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Employee Retention May Not Be as Big a Deal As You Think

Here’s a question that every employee, whether they be a manager, mid-level worker, or administrative assistant, always have in the back of their mind:

How critical is my job in the grand scheme of things?

I know there are employees out there who don’t think about that, but if they don’t, they’re delusional and out of touch with reality. The fact is, just about every single person in the workforce is disposable, and employers aren’t shy about letting employees know it.

As HR blogger and thought leader Tim Sackett is fond of saying, your company will muddle on without you.

Even The New York Times pointed this out recently, noting that:

Most employees — no matter how many years they have been with a company or how much talent and hard work they bring to the table — feel disposable. And most employers do little to discourage that feeling.”

Is retention REALLY such a big deal?

But The Times goes on to add that, “As the economy rights itself, companies are becoming more concerned about retaining good workers for the long haul.”

Yes, retention is becoming a bigger deal (as Mr. Sackett got into today on TLNT), but I wonder: Is retention REALLY a concern for companies, or are they just talking about it because they feel they need to?

If you dig into The New York Times article, you get some insight from Josh Bersin about research from Deloitte of more than 3,000 business and HR leaders worldwide that found that “culture and engagement” — or keeping employees — was pegged as their most important challenge, edging out developing leadership.

As he tells The Times: “In my experience, doing this for 15 years, this is the first time it has scored this high.”

I don’t doubt for a minute what Josh is saying, and really, there are few others who have the insight and perspective on these kind of things that he does.

Still, I think back to the last time in my lifetime that I saw employers really, truly worried about retention — the dotcom boom of 1998-2001 — and it’s clear to me that the concern employers have today about keeping employees on board pales in comparison to that.

This was REALLY when retention was a worry

Back then, I was recruited by a very famous dotcom of that era — Pets.com — and I worked for most of its existence as Vice President for Editorial and Publisher of Pets.com, The Magazine. Although I have lots of great stories about Pets.com, including how it wasn’t nearly the business disaster that The Wall Street Journal loves to say it was, those are stories for another day.

What I clearly remember most about that period was this: The unrelenting struggle we faced to retain and hold on to employees.

Back then, the economy (especially technology) was booming, and a great many companies were growing and looking for talent. Finding people, as I was constantly doing at a technology start-up, was a struggle, and holding on to them was even more challenging because everyone was trying to recruit them away from you.

I personally got at least one phone call with a job offer every single week I was at Pets.com. Hiring and retention were an ongoing struggle that everyone in company management thought about ALL the time. And, I heard the same thing from friends and peers in all sorts of industries all over the country, because they were constantly under siege and getting raided by everybody else who was trying to grow and needed employees.

And, that’s what it’s like when companies are really worried about retention.

You can’t take monthly employment numbers very seriously

It’s also why I don’t take the government’s monthly numbers on unemployment very seriously.

President Obama may tout a 5 percent unemployment rate, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics is woefully behind on revising how it measures unemployment. Until the BLS can truly capture all the people who have stopped looking for work, or are under-employed, or are independent contractors, or working in any number of situations that DON’T equal a full-time job, the monthly Labor Department numbers are little more than government propaganda.

Don’t agree? Well, ask yourself this: If retention is such a big employer concern, why are workers still only getting measly 3 percent annual wage increases?

If retention was a REAL concern, workers would be seeing their pay jump a lot more to help keep them on board, rather than having it stuck in neutral as it has been since the start of the Great Recession.

I won’t take all this retention talk very seriously until I see some real employer action — like paying employees more to keep them from leaving. Then, and only then, will we be able to finally say that retention is truly a big employer concern.

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