who you’re convinced is in your corner, who believes in you and would be sincerely delighted to see your career take off.
This is especially true because most people have had a bad boss at some point, and realize that, no matter how nice the job they’re being recruited for sounds or how nicely it pays, they can’t actually know in advance how the new boss can be.
One manager I know realized this and it hit her: For every individual on her team, she should sit down with them and figure out what constitutes the largest hole of their current résumé. Collectively they pretend they’re a stranger’s CV with an eye to filling a next-level job. What would take it to that next level, really make it pop out from a field of other candidates? Perhaps the individual could have managed a different kind of project, or had more budget responsibility. Possibly they could use some “proof points” about how a lot their work contributed to the bottom line or built up the local community. Make it your mutual objective to add that killer line to their résumé.
It sounds awfully counterintuitive, I know, to assist employees brush up their résumés in a full-employment economy, but most people know their careers are a long game and can stick around for an opportunity to level up.
• Bring colleagues closer. Lastly, remember that for many employees, the hardest thing about walking away from a job is leaving close colleagues. At too many companies right now, though, that isn’t the case. For instance, as more work gets done through ad hoc projects, folks may change teams too often to form close relationships naturally. The same is true for the rise of remote working. The answer isn’t to reverse course on these, but to seek out ways to make up for the loss in natural relationship-building. The chief digital officer of 1 organization I know is particularly attuned to this problem because his team is mainly virtual. So when he talks with the team, he always will get people to share news and enthusiasms beyond the strict business reason for the conference call.
All of those actions not only will help bosses fight off poachers, but they also will leave bosses with a very cohesive, capable and committed team. The dividends from that may continue long after this labor-tight economy eases up.
A last piece of advice, then, is that managers should apply this lens to their very own calendar: Does the commitment they’re about to placed on their schedule actually align with the current imperative of retaining the most-talented employees? Would spending that hour on that task make folks understand that they’ve a brighter future with the organization than elsewhere? If not, bosses should think twice about saying yes to it.