Job Mobility is Back, It’s Time to Think About Retention

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As John Sarno, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey recalls, 2001 was an awful and fearful year, marked by a financial crisis that sparked a jobs carnage and horrific acts of terror that caused carnage to life and property.

“We got a lot of calls from members who were every anxious. Eventually the shock receded but the lingering impact on the economy and on just about every workplace was profound,” he remembers.

Mass layoffs wreaked havoc on companies and individual careers. And only now in 2018 has New Jersey recovered the jobs that were lost.

At the time, Sarno created a new management course called Managing in the New Normal, a class that helped supervisors to focus on the wellbeing of the workers who remained, who were stressed and demoralized.

Sarno emphasized teamwork and wellbeing.

“Each worksite was different. Some were resilient, some were anxious and some were angry.  But in every case, people felt relieved to have held onto their job; and stoic about doing more with less” he says.

Sarno said that the experience taught him the difference between being an “employer” and a business.  

“Every employer is a business but not every business is an employer. Businesses compete on price. Employers compete on talent. Many businesses race to the bottom. Employers try to get to the top” he says.

Even so, with five applicants competing for one open job, employers benefited from a “buyers’ market.”  But with wages, salaries and bonuses suppressed, morale also plummeted.

During the prolonged slump, employee-focused programs atrophied. Workers couldn’t quit and employers knew that they were fearful of losing their jobs.  In fact, Alan Greenspan, Chairperson of the Federal Reserve went so far as to describe the prevailing view as the “fear economy.”  

Not much effort went into retaining top talent because there was no other place for them to go.

But there is evidence that the tide may be finally turning and that top performers see an opportunity for mobility.  

With a civilian labor force approaching 4.5 million, New Jersey seems to be turning a corner, perhaps even getting closer to a “sellers’ market.”

Evidence that employees may be thinking of greener pastures, is reported by the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. 

The most workers since 2001 quit their jobs in July, with openings rising to an 18-year high.

Those voluntarily leaving their jobs rose to 3.58 million, or 2.4 percent of the workforce, as economic expansion and confidence buoyed workers' confidence.

Human resources staff must be ahead of the curve, says Sarno, not only anticipating hiring needs but putting in place effective strategies to retain top performers.

“It’s not the ‘Old Normal’ because we’ll never be the same. But teamwork and wellbeing are still the ingredients for good morale and consistently good performance,” he says.  

Other aspects of retention are open communication, clear expectations and work-life balance.

In practice, this means providing employees with:

•    Career development opportunities and a chance to grow in their chosen field,
•    Regular feedback on how both they and the company are doing,
•    A chance to contribute directly to the organization and be recognized for doing so,
•    A good salary or wage and an opportunity to increase it over time, and
•    Benefits tailored to their individual needs

Supervisory training is also part of the retention toolbox. More here.