Career Skills

Turnover Does Not Have To Be Inevitable

By Gary Perman

Unemployment is now at 4.5 percent. More businesses are planning to hire. Your staff begins to get those calls. (You know which calls I mean – the ones from recruiters.) Managers and executives have to face up to a fear that they have been putting off for some time – the moment they realized that they aren’t ready for any upturn in economic activity.

Lower unemployment is great news for the economy, but it also presents more challenges for executives and managers who are trying to surface, hire and retain great people.

As little as one person leaving your company could have crippling effects on revenue and product innovation.

Is your staff getting calls from recruiters yet? Those calls should be a good sign for you. They are a sign that the economy really is growing. However, turnover does not have to be inevitable. Beyond their relationships with their managers, how employees perceive their company’s the senior leadership – and the support they give them – may determine whether they take those recruiters’ calls or don’t.

If you think of your company as a vehicle, imagine that your employees are the engine. As the leader, you are the ECU that keeps the engine running efficiently. As production ramps up, your vehicle needs to kick into high gear and sustain it for a long period of time as more orders must be filled. While the new economy’s pace is energizing after the last few years of sluggishness, management needs to ask itself, “How can our leaders make the difference between sluggish and high performance?”

Evidence continues to mount linking engagement with productivity, and because business is steadily improving, ensuring that your workforce is fully engaged is critical to your firm’s success. HR departments are warning operations executives of potentially crippling turnover ahead if management does not get out in front of the issue now.


A 2008 Tower-Watson global workforce study defined “employee engagement” as “the level of connection employees feel with their employers as measured by their willingness to help their company succeed.” Research shows that employees will go above and beyond for an employer they feel a personal connection with. It is this heightened level of communication that employers should look for to harness in their teams. If your executive management team consistently works to foster high engagement, employees will reward it with their best efforts each and every day. Conversely, if employees get the message that they are not valued, engagement wanes and, along with it, productivity.

So how critical is it to power your people to produce at their best? One in five workers admits to giving their full discretionary effort on the job, according to The Conference Board’s 2010 study on job satisfaction. It also showed that fifty five percent (55%) of U.S. workers are unhappy with their jobs – the highest since the annual survey began in 1987. One third of employees are seriously considering leaving their jobs according to a poll by HR consultants Mercer, LLC. Unhappy employees are likely to produce much less, opting instead to spend work time searching job boards, playing games on Facebook, and shopping online. So not only should management be concerned about productivity decline, but also be concerned about disengaged employees who have mentally “checked out” and are warming a valuable seat in the office, costing you revenue. In fact, the Gallup Organization estimates that “actively disengaged” workers cost US businesses up to $300 Billion per year.

Maybe you are reading this and saying to yourself “my people are engaged, operating fully charged.” Before you dismiss the premise, understand that disengaged employees are hard to spot. With company consolidations, mergers and acquisitions, and automation being high, people remain fearful for their jobs, so it is more likely that someone who is not committed to the company is hiding their dissatisfaction from management. After all, who wants to lose their job because they complain? So they show up, not really there, and produce very little.

Historically, as business begins to improve, coming out of slow economic growth, companies find they are less and less able to sustain productivity and are forced to hire. When that happens, unemployment declines and workers begin to have choices again. That spells serious trouble for business managers and executives who have ignored the welfare of their workforce during slow times, as key people leave for greener pastures. You may have already seen it starting to happen with sales and business development people in the industry. If you haven’t, now is the time to get involved with your subordinates’ success.

Strategies for Powering Your People

Here are some strategies to drive productivity and to mitigate employee defection to your competitors:


Be visible in the field regularly

In my experience with my clients, I have noticed that executives and managers with high-performing employees do not isolate themselves. They practice Management by Walking Around. Immersing yourself among all of your people and investing your time strolling around offices, the cafeteria, the manufacturing floor and communicating with your employees – regardless of where they reside on the corporate ladder – will give you valuable information and a tremendous return on investment.

How many presidents know the first name of their machine operators or maintenance manager? Just knowing someone’s first name and acknowledging him in his workplace can foster greater engagement and stronger loyalty. Studies show that employees who perceive that their big boss really identifies with their day-to-day challenges, and is working to alleviate them, will reward the company with full engagement and high productivity in return.

Strive for excellence, not perfection

Capitalize on what employees are best at. Concentrating on the capabilities of individual workers, and making them partners in setting goals motivates people to strive for optimal performance in their greatest area of strengths.

Do not focus on what your employees cannot do, but rather ask them what they can commit to. When employees work hard at what they are best at, the result is higher quality for your customers and clients.

Trust + Fun = results

In these times of layoffs, it may seem hard for employees to trust management. As the manager, you need to find ways to build that level of trust. Once employees see that you “have their backs,” they will begin to put out more for you. One thing you can do is to encourage employees to step out on the edge – to feel free to make mistakes. It is how people learn. If something goes wrong, sit down and talk about what the employee’s intent was and how the outcome could be achieved by using an alternate approach.

Another way to grow trust is informal recognition. People thrive on recognition. The more you can sincerely recognize people, especially in front of peers, the more trust and productivity you will earn. Involving your team in fun and local community events gives employees an opportunity to disengage from the stress of the office and have a good time together.

With employee disengagement at an all-time high and ever-increasing productivity demands, it is more important now than ever for executives and managers to take personal responsibility for the productivity of the company’s workforce. Take action to implement strategies to consistently demonstrate that you understand and are responsive to the challenges of those on your team. Recognize and celebrate the individual strengths of each contributor, create an environment of trust, and make work more fun. Remember, your people are just one recruiter’s call away.

Gary Perman is past Chair of IEEE Oregon Section and member of IEEE TEMS. He is also president of PermanTech and an expert in headhunting critical talent since 1996. His focus is in recruiting engineering and management professionals within emerging vehicle technology companies.

Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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