There is a big, expensive and pervasive problem in business today. Businesses can’t attract, motivate and retain great employees. Companies spend millions on recruiting, talent management systems, perks, benefits, engagement and yet, the problem is becoming more expensive and more pervasive despite all the effort to fix it. We see research year after year that 70% or more of our employees are not engaged in what they’re doing. We see the length of stay for the average employee shrinking to under 3 years and predicted to go even lower. We see statistics that claim 51% of employees are actively looking for a new job right now. Employees are dissatisfied and unhappy. They are just not interested in the work you give them to do. And despite all of the money and effort poured into this problem, business has not been able to solve it.
We are working on the problem, why can’t we solve it?
The reason we can’t solve this problem is that we are not willing to see the root cause of it. We put our efforts, our money into areas that treat the symptoms of the problem expecting these efforts to solve it. We talk about low unemployment rates and Millennials. We talk about creative benefits and breakroom perks. We experiment with flexibility, casual dress, office configurations and unlimited paid time off. These are all great benefits but no matter how many great benefits we have as employers, we have seen little or no permanent change in the overall problem. The problem isn’t benefits. The problem is values, relationships and the concept of the job. It’s about realizing that people are the most important asset you have in your business. Working to understand, enhance and preserve that asset is a critical leadership imperative.
Business leadership must have the courage to take a hard look at the way we think about, treat and manage people. In the big people shift that occurred because of the Industrial Revolution, people came to work for businesses to earn more and the concept of the job was created. But people have evolved in the 100 plus years since they first left their farms and cottage industries to take a job. The worker of today is well-informed and has more education and a higher standard of living. They want a lot more from a job than just making a living. What we are experiencing is another people shift. This shift will be as large and as disruptive as the one around the Industrial Revolution, only this time, people will be leaving businesses for a better work experience.
Employees have more choices today. The “You Economy” has created a place where people can dip their toes in the entrepreneurial waters and earn some or all of their income in ways that live between the traditional job and the risk of starting a business without a safety net. The game has changed. Technology and innovative thinking has made it possible to try entrepreneurship on for size with very little risk. Now it is easier and easier to keep your full time job and dabble in something on the side. It is estimated that by the year 2020, 50% of Americans will earn part of their living in the “You Economy” and this disruption in the concept of the job requires that traditional business change their paradigm around employees. As long as leadership and management is stuck in a 100-year-old mass production, Industrial Revolution, control and fear-based, job based paradigm people will be dissatisfied and seek other ways to earn some or all of their living.
Today employees can try something new over and over with little or no risk until they find their niche. If they find success, they can expand what they offer and as this phenomenon grows they may not need the company job you need to fill anymore. At the very least, they can take control of their work and earning power and carve out the quality life they want, get more time and money freedom, more flexibility and possible more income. All the things they traded in 100 years ago for a job.
This is a growing phenomenon and you, your organization, the company job, the 9-5 inflexible, go to the workplace experience, have to compete with this and whatever other new innovations come along. You are no longer just competing for talent with the companies that do what you do, you have a much larger, more fluid, almost unknown competitor. And it is changing and growing in power every day.
This shift is going to impact every business owner, every senior manager and our entire economy. Every business that is service based is powered by people and is in jeopardy of losing their best employees. We need to realize and embrace the fact that people power profit and how you think about your employees and what you do to attract, motivate and retain talent will directly impact your success.
In every big shift there are winners and losers. The losers will be those who do nothing to prepare for this change, are too inflexible or too fearful to make meaningful decisions to do things differently around employment and management or are too slow to turn their thinking around. They will continue to find it harder and more expensive to attract and retain the quality people they need in their organizations. The cost of the problem will continue to grow impacting their bottom line and hampering their ability to grow their profits year after year.
But there will be winners. The big winners will be the businesses who can shift their paradigm around employment and management to embrace the fact that employment is a business deal. Those companies who are nimble, creative and find it easy to be flexible and break tradition around the way they think about employment, management and employees, those that can shift their paradigm and realize that the relationship between employer and employee has changed and so must they, will be able to attract, motivate and retain the best employees.