How Communicators Can Aid Employee Retention

In another sign the U.S. economy is improving, a recent survey by one of the nation’s largest recruiters found that 28 percent of employers’ job openings in January were the result of people quitting their jobs, up from 21 percent last July. The Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms this trend, saying that the number of U.S. workers quitting their jobs has steadily increased since the low point of December 2009, in the depths of the recession.

This is good news for workers because it indicates they are more confident they can find a job. It’s bad news for employers because it’s expensive to lose talent and recruit replacements. It’s also bad news for employers because it indicates a shift of power back into the hands of employees. It’s slowly becoming a job-seeker’s market once again, so hiring companies might soon find themselves making more concessions in negotiations with candidates.

There’s something else going on here, though. When unemployment is high and jobs are hard to come by, companies sometimes treat employees like a necessary evil, paring back benefits and perks, imposing more restrictive policies, pulling back on communication activities and becoming less forthcoming with information than they were when times were good. Managers get grumpy because they’re often caught in the middle of this austere environment, and as we know, people quit their bosses more than they quit their companies.

I wrote about this coming shift nearly two years ago and how employee communication could play a role in helping to stave off the exodus. Now it’s upon us and I have some additional thoughts about the role communicators could play in helping our organizations retain talented employees who might be looking for greener pastures.

  • Help to create or maintain a culture of open communication. Hopefully communicators have done this throughout the recession as business leaders pulled back on communicating — because there wasn’t much “good news” to communicate. The business environment shouldn’t dictate what an organization’s communication culture is like.
  • Help position managers and supervisors as trusted sources of information. Middle managers are the linchpins of most organizations and they should be armed with enough information, resources and training to maintain the trust relationship with employees — in good times as well as bad.
  • Encourage business leaders to be out front and up front. This past recession, perhaps more than any other, greatly eroded employees’ trust and confidence in senior management. One way to rebuild that trust and confidence is for leaders to be seen and heard. Employees’ decisions to leave organizations are sometimes based on false assumptions about the condition of the organization or because employees don’t believe its leaders have a plan for success. Now is the time for leaders communicate openly and clearly about how the organization is emerging from the recession and what it plans to do in the next 3-5 years.
  • Communicate about employees’ total compensation package. Without being too obvious about it, find a good time to remind employees of what the company offers them beyond base salary or hourly wages. Before open-enrollment time, tell employees about some of the “hidden benefits” they might not know about. Find ways to remind employees why it’s good to work for the organization (if, indeed, it is — don’t put a turkey in a tuxedo and pass it off as high class).

Hopefully, your organization isn’t playing “catch up” now that better times appear to be on the horizon. Making “good will deposits” in the bad times is the best way to ensure your best employees stick around when it’s easier to leave.



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