New ideas for employee retention

I hear more and more leaders starting to talk openly about the challenge they face in attracting employees and keeping them. This is good. If we don’t connect with this reality, we won’t take steps to change it.

This is not just about organizations being better than they’ve been up to this point; this is about organizations being different than they’ve been up to this point.

In the past week alone, three company executives told me they are having such a hard time finding qualified employees. They followed this with, “We need to figure out what to do about this.”

The first step: awareness

If you’ve been tracking news in the Milwaukee business community, you’ve perhaps heard some of the initial findings of Tim Sullivan’s workforce development report. Sullivan, the former president and chief executive officer of Bucyrus International Inc., is now working as a special consultant for business and workforce development for the state of Wisconsin.

While a full report will be published soon, information that has been shared by Sullivan to this point indicates that jobs available in Wisconsin are heavily weighted toward technical fields, while the schools in Wisconsin are still heavily weighted toward college-prep. Additionally, while it is predicted that 60 percent of all jobs throughout the United States will require education beyond high school, only 30 percent of our population meets this criteria.

In simplest terms, as we continue to move forward, the war on talent will not be based on an inadequate number of people available; it will be based on an inadequate number of people available who have the right skills.

Given this, why would any organization risk successfully hiring anyone, only to have them leave because of dissatisfaction or disillusionment? I shared in my last colum that 46 percent of new hires leave their job within the first year (Source: Human Resources Employee Engagement Statistics).

Leaders today complain that young workers are not loyal. And, you’ve heard me recite the phrase back that we hear from leaders in numerous organizations, “The problem with young people today is…” This mindset will not work.

It is a fact. The Generation Y workforce is, generally speaking, loyal to their work and overall quality of life (throughout their entire day, not just when they get home from work). You’ll see this play out in a number of ways:

  • Our young workers are interested in meaningful work and the possibility of advancement today, even small steps.
  • They are interested in being treated as though they are important to your organization right now.
  • You’ll notice they are less formal in a number of ways: their preference for dress, their desire for flexibility, their interest in having a leader who treats them more as an equal than with authority.
  • They want attention and acknowledgment.
  • They want to listen to music.

These are just a few things I continue to hear baby boomers, especially, complain about. Another phrase, “When I was your age, I would have never…” Not a good thing to say.

Organizations can go one of two ways with these realities: one way is to complain about them and expend energy to preserve the past; the other is to put on their thinking caps and think about solutions to both attraction and retention challenges.

Let me share an example of contemporary thinking:

While meeting with a group of senior leaders at a local manufacturing company, the owner pointed out, “We have two issues. The first is that it is very difficult to find welders in this market, and the second is that more than 25 percent of our new welders leave each year.”

Focused on solutions, the team went on to share their next steps. One is to develop their own in-house “welding school” and teach the necessary skills to their new hires. The second is to train leaders to lead in a way that better meets the expectations of the emerging workforce. Leadership is being viewed as a key retention strategy in this organization. And a third step is to explore the development of a corporate culture that is appealing to their emerging workforce. This team is on the right track. In our conversation, I picked up no animosity on their part about these business realities.

I recall almost five years ago when I began researching the topic of generational differences in the workplace, along with the in-progress exodus of the baby boomers, I came across a concerning statistic. In our country, while most organizations realize we are facing significant challenges, only 25 percent of organizations had put any kind of strategy in place to address it. Hope is not a strategy.

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