You’ve probably noticed that, over the last few years, one of the growing concerns most companies have is the fact that they are having difficulty retaining some of their best people. This spawned a wide range of articles that provide solutions, which included employee engagement, talent management, reward initiatives, career path training, and organizational restructuring (among other things).
Sometimes, implementing those suggestions pay off – the most hardworking and talented people certainly do stay with the organization. However, it doesn’t guarantee that they’ll stay with the company forever or even a decade. It’s more likely that they’ll leave after five to seven years of service.
The loss of loyalty
The economic crisis a few years ago has most definitely exacerbated it, but it’s been going on for years before: many companies were failing to show loyalty towards their own employees. Their reasons were varied, but it all boils down to what can be justified as “good business”. People who don’t perform as well as the organization wants are let go (even if they perform incredibly well). People who are paid high salaries are eventually made redundant. There were retrenchments that help the enterprise save money, but ultimately leave their employees devastated.
It’s bad enough even when the economy was doing well and people typically found themselves employed not long after losing their jobs. But the crisis made it so that most businesses became reluctant to hire people; now, a good number of people find themselves unemployed more than a year after they were let go. Their companies dropping them like hot potatoes at this time of all times must feel like a betrayal. And if companies aren’t loyal to people, why should anyone owe them that themselves?
The change in cultural landscape
Not only are people feeling less inclined to give loyalty to the companies they work for, many of us were also raised with values that aren’t necessarily compatible with the idea of working for one company for our entire life. For one thing, individual self-actualization had gained immense popularity in the 80’s and 90’s; the success of self-made mavericks like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg only made independence from established businesses more appealing. These days, jobs have become less about life-long security and more about self-discovery. The ultimate goal is personal enterprise.
It’s part of the reason why the virtual office arrangement became so popular as soon as technology made it viable. The new generation of workers have placed immense value on their individual pursuits – it’s not that they don’t care about their jobs; it’s just that they have come to see their jobs as means to an end, not the end itself. And ultimately, most people feel like five to seven years (or even less) is enough time to learn what they needed to learn in an organization. Beyond that point, they move on.
The need to manage expectations
The thing with some businesses that engage in employee retention practices is that some of them are expecting their measures to encourage people to stay with them as long as they are needed. In other words, they still expect a certain level of devotion or loyalty in exchange for “being good to the best employees”.
The problem with that is it doesn’t work for everyone – these days, it’s the most desirable workers who decide how long they’re going to stay with an organization. Given what the previous generations have gone through, and their own upbringing, most of them can’t really imagine being forever loyal to firms.
What we should really talk about in the context of employee retention is the management of our OWN expectations with regards to how long we can actually retain certain employees. Sometimes, no matter what we do, people still decide to move on to things that they think will help them become better versions of themselves. Perhaps, instead of just focusing on compelling people to stay on the organization, we should also open more discussions on the subject of anticipating and handling high-level employee departures. We probably should pay attention to getting more great employees too.
We can retain great employees for now, but we can’t retain them forever. The best we can hope for is that we can maximize their talents while they’re with us, and that they refer their equally-talented contacts to our businesses.