Category Archives: retention

The Eternal Vacation

Better get ready for an end-of-Labor-Day-vacation “purging” of your workforce. According to a survey published in the Memphis Business Journal, 40 percent of U.S. professionals are thinking about quitting their jobs after their summer vacations.

The survey, provided by workplace supplier Regus, finds workers are tired of not being promoted, bosses that don’t share company goals and being overworked. “As workers pack up their swimsuits this summer, they are more likely to dwell on the pros and cons of the job that is waiting for them at home,” Sande Golgart, Regus’ regional vice president, is quoted as saying in the Business Journal story.

The piece also includes another recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showing productivity dropped at an annual rate of 0.9 percent during the second quarter of 2010.

Drs. Brent D. Peterson and Gaylan Nielson, co-founders of The Work Itself Group based in Salt Lake City, say these stats point to the immense drain on the economy due to large numbers of employees doing 50 percent “fake work,” defined as having no alignment with business strategy.

In a study they did in conjunction with Franklin/Covey, they cite a recent Gallup poll showing the cost of disengaged workers is estimated at $300 billion per year. They also list findings that 70 percent of employees are unable to name a single department/company goal or strategy and 50 percent of work done at the workplace does not align with a company’s vision or goals.

Not the greatest fodder for a Labor Day pep rally.

Training, the New Engagement/Retention Tool

Interesting and kind of surprising release here from Office Team citing a much larger number of HR professionals concerned about training and developing employees than those concerned about losing the top-performing ones.

Goes against much of what we’ve been hearing, that HR leaders’ top worries heading out of the recession and into the recovery are centered around keeping disgruntled employees engaged and retaining the top talent that’s already poised to leave.

But the release also includes a link to a recent Robert Half study confirming what the Office Team respondents seem to be “getting” — that post-recession employees are looking to employers more for their help in making them more marketable than as havens of job security. Makes sense that a shaky economy would have instilled in them this new sentiment.

In a survey we just conducted at HRE, which is at the heart of our upcoming Sept. 2 cover story on what’s keeping HR executives up at night, 45 percent of the 802 HR executives who responded said their most significant challenge today is the need to keep employees engaged and productive, followed by retaining key talent as the economy recovers (34 percent) and the importance of developing leaders (33 percent). In that survey, and in our story, development initiatives were cited as key tools for boosting engagement.

I think what these findings all underscore is that training and development — often relegated to the bottom rung of corporate expenditures during weak economies — now appear to be employers’ top engagement tools, topping any other morale-booster, or employee survey, or communication initiative.

Indeed, training and developing recession-weary workers — not just for your sake, but for theirs — appears to speak volumes.

A Glass Half Empty

Not much good news in the Business Barometer survey released today by The Corporate Executive Board. It reflects a drop in the optimism of HR executives — and other senior corporate leaders as well.

According to the survey, HR executives have dropped their expectations — from Q2 — of employee engagement (32 percent think employees will be less engaged) and anticipate higher turnover (54 percent compared to 39 percent in Q2). 

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of  HR leaders expect a moderate increase of one-to-four percent in average labor costs this year, while four in 10 (42 percent) expect average health benefits to increase by one-to-nine percent, with 18 percent expecting a higher than 10 percent increase.

The survey polls more than 440 senior executives in six functional business roles in North America and Europe across 33 industries.

It found that the executives expect higher revenues for their companies this year (68 percent), but fewer are optimistic about their respective industries’ growth prospects (only 50 percent say they expect their industries to grow). A majority are anxious about rising cost pressures (68 percent).

Escape from the Job

You have to know most employees are retention risks when the antics of Jet Blue’s (former?) air flight attendant Steven Slater receive such acclaim.

While your employees probably won’t have Facebook fans numbering in the millions or see supporters creating a legal defense fund — hopefully, that won’t be necessary! — HR leaders would be foolish not to think that at least some of their workers are dreaming of leaving their jobs in similarly brazen fashion.

According to a recent HREOnline™ story, Top Performers Begin Their Flight, employers “need to know what their workers are thinking and what they want from their careers — and then align these with the direction of the business.”

So says Bram Lowsky of Right Management. That’s hardly rocket science, but airline companies, and probably most companies, seem to be unaware — or uncaring — that employees are fed up with work conditions.

With survey after survey showing that workers are fed up and just waiting for a chance to move on, the time is shrinking for HR executives to take the steps necessary to re-engage desired workers.

Raising comp is a common method, but  pay alone won’t be sufficient. In this HREOnline™ story, Tom McMullen of Hay Group advises HR leaders to focus on “their ‘total’ reward programs by offering clearer career paths, more meaningful work experiences, improved work climates, global mobility and targeted development in addition to increased monetary awards.”

Or watch employees jump ship — albeit not as dramatically as Slater!

Vacations are Good for You

OK, a bit of soft news, but worth sharing: This recent release from the University of the Rockies suggests week-long vacations aren’t long enough for optimal benefits to occur — for both employee and employer.

The study — conducted at the Colorado Springs, Colo., graduate school that specializes in master’s and doctorate degrees in psychology — maintains the benefits of vacation length peak at about 10 days, which supports previous research findings that 10 to 14 days of vacation may be the optimal length.

What are the benefits to taking, or granting, a vacation of optimal length, you ask? According to this release, an increase in job satisfaction, a reduction of and protection against job stress and burnout, and an increase in professional well-being (which, of course, boosts employee engagement and morale and, in turn, boosts customer service, your employer brand, the list goes on).

I’ll be interested to see if anyone cares to comment on this, but it’ll have to wait awhile. I leave Thursday for vacation. I’ll be gone 10 days.

Risks of the Recovery

Better times are coming. More people are looking for work. Wages are thawing out. Defined-contribution employer matches are returning.

But before your workforce rebuilding goes full bore, consider the landmines of the recovery, Matthew S. Effland, employment lawyer with Olgetree Deakins, told attendees at the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2010 conference.

Despite the name of his session, “And the Tide Rolls Back In — Legal Issues in Rebuilding Your Workforce Post-Recession,” Effland’s warnings were not confined to the law. He spoke a lot about “survivor anger” spreading through corporate America right now — among people who’ve been working on frozen wages, doing the jobs of laid-off former co-workers as well as their own, and feeling minimized by their companies’ efforts to infuse new blood into the organization by recruiting outsiders and paying them higher salaries than their own.

“Think about what you can do to make sure you’re taking care of the survivors,” said Effland. “Their disgruntlement can lead to litigation if you’re recruiting from outside to replace a position equal to theirs at a higher wage.”

Also be careful not to “give into the pressure” to selectively re-hire laid-off employees, those problem workers you were able to let go of in the name of hard times. Those who are not re-hired when others are, or who are told to reapply for the same position, “will feel some sense of entitlement, and may sue, and may have a case” if they fall under a protected class, he said.

“Avoid the shortcuts and the push for speed-hiring,” Effland said. “And make sure you fully document your hiring process. When you decide not to hire someone back, you better be able to justify it and explain it in a court of law.”

The Meaning Behind the Work

Dave and Wendy Ulrich made a nice coupling on stage Monday at their session, “The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations that Deliver Value to Employees, Customers, Investors and Communities.”

No surprise the joint session at SHRM worked, considering the Ulrichs have been married for many years and share three children and a granddaughter. But it was their joint message and the subject of their new book, The Why of Work, that carried an especially cohesive and cogent argument — that organizations would do well to start looking at themselves as places where people find meaning and purpose. More importantly, that organizations should be looking for ways to cultivate that new realization and approach.

“We’re taking a different cut from human resources,” said Dave Ulrich, professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and a prolific and well-published HR expert. Wendy is a professional psychologist and founder of Sixteen Stones Center for Growth in Alpine, Utah. “We’re basically combining HR and psychology,” he said.

They’re also taking their show on the road, if you will, to refute the notion that fostering the relationship between worker and work, and helping employees find meaning and purpose in their jobs is some warm and fuzzy, soft and cuddly notion. “I hear this criticism in some circles,” said Dave Ulrich. “I tell them they’re just wrong. Still, I can’t convince everyone.”

The Ulrichs’ base their premise on the early works of Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, which he wrote while imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. At the time, Frankl discovered that, even in the harshest and cruelest of settings, some people remained vibrant and vital because of their stories and their strengths, and the strengths they could bring to one another. They found meaning in their identities.

So, too, should “organizational strategies be stories,” said Ulrich. ” Successful leaders should be meaning makers. We want to begin to change the conversation” about what HR’s purpose should be as well.

Calling on another famous thinker from the past, Wendy Ulrich told the story of medical researcher Jonas Salk, best known for his discovery of the polio vaccine. Salk, in one interview, recalled how his mother found lessons to be learned in all his setbacks. She created the learning environment that, in turn, created the famous scientist.

“Do we inculcate a learning environment in our organizations?” she asked. “How do we learn from our setbacks, and help our employees learn from theirs? What are we doing in HR to promote that?”

One clear path to helping people find meaning and happiness in an organization, they said, is to promote the importance of the team and relational strengths. “HR,” said Dave Ulrich, “is the force of the organization that shapes identity.

“One of my greatest fears in HR today,” he said, “is that we’re so worried about talent, we’re forgetting about the organization — its systems and the capacity to work together.” That’s where the meaning and purpose lie, he added — “building on your own strengths to strengthen others.”

Military Cross-Cultural Issues

There’s a big push during the SHRM conference this year — rightfully so — on hiring veterans. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to be winding down, there may be many military personnel looking for work in the civilian world. Should the economy ever truly recover, companies may even be able to hire some of them.

Should that happen, HR leaders should consider that the civilian leadership/organizational structure just doesn’t speak to many people trained by the military — most of whom were young when they entered the service and may not have held another real job beforehand.

And that lack of understanding leads to disillusionment and turnover, says Emily King, president of mymilitarytransition.com, who works with companies to help them better onboard vets.

“It’s like going to another country,” she says. “You don’t know the language.”

Part of the problem is that in the military, the mission is simple, straightforward and understood by everyone. In private organizations, it’s often just the opposite  — with the mission becoming more diffused as it filters down the ranks.

Vets have an abundance of positive abilities to share, she notes, including leadership and loyalty, but those traits are not free and have to be earned by the organization.

By the same token, it’s really the vets that need to change — to learn how to fit within the organization.

“Trying to push back against an entire organization doesn’t work,” King says.

America: Now with More Quitters!

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on positive figures being reported in the employment sector, new government data released today adds some more good news:

The government said Tuesday that the number of people quitting rose in April to nearly 2 million. That was the most in more than a year and an increase of nearly 12% since January. That compares with 1.75 million people who were laid off in April, the fewest since January 2007, before the recession.

During the depths of the recession, workers were hesitant to quit — and not only because jobs were scarce. Even if they found a new job, some feared that accepting it would leave them vulnerable to a layoff. At many companies, layoffs follow a simple formula: last hired, first fired.

Whether those quitters did so because they thought the economy was finally coming back around, or that a better fit could be found elsewhere, is anyone’s guess. But as we all know, when people quit, those positions must be filled, and I can almost hear the recruiters cheering the news now.

Workers are Wearing Your Health on Their Sleeves

Probably pretty intuitive, but definitive nonetheless. A new study from Gallup-Healthways shows people working for employers that are in a hiring mode tend to have brighter outlooks on their own personal lives than those working for companies in the midst of layoffs.

No duh, right? Fair enough. But when you consider that as many as two-thirds (68 percent) of the 20,000 employed adults polled who were working at growing companies said they were thriving in their personal lives versus less than half (49 percent) working at downsizing organizations, it does cause pause to wonder: Is there something more HR can and should be doing during layoffs to help the survivors stave off depression? Translated: absence, loss of productivity, possible long-term disability?? (The ratings, by the way, were based on the Cantril Scale, which many organizations use to determine individual well-being.)

Granted, there’s not a whole lot HR leaders can do with this except maybe drum up even more satisfaction detectors and morale boosters than you already have in place to counter the layoff-survivor blues — or get some going if you have nothing at this point.

But consider this too: Even the simple fact that a reorganizing company is spending time, energy and money to ensure the survivors don’t go into emotional tailspins carries the subliminal message that things there can’t be that bad. Right?