Recently, human resource newsletters and blogs have focused again on the importance of employee retention. Even with chronically high unemployment, there is recognition amongst employers and employees that employee flight may be imminent. New studies by the Hay Group and the Corporate Leadership Council suggest that employees are getting frustrated with their current employers.
Employees feel overworked, underpaid and undervalued. As a result, as many as six in 10 employees are looking to exit, according to the Hay Group. Some 85 percent of those not looking remain with their current employer while the job market is so weak, but plan to start looking the minute unemployment lessens its grip. Some nonprofits are already feeling the pinch as key staff such as executive directors and development staff are leaving, and finding good employees is not easy despite the number of resumes that come in for each job.
So with the buzz of employees’ dissatisfaction and employers’ awareness that holding on to great employees is a goal now and beyond, one would think there is consensus among human resource professionals about what helps retention. Some professionals say it is systems like pay and benefits that make a difference. Some argue that the intrinsic reward of a meaningful job makes the difference. This argument is especially prevalent in nonprofit organizations where employees are usually vision- and mission-driven. Some suggest that some turnover is good and that retention is not always the goal.
Regardless of the reason for employee unhappiness, managers can attempt to reengage employees. If 85% of the workforce is just waiting to leave, can managers prevent this exodus? A good conversation to initiate with employees includes, “What will keep you?” “What can I as an employer help you do differently?” Even, just saying, “I wouldn’t want to lose your skills and talents,” can mean a lot to employees. These suggestions can be found in most publications on retaining and engaging employees. The reminder to do these items can’t be made enough. However, maybe the conversation needs to go deeper. Work life may not get better in this generation. Unemployment, with the stress it creates for those with and without jobs, is not easy to solve.
Technology will continue to blur the lines between work time and personal time. So, perhaps the conversation should turn to what everyone can do to find his/her own happiness. Recently, Mayo Clinic released an article suggesting that we all can choose our own contentment. Happiness researchers have found that only 10 percent or so of the variation in people’s reports of happiness can be explained by differences in their circumstances. The bulk of what determines happiness is our personality, as well as our thoughts and behaviors. So, the thought is that we can learn to behave as though we are happy. The steps that each of us can take to be happier include spending time with family and friends, expressing gratitude, cultivating optimism, finding a sense of purpose and living in the moment.
What a difference it might make if we as employees decided to take the steps above. Employees are working more hours, especially in nonprofits, trying to do more with less. This makes spending time with friends and family harder to do. But, what if each time we carved an afternoon with a friend or had a meaningful exchange with a family member, we stopped and felt thankful for that moment? What if in that moment, we believed there would be more moments like that in our lives? No one wants to be told to feel grateful to have work, but what if in the day when something goes well, an unexpected donation comes in, a client is well served or a shared laugh is acknowledged? What would happen to our attitude? No one alone can change what is difficult right now, yet we can make the choice to be content with what we have.
Were we to do this, we could each spend time on what is valuable and not wallow in all that is hard. That might change the conversation on employee retention.
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