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Mar 25, 2014

Our employees are our greatest asset.”

Year after year, it seems like employers focus on the same catchphrase.

Meanwhile, workforce engagement statistics continue to crawl along the ocean floor like bottom feeders scouring for scraps. It’s like being caught in a time-travel wormhole that loops back on itself, with only our clothing styles and digital technologies changing along the way.

Even professionals with specialized “knowledge skills” are caught in this spin cycle. And for too many in today’s workforce, it’s not just monotonous, but overwhelming.

When employees exercise career choice

Of course, at the end of the day, “overwhelmed” workers are at the mercy of employers. But when all else fails, a disengaged employee’s only true leverage is the power to leave.

Until recently, the economic crisis made that option unthinkable for many. But today, a much different picture is emerging.

The ability to exercise career choice is fundamentally changing the workplace, one painful decision at a time. You’ve heard it before – no pain, no gain.

Take Wall Street for example. The financial industry has had a long climb back from the darkest days of recession. But, as a recent NPR Planet Money podcast reports, many new banking recruits are struggling to stay immersed in an industry that puts money above all else. They want to do more than just make money — they want to make the world a better place.

Does Wall Street need to redeem itself, though? Does it need to realign with the needs of the best and brightest it wants to employ? Maybe. Or maybe those recruits should consider other employers — or make their own entrepreneurial magic.

According to new global talent strategy research, companies are focusing on retention, engagement and “attraction of talent” more than they have in nearly a decade. In fact, more than 60 percent of organizations say that dealing with “the overwhelmed employee” is a top priority.

How to respond to employees – 2 choices

Yes, the overwhelmed employee is redefining the workplace — one painful change at a time. But smart companies are finding ways to be responsive. Here are two examples discussed recently with Josh Bersin, Founder and Principal of Bersin by Deloitte:

  1. Continuous development — Most knowledge workers are taking it upon themselves to “skill up” — to keep themselves marketable, relevant and valuable. Often this happens outside of the enterprise via MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and online learning sites. Video, in particular, is gaining ground as medium for “anytime” access to self-paced learning. Employers should look for ways to mirror these learning experiences internally.
  2. Flexible work options — As it becomes increasingly difficult to recruit, hire and retain top performers for highly skilled positions, flexibility has become a negotiating chip. Remote work, nontraditional daily and weekly schedules, contract and part-time relationships, unlimited personal time — you name it. Again, wise companies recognize the value of offering these choices to attract and retain the very best.

Yep, no pain, no gain.

Clearly, there’s a long road ahead. But progressive employers are starting to step up to the challenge that overwhelmed employees are presenting. And that’s a step in the right direction.

This was originally published on Kevin Grossman’s Reach West blog.