Perfect Storm Front Coming

By Heather Baldwin

Suppose the National Hurricane Center issued a warning that a Category 5 hurricane was headed your way. Would you take action? Of course you would. At the very least you’d bring the lawn furniture inside, board up the house and make sure there were enough batteries, water and food to see you through the storm. Now what if you had the same kind of warning about employee retention? Would you be willing to take steps now to ensure your people are happy in their work and want to stick around in the coming years? Think about it, because here’s your warning: “We have entered a perfect storm,” says Sharon Jordan-Evans, a workplace consultant and executive coach who, with Beverly Kaye, just released the third edition of their classic book, Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay (Berrett-Koehler, 2005).

Today, says Jordan-Evans, the confluence of four factors – the perfect storm – means conditions are ripe for employees to begin jumping ship. Here’s a short description of those four factors.

  1. The economy is healthier and the job market is better than it has been for more than five years, which means workers have more options.
  2. Employee dissatisfaction is at its highest in more than a decade. According to Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) research, 8 out of 10 employees – at all levels – are ready to leave their company at the first opportunity. It makes sense, says Jordan-Evans. We are post-downsizing so employees are doing the work of two or three people, they haven’t seen raises or promotions in awhile and they aren’t confident about their job security.
  3. Demographics are shifting. Half of the 76 million baby boomers are eligible to retire in the next decade and the next generation isn’t big enough to backfill the loss. “We’ve got an amazing brain drain coming,” says Jordan-Evans. “We’ll start to see it within the next four years.”
  4. We’re facing a shortage of skills. New U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that 60% of the skills needed for 21st century jobs are held by just 20% of the workforce.

Managers who ignore this storm warning, says Jordan-Evans, will lose their best sales reps to the competition or early retirement and will be hard pressed to find good people to replace them. So how can you motivate your people to stay? Take a close look at the factors that make people want to stay in their jobs. After asking more than 17,000 workers in all industries and job functions what keeps them in their jobs, the top five answers, in order, in every survey they’ve done since 1998 are:

  1. interesting, challenging work
  2. a chance to learn and grow
  3. great people to work with
  4. fair pay
  5. a great boss

Furthermore, 100% of the respondents answered with one of the top three responses. So if you can deliver on those top three items, you will dramatically increase your odds of keeping people. Think you’re already delivering? You might want to double-check with your sales team before it’s too late. “Managers often think they’re meeting these needs when they aren’t because they’re guessing at what people want,” says Jordan-Evans. “They figure their salespeople want what they want, but that’s not always the case.” The solution is simple: Ask your best people what they want and need from their jobs. What do they want to learn this year? What could you do to make their current work more interesting? It’s not about giving a promotion or coming up with a grand opportunity, says Jordan-Evans. It’s about tweaking their current job.

The arrival of this perfect storm means your attention to retention must go up. “Managers who sit down one on one with their talented people and find out what they need, what they want and what will challenge them are the ones who will win,” she concludes. Consider yourself warned.