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Employee Retention

  The Workforce is Changing the Way We Do Business
By Roger E. Herman, CSP, CMC
First Serial Rights to USA Today Magazine

Abstract: The changing workforce is influencing the way companies do business, suggesting that workforce stability will be an employer's competitive edge.

The workforce is changing. The way we work is changing. The way we do business is changing.

Employers who want to be in business--successfully--five years from now must begin to do things differently. The entire employment environment is on the verge of dramatic upheaval, and the consequences will be far-reaching.

What might cause such a significant shift? The driving force is changes in the workforce. Young people want something different. But, that's not big news. Young people have always wanted something different than what their parents had. Today's condition goes deeper, because the desire for change is not limited to young people. Practically our entire society is in transition.

People of all ages are seeking something better, or at least something different. A rising tide of dissatisfaction with many aspects of life has inspired people to look more eagerly for the grass on the other side of the fence. The irony of this searching is that the grass on the other side of the fence is crab grass, similar to what they've been accustomed to. But hope springs eternal, so people will continue looking for the end of the rainbow. They'll change jobs, occupations, and locations to find their ideal situation.

There is an unsettledness in the land. An increasing proportion of people don't feel "centered;" they don't feel comfortable with their present circumstances . . . whatever their circumstances may be. This uneasiness will drive a number of trends that will deeply impact the food distribution industry. People now have society's permission to change jobs, to change careers-a much different attitude than just a few years ago.

The Need for Competent Workers

Just as workers are discontent, so are retailers and customers. They are searching, too, and their expectations are rising. They demand more, and expect to get it. If they are not served as they expect, they will go elsewhere . . . and they'll make a lot of noise on the way. Not meeting--or exceeding--the expectations of customers could easily damage, or even destroy, a business.

So, what does it take to serve customers? Competent, experienced, dedicated employees are essential. Without these good people, employers just can't fulfill their missions; they can't meet the expectations of the marketplace. Employers need people who know their jobs, who work well together, and who know and understand how they do business.

The people who work for our companies must be trained in their areas of specialty. If they are trained and at least minimally experienced in some other aspect of the business, all the better. This cross-training and cross-experience gives employers a built-in back-up in case someone is ill, or someone leaves, or if there is an overload of work in a particular area. This broad capacity gives companies important flexibility to be able to run a lean organization, without a lot of extra people who eat up profits by contributing to excessive payrolls. This capacity will be the competitive edge in the years ahead.

The statements I've made are easy to skim over with an "of course," but in today's world it's critically important to pay deeper attention to these concepts. We used to take these things for granted, but it's dangerous to do that in these turbulent times.

Where are the Workers?

Employers in most fields face increasingly severe shortages of qualified, willing workers. We just don't have as many applicants as we used to. Competition for workers is intensifying. There simply aren't enough qualified people for all the jobs. Recruiting good people is a lot more difficult than in the past.

So, where are all the people who used to line up outside our doors to apply for our jobs? What happened the abundance of applicants that gave us that sense of confidence of always being able to hire the people we needed--at reasonable wages?

Several trends are influencing the Employer's Dilemma. Each of these trends has an impact on practically every employer.

Fewer People Entering Workforce. A generation ago we saw a 20% drop in the birth rate. Now, as the Baby Busters enter the workforce, we have 20% fewer people entering the labor force. The shortfall is most obvious in the 18-24 age range--the population group we traditionally expect to fill the entry level jobs. The expected supply simply isn't there.

Another challenge is that the attitudes of these young people are different from what employers have come to expect from employees. They are more demanding, challenging the status quo--even in hiring interviews. Supervisors don't know how to respond to these more independent and restless employees.

Insufficient Qualified Applicants. A frightening proportion of our workforce lacks basic qualifications to do much of the work associated with jobs available today. Studies show that illiteracy and innumeracy affects a third of our labor pool. Many applicants are limited to performing work that requires no reading, writing, or math skills. And, in those cases, supervisors have to work much more closely with employees to monitor work performance. This need taxes the supervisors, so they have difficulty getting their jobs done.

Employers are discovering that workers are often not trained to perform work assigned. Even those who shift from similar work for another employer have not been adequately trained to fulfill the standards of their jobs. For years, their mediocrity has been so tolerated by supervisors, they are "trained" to do an insufficient job.

Expanding Economy Absorbing Workers. As the economy expands, new jobs are created in retailing, manufacturing, and other service fields. Employment in all these categories will continue to expand, absorbing the unemployed and the underemployed.

Many of these jobs can be filled by people who could work in a number of different jobs in many fields. Future-focused workers will opt for the more exciting jobs, lured by potential for advancement--skill building, as well as lateral or upward mobility.

The shortages will intensify in the years ahead as the hot economy creates more jobs. Employers will face competition for workers from competitors in their industries, but, they also face competition from any company in any industry that wants to attract high-performing employees. Workers know what skills and talents they have, so they can now take their expertise and potential results wherever they want to. No more restrictions.

What's the Answer?

In the midst of all this turmoil, there are some legitimate answers. They require change, change that some companies-or their employees-will be unwilling or unable to make. Those companies unwilling to change may well find themselves in highly vulnerable positions as they encounter increasing difficult to find, optimize, and keep good people.

  1. Change your corporate culture. Is your company the kind of place people want to work? Are they empowered? Accountable? Do workers collaborate to achieve results, or wait for management to make decisions? Do workers have a clear sense of mission, of goals, of measurement of accomplishment? People want to work for successful companies . . . where they can help achieve that success.

  2. Modernize your leadership. Are your managers and supervisors focused on management or leadership? Are they attuned to the needs and expectations of today's workers? The relationship between employees and their immediate supervisors is most important in building workforce longevity.

  3. Become more adaptable, agile, responsive. How quickly can you and your people change to respond to shifting circumstances? Do you offer flexibility to your workers-in hours, in how they approach their work, in where they work? Do you facilitate telecommuting? Are your people well-trained, cross-trained? Personal and professional growth are of paramount importance to today's workers.

  4. Concentrate on building workforce stability. Forget the revolving door of recruiting and hiring any warm body. It doesn't work and will just create more problems for you. Replacing people who leave will become more challenging. Evaluate the qualifications for your next hire(s), and become more selective. If you're going to invest in retention, you might as well have good people to retain.

    The future will be significantly different than the past. This means you must change the way you do business. You can not manage tomorrow like you managed yesterday-or even today. Hang on, it's going to be a wild ride!

Choices are Abundant

Workers have more choices of jobs, career fields, and employers than ever before in history. Our expanding economy has created more positions, intensifying competition for a limited number of competent workers. Essentially, qualified employees today can write their own tickets. They can work wherever they want to work; positions are available. They can choose the kind of work they'll do, how they'll do it, where they'll do it-at a congregate workplace or from home or somewhere else, and when they'll do it.

This condition will continue for another decade, shifting dramatically the relationship between productive workers and needy employers. Companies that want to attract and hold top talent will pay increasingly more attention to positioning themselves properly in the employment marketplace. Becoming an Employer of ChoiceSM will enable companies to raise their profiles to become more inviting for preferred workers. The Employer of ChoiceSM recognition (www.employerofchoice.net) will provide a vehicle, similar to other recognition and competition programs run by magazines and community groups like chambers of commerce.

With workers in the driver's seat, savvy employers are changing the way they do business with their employees. Those employers who don't pay very careful attention to what's happening today could easily find themselves with an insufficient labor force before they know what's hit them. Recovery will be exceedingly difficulty, so prevention is the best advice.

Smart employers will act assertively now to build relationships with their employees that will inspire the good people to stay for longer periods of time. The custom of staying at one employers for decades is gone. Executives who have heard the wake-up call will concentrate on improving average longevity to succeed in the years ahead.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

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