Happening NOW in Atlanta: A Shifting of the Workforce

Posted on July 3, 2012


They said it in 2008. They said it again in 2009 and 2010. Now, it IS happening…in Atlanta.

In various gatherings of Human Resources professionals I heard the warning forecasting how employers will pay dearly after the recession if they fail to adequately take care of their employees during it.  It was a warning that a resonated with us. “How you treat your employees during the present economic crisis will determine if they stay with you when the economy improves,” was a message I broadcasted on Twitter. The number of re-tweets evidenced that it hit a concerted nerve with employees left bearing the brunt of the economic downturn.

That was the warning THEN. The shift is happening NOW.

While unemployment is at its lowest level in 3 years there is no doubt we are still at an arduous unemployment level.  We remain in a recession. We see this at our employee benefits firm in Alpharetta where our Client Services Team continues to assist our clients in administering “terminations” resulting from layoffs. Furthermore, while it has slowed, we continue to see some of our smallest clients forever shut their doors. The economy may be recovering but it has not recovered in many segments of business.

Yet, recruiters are gaining back business. Job postings from LinkedIn are steadily showing up in my Inbox and friends and business acquaintances are increasingly landing new jobs. There is a swelling of activity in hiring. Sadly, however, it isn’t the result of a large amount of newly created jobs. Nor is it the backfilling of positions vacated by retirees.

In a recent gathering of HR professionals and C-Suite leaders it was the word “retention” that was the answer to the question, “What is the greatest HR issue you are facing now?” It’s a resounding refrain in HR circles.

Why are job postings up? Why are employers bemoaning the need for retention? The answer to both of these questions should not be a surprise; it’s happening now—discontented employees are now jumping ship to perceived better opportunities. There is a shifting of the workforce.

Laura Petrecca in USA TODAY writes, “Fed-up workers are seeking greener professional pastures: Slightly more than one in three hope to find a new job in the next 12 months.” She quotes Ronald Leopold, vice president of MetLife’s U.S. business, who affirms “Employees are starting to sniff out the possibility of an economic recovery and they’re getting antsy.”

Employees are no longer content to simply have a job. That season is over. They want their raises and bonuses back. They want their 401k match back. They want their one-person job back.

Amplifying the shift are the indications that the employees most likely to join the shift are the most qualified and skilled. The employees who are leaving organizations are the very employees the employer needs most. Therefore,

What should employers do now to keep their key players on the bus?

1.       Interview Your Employees

Find out what your employees are thinking. At Quantum National Bank in Suwanee they are conducting Stay Interviews. Katherine Stoll, Vice President and Human Resource Director at Quantum Bank states “We are in the process of introducing Stay Interviews into our company culture. The goal of Stay Interviews is to develop the relationship between the managers and their direct reports and communicate to our employees that they are important to the company and we want them to stay. Managers will ask employees about their career goals and how the company can help them achieve those goals. The meetings are not intended to be linked to performance evaluations, but instead allow the employee to have an open forum with their supervisor. Managers will ask ‘How can we continue to make Quantum National Bank a great place for you to work?’”

2.       Begin to Return Benefits

As employers adapted to the economic downturn many reduced the employee benefits. The greatest reduction occurred in retirement plans with many employers dropping their matching 401k contributions. Many others increased the employees’ contribution for medical insurance and others went a step further by dropping ancillary benefits such as Group Dental or Life Insurance.

Perhaps employees understood, at that time, the need to share the costs of lost revenue when those cuts were announced. Whether this is true or not, what is true is employees are ready to get their benefits back. Employers may be voicing “a new normal” but the employees are not buying it and they are taking their skills to new addresses. Employers desiring to keep their team intact must consider bringing back benefits that were reduced over the last few years. Any effort to restore segments of the bygone benefits will help instill confidence that the employer values the workforce.

3.       Restore Manageable Workloads

As co-workers were laid off, remaining employees found themselves saddled with additional duties. The jobs that were carried out by eight people were suddenly shared by five. As a result, overworked employees have lost the satisfaction of completing their work. Energy has been zapped and the passion is gone.

Alex Putman, Director of Global Talent Acquisition at Case Mate in Tucker, is reaping the benefits of dissatisfied employees looking for a new work environment where they can release their passion through their work. He states, “Many candidates are not leaving their employers for extrinsic reasons such as money and bonuses, but are more interested in freedom to create and harness their passions into their work product. Candidates are attracted to our open and free flowing culture.  People are given the goal and told ‘make it happen’….we step back and let them do what they were hired to do!” This type of environment is attractive to the employee who has lost his passion or her freedom to work unhindered because the responsibilities exceed the time needed to complete the work. Bringing back a full staff to meet the current demands of the work will provide one less reason for uneasy employees to seek out growing employers like Case Mate.

4.       Make a Personal Connection with Your Employees

Relationships matter. Always. Regardless of the economy, relationships matter. Yet, in a more stressful work environment, such as was induced by the current recession, relationships matter even more.  Employees are more likely to burn out, become disgruntled or disengage to the point of job-hunting if they do not believe their supervisors care about them. Relationships with co-workers are important, but the relationship with a manager can be the determining factor on whether an employee stays or bolts. Katherine Stoll affirms this as one of the reasons Quantum Bank is implementing the Stay Interview.  Part of the purpose of the interviews is “to build the relationship between the manager and the employee.” For, “As we all know, that relationship is critical to employee satisfaction.”

It may not be too late for employers to take the necessary steps to win back the trust of their employees. The recession has taken its toll, but there is help for employers who act now. However, it will take intentional effort. Employers who act upon these four suggestions will certainly increase the chance of keeping seats on the bus filled with the right people.