By Linda Jackson of 10Eighty

It’s the downside of any upturn: the economic recovery is here, your order books are full and your business is gratefully cranking through the gears to meet the demand. Then suddenly, reality bites. A key member of staff knocks on your door to tell you about the better offer they have had elsewhere. The news unsettles the team and causes some to reassess whether they, too, should “look around”. And you realise that apparently loyal and enthusiastic staff in recession were in fact overworked and disgruntled all along. Do you know who in your talented team will leave next now the good times are back?
And is there anything you can do to re-engage and retain them?

On average, one in six employees intends to leave his or her job in the next 12 months — with half of the workforce expecting to move on within the next three years. Money is often cited as the number one reason why people leave, yet the truth is much more complicated. Moving jobs is a time-consuming business and involves effort and change- something many humans won’t readily embrace unless they are truly disengaged; fully engaged employees are unlikely to be tempted by anything short of a step change in their salary.

The big question is whether they are they fully engaged as the economy picks up? In many cases, people move during an upturn because they have tolerated, rather than embraced, the company culture, weren’t fully appreciated in bad times and now feel that they are now investing more time and energy in meeting the demand than they are getting back in career development.

According to recent evidence in the Harvard Business Review, it is these meaningful development opportunities that revitalise
sagging enthusiasm. Career development is never easy, because every employee has different needs. Our own research, however, shows that that this is key to re-engagement and retention. Employees who have someone actively encouraging their development are twice as likely to feel engaged — and much more likely to stay put when that tempting job offer comes along.

The big challenge, however, is that many line managers themselves feel disconnected from the notion of career development. Too often, they see training and development of their team as an inconvenient short-term loss of resource in the face of growing demand. They feel under pressure from above to keep their team’s collective heads down to keep producing (a lot) more with less. This may feel like a good short-term strategy, but when it happens, staff retention becomes nothing more than a temporary coincidence of interests with employees, exactly at the moment when rival employers are starting to tempt them away.

Career conversations can sometimes feel uncomfortable, stoking (and possibly not meeting) employee expectations and actually hastening the departure of key staff. A more positive pathway to re-engaging and retaining talent is to view career development as essential to the growth of key skills for the business, with managers enabling the employee to take responsibility for their own career development. Employees demanding development have an obligation to themselves to understand their own values, motivators and talents better in order to put together a coherent career plan.

This isn’t easy in the modern workplace, but it is possible. With so many organisations pared down to the bone, attention is shifting towards new online tools that afford staff the time to reflect and engage with career development. Technology holds the key to a new career bargain between employee and employer — one that could stick. Those that do plan, the evidence shows, are much more likely to achieve their goals, with their line managers then more likely to listen, understand their coherent aspirations and then highlight internal opportunities that will challenge and stretch them.

Good people will always get good offers to leave your business, but when they do make sure that they are as engaged as they possibly can be. When that offer comes, they should be clear in their own minds that their current employer knows far more about their capabilities and promotion opportunities, in a way that a potential new employer could take years to understand. That alone should give them pause for serious thought before deciding to leave.