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Further evidence that people are not more thankful for their jobs in tough times.

The old adage that we ought to be thankful for the job we have, regardless of how bad it might be, does not seem to translate well into today’s world.

Sure, unless you’re an adult child living in your parents’ basement, a voice in your head likely screams that any job is better than no job and you’d better do everything you can to protect your income… but for the vast majority of companies that’s not translating into lower turnover or increased commitment to help the company achieve its objectives.

In fact, both Employee Satisfaction and Employee Engagement scores seem to have accelerated their decade-long decline over recent years… and even though companies have slashed headcount, churn seems to have continued unabated.

In part, the reason for the churn lies in companies seizing the opportunity in the down times to make strategic acquisitions of undervalued talent – something we’ve been advocating for a while. In larger part, though, the churn seems to be the result of people acting on their rising dissatisfaction.

This should sound alarm bells for employers, many of whom have convinced themselves that a tough economy hides a lot of sins and reduces turnover. Who, after all, would be crazy enough to leave even a bad job in times like these?

Only your top performers.

Your most marketable employees, those most desirable to your competitors, are always those with the most options.

Unfortunately, many organizations have taken the downturn as an excuse to stop investing in the right things. Many have allowed the economy to be an excuse for poor management, economic take-aways, and the shabby treatment of their people. People don’t forget how they have been treated. There’s a large and growing pent-up demand for better opportunities which will be unleashed as the economy stabilises and jobs start coming back.

What we see time and time again is that a bad economy doesn’t reduce turnover, at least not for long. And it certainly doesn’t build engagement. At best, it builds compliance. It breeds an environment where people keep their head down. They do exactly what they are told (no more and no less). Creativity and risk tolerance go out the window. Innovation dies. People and the businesses they populate move into survival mode, playing to not lose instead of playing to win. And, regrettably, the organization suffers long-term damage.

So… how can you build engagement and performance, even in a tough environment and with no (or even less) money to spend? As a leader, you only have two levers available to you… and they needn’t cost you anything.

First and foremost, the stage needs to be set by making sure you have the right people in the right jobs, doing the right thing. How many people are well cast in their role – doing work they enjoy and are good at, and well matched with co-workers and customers? How many are miscast in their role, bumping along in their job or struggling in these critical relationships? Adopting a Fit First Philosophy is critical to setting the stage for commitment and performance.

Once the stage is set, you need to become obsessive about creating and maintaining an environment that builds trust and allows people to do their best, every day. Simply put, you need to get barriers and irritants out of their way. Some of the issues will be internal systems that don’t work or need to be realigned; many of these fixes will be simple and cost nothing… and fixing them will build goodwill. The bigger issues will be management and leadership issues… you will need to be obsessive about creating an AFZ in your organization. If you don’t, your people will walk at the first opportunity.

Sound management practice is just that. It’s timeless, and applies equally in good times and bad. Paradoxically, not many of your competitors are doing it because it requires focus and effort… much to the professional recruiters’ delight.

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