Last Word: Employers Aren’t As Worried About Retention As You Think

Here’s a question that every employee, whether they be a manager, mid-level worker, or administrative assistant, always have in the back of their mind:

How critical is my job in the grand scheme of things?

I know there are employees out there who don’t think about that, but if they don’t, they’re delusional and out of touch with reality. The fact is, just about every single person in the workforce is disposable, and employers aren’t shy about letting employees know it.

As TLNT contributor Tim Sackett is fond of saying, your company will muddle on without you.

Even The New York Times pointed this out recently, noting that:

Most employees — no matter how many years they have been with a company or how much talent and hard work they bring to the table — feel disposable. And most employers do little to discourage that feeling.”

Is retention REALLY such a big deal?

But The Times goes on to add that, “As the economy rights itself, companies are becoming more concerned about retaining good workers for the long haul.”

Yes, retention is becoming a bigger deal (as Mr. Sackett got into today on TLNT), but I wonder: Is retention REALLY a concern for companies, or are they just talking about it because they feel they need to?

If you dig into The New York Times article, you get some insight from old friend Josh Bersin, who also occasionally weighs in here at TLNT, about research from Deloitte of more than 3,000 business and HR leaders worldwide that found that “culture and engagement” — or keeping employees — was pegged as their most important challenge, edging out developing leadership.

As Josh Bersin, one of the reports authors, tells The Times: “In my experience, doing this for 15 years, this is the first time it has scored this high.”

I don’t doubt for a minute what Josh is saying, and really, there are few others who have the insight and perspective on these kind of things that he does.

Still, I think back to the last time in my lifetime that I saw employers really, truly worried about retention — the dotcom boom of 1998-2001 — and it’s clear to me that the concern employers have today about keeping employees on board pales in comparison to that.

This was REALLY when retention was a worry

Back then, I was recruited by a very famous dotcom of that era — Pets.com — and I worked for most of its existence as Vice President for Editorial and Publisher of Pets.com, The Magazine. Although I have lots of great stories about Pets.com, including how it wasn’t nearly the business disaster that The Wall Street Journal loves to say it was, those are stories for another day.

What I clearly remember most about that period was this: The unrelenting struggle we faced to retain and hold on to employees.

Back then, the economy (especially technology) was booming, and a great many companies were growing and looking for talent. Finding people, as I was constantly doing at a technology start-up, was a struggle, and holding on to them was even more challenging because everyone was trying to recruit them away from you.

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I personally got at least one phone call with a job offer every single week I was at Pets.com. Hiring and retention were an ongoing struggle that everyone in company management thought about ALL the time. And, I heard the same thing from friends and peers in all sorts of industries all over the country, because they were constantly under siege and getting raided by everybody else who was trying to grow and needed employees.

And, that’s what it’s like when companies are really worried about retention.

You can’t take monthly employment numbers very seriously

It’s also why I don’t take the government’s monthly numbers on unemployment very seriously.

President Obama may tout a 5 percent unemployment rate, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics is woefully behind on revising how it measures unemployment. Until the BLS can truly capture all the people who have stopped looking for work, or are under-employed, or are independent contractors, or working in any number of situations that DON’T equal a full-time job, the monthly Labor Department numbers are little more than government propaganda.

Don’t agree? Well, ask yourself this: If retention is such a big employer concern, why are workers still only getting measly 3 percent annual wage increases?

If retention was a REAL concern, workers would be seeing their pay jump a lot more to help keep them on board, rather than having it stuck in neutral as it has been since the start of the Great Recession.

I won’t take all this retention talk very seriously until I see some real employer action — like paying employees more to keep them from leaving. Then, and only then, will we be able to finally say that retention is truly a big employer concern.

The five traits needed for employee success

Of course, there’s more than retention talk in the news this week. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly wrap-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • The 5 traits needed for employee success. Leave it to Google to come up with the most critical traits employees need to success in the workplace. The Huffington Post recently detailed the five, and although most lists like this are nebulous and disappointing, this one seems to be the real deal. No. 1 on Google’s list really jumped out at me — Psychological Safety: When Team Members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. This is well worth reading — and considering how your workplace handles these five traits.
  • Grieving for a pet at work. You can’t make this stuff up: The Wall Street Journal says that giving employers bereavement time to grieve for a dead pet is growing and that, “Some units of Mars Inc., the big candy and pet-food maker, offer one day or more off, flexible hours or freedom to work from home after a pet’s death, a spokesman says. Other employers quietly grant bereaved pet owners time off case by case under other paid-time or sick-leave policies. Still, many grieving pet owners don’t ask for it because they’re too upset or afraid of eliciting eye-rolls from co-workers.”
  • How big companies are gaming the H-1B visa program. If your organization deals with H-1B visas, this report in The New York Times will surely get your attention. As the newspaper points out, “Outsourcing firms are increasingly dominating the (H-1B visa) program, federal records show. In recent years, they have obtained many thousands of the visas — which are limited to 85,000 a year — by learning to game the H-1B system without breaking the rules, researchers and lawyers said.”

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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