Retaining Employees in an Economy we Would like to Forget

Column by Edward F. "Ned" Frazier


When will it end? With the national unemployment rate at 9.1 percent, and Colorado's at 8.5 percent, have we bottomed out? Will we start to see a slow, gradual improvement in the employment rate? This recession has been difficult on many of us. We all know a friend or relative who has lost their job. Many of us have had to make difficult decisions to terminate the employment of people we care about. Depending on who and what we read, perhaps the worst is behind us, and 2012 will be a better year. Oh my, it has to be!!

So what happens to our employees who have survived this economic tsunami? First, the bad news:

• Employees (and business owners too!) have been worn down by the recession;

• Economists are sending out mixed forecasts almost daily about the sustainability of the recovery;

• Many employees are feeling less connected to their employers after rounds of layoffs, salary reductions, budget cuts, and ongoing uncertainty;

• Employers have not rushed out to hire new workers for positions that were eliminated over the last 24 months.

• When (not if!!) new hiring resumes, those disgruntled team members who feel unappreciated and taken advantage of because of salary reductions, performing the work of two workers, etc. will be the first to look for new opportunities. The cost of turnover is very expensive (from 25 percent of first year salary and more for management positions).

But wait. There is good news.

• Many of us have experienced recessions in the past, and we know that "This too shall pass."

• Unemployment may be starting to stabilize, and some employers are actually beginning to hire again.

• The Colorado job market may lead the nation in the recovery, which could be good news for employers and employees alike.

So what can employers do now to prepare for the recovery, and retain our employees when the job market does improve? We have all been through some challenging times, and have retained some great people. What can employers do, without spending a lot of money you may not have, to keep your valued employees as the recovery unfolds (fast, or ever-so-slowly, it will happen!):

• You need to be open and visible with your team members. Keep them informed on the company's financial condition and plans for the future. Even if you have to deliver bad news, employees appreciate the fact that a business owner took the time to communicate openly and honestly with all team members. Younger employees need reassurance that downturns are survivable and that "we will get through this!"

• Get employees involved by seeking their input on ways to improve the company's products, customer service, and most important, the bottom line. Hold a team meeting to let everyone know you value their input on "how to improve our company profits, and how to make our company a great place to work." You have a lot of experience and creative brainpower within your team-and it gets them involved in the process.

• Look for ways to provide individual recognition. You just can't beat face to face opportunities to say "thank you" to your team members. Give praise to individuals at company don't have to spend money to make employees happy! Let them know you appreciate their work during the down economy and understand how difficult it has been to not receive a salary increase, or to see their best friend at work lose his/her job because of the economy. Knowing that you care helps foster a relationship that may help keep them with you once the economy improves. Give them a hand-written note to say "thanks" for a job well done, or present them with a small gift (it certainly does not have to be expensive) that is personal to your employee.

• Participate as a company in one of our many amazing non-profits in Colorado. Project C.U.R.E., Big Brothers Big Sisters, Colorado Special Olympics, and Developmental Pathways are just a few of the many nonprofits that need our help. Get your team members involved in developing a Social Responsibility program for your company. Working side-by-side as a team to help others builds a strong sense of pride, and it does not cost a dime!

• Add a wellness program that encourages team building at the same time you are promoting a healthier lifestyle. It is fun, and there are small business resources that can help you get organized.

• Celebrate successes! If you sign a major contract, bring in some pizza and announce the good news to everyone. OK, I just mentioned a wellness program and in the next breath said "let's have pizza!!" Hey, you have to have a little fun in this crazy world!

And while we have to be realistic about our business conditions, always remember good ole Norman Vincent Peal and his Power of Positive Thinking.



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