Inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant

the day to day experiences of a consultant operating in weird and wonderful client situations

Re-employment, not retention – that’s the name of the game these days

It is extraordinary how age creeps up on you. In thinking about and discussing this blog with a colleague recently, I was suddenly aware of how over the course of 20+ years of work, the nature of my relationship with my employer has changed and more specifically how different it is from the new generation joining the workforce.

So, like many of my peers, I’m left with a dilemma. Do I continue to focus on the way things were and try and recreate the environment which I grew up in, or do I try and understand the nature of the workplace for my new colleagues? If we think about the changes that new employees face, it’s a scary place.

1) 50 years of work at least…reflecting longevity, health, and in many parts of the world, a rapidly ageing population
2) Incredible competition academically and within the workplace…as mobility and ambition fuels those from all parts of the world to strive for the best they can achieve
3) A corporate world which increasingly looks for flexibility amongst its workforce, where it’s commitment to employees is becoming more and more tenuous
4) Globalisation in every possible sense from supply chain to recruitment, from international customers to outsourced product development, and increasingly as a factor of competition
5) The understandable ambition and expectation that work is both inspiring and rewarding. Constant reminders of role models and public figures who have achieved this balance and who are insistent in their expectation that this is an achieveable goal for all
5) Peer pressure of a very specific nature where working for a company that acts in a non-sustainable way (environmentally, from a health perspective, or in term of its global reputation) is not acceptable, and where these judgements are formed on the basis of incredibly fast and powerful social media channels. It’s no coincidence that employee engagement levels are at an all time low.

So, what to do? What can we offer our new employees which creates a work environment where both sides of the psychological contract are being met?

In my opinion, we have to radically re think our approach as employers. The new terms of the psychological contract whether we like it or not are as follows:

1) It’s a two-three year deal…no one can predict what happens beyond that.
2) I, the employer, provide you with training, experience, knowledge which enhances your personal value and franchise. We agree as much as we can on what specifically those things are.
3) You, the employee, give me your experience, productivity, innovative capability and network. If I make it a good experience, you may be probably prepared to give me some of your discretionary time (that time which is not mine contractually but if I engage you, can be used for great benefit).
4) At the end of the period, we review…either explicitly or implicitly. You won’t forget even if I do…you are conscious that there’s only one person who manages your career and that’s you!
5) If the review suggests more growth potential, more opportunity to add to your personal value, you may contract with me for another agreed period.
If it doesn’t, you will go elsewhere…if your experience with me has been a positive one, you may come back and perhaps as an alumni, my brand may be endorsed through your experience.

For me, the last point is probably the one which has the greatest opportunity. Creating an environment and a work experience which makes it attractive for former employees to re-engage with us is our challenge. In a word, it’s re-employment, not retention.

Categories: Career development, Change management, Consulting, Disruptive Innovation, Economics, Functional Leadership, human behaviour, Human Capital, psychology, Training

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2 replies

  1. Hi Ben, I think there is a lot more employee loyalty out there than one should expect. Much of it may be passive, driven from fear or laziness. But I’m shocked by many good people don’t move when common sense would suggest that they’d enhance their personal value far more by moving. Companies therefore have a natural advantage in retaining people. The problem is that they manage their staff so poorly that they chase them away in the end. Three key problems are (1) Valuing new hires more than old staff. (2) Having pay move in thoughtless lock-step so long term employees see very little increment despite their valuable client and institutional knowledge. (3) Little intelligently designed personal training so that a good employee feels valued and developed.

    As ever, I think the key is to move senior HR managers from their separate floor/building and back into the core of the business, so that they sit at the edge of functioning teams, and are able to advise the senior management from a practical standpoint on all aspects from remuneration through training and development to the removal of petty irritations.


    • Good to hear from you, Sam…agreed re the loyalty and to some extent inertia that one sometimes finds in organisations. I suppose what I was trying to address with this was the new generation of employees who seem to have different motivations and pressures.


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