Productive Employees Don’t Want to Be Retained (And Other Myths)

employee.retentionI read an article in The New York Times yesterday which reported a fact that, if not totally shocking, was none the less disturbing: while productivity among American workers has surged in recent years, wages have remained flat (with the exception of earners in the top 1%).

This came as little surprise to me – and, if you’re a knowledge worker who’s maintained a job and a pulse since the financial crisis hit 4 years ago, this likely came as little surprise to you, too. People have been working extra-hard for a variety of reasons: fear of losing their jobs primarily, but also because when companies look to cut costs, frequently they eliminate positions and re-distribute the workload among the remaining staff.

During tough times, this happens at all employment & managerial levels- perhaps it has happened to you? Were you thrilled to still have a job in a bad economy, yet frustrated by little to no additional compensation to complement this added workload? Were you promised rewards for your efforts which never materialized? Did your number of direct reports double, but your salary increase wasn’t even close to being commensurate?

What upset me the most about the NYT article is that it seems to convey an acceptance of this situation by workers, managers and decision makers alike. Is this really the trend? Are skilled, educated staff to expect that for the rest of their careers, they won’t be rewarded for being productive? What kind of message does that send?

I’ll tell you: the message is, “Find another job.”

From a leadership perspective, this just doesn’t make any sense. Don’t we want to retain our top talent, rather than see them work for a competitor? Even my beloved NYC corporate team building activities aren’t the solution here: systemic, conscious commitment to retain the best is what’s needed. Alas, when times are tough the bottom line is all that matters, and maybe the loss of a high-salaried person – no matter how talented – is actually a blessing in disguise. Or maybe these high performers actually WANT to move on, and don’t want to feel burdened. After all, those whose lights shine brightest are also the ones with the itchiest feet, and we won’t be able to quench their thirst for development, advancement and compensation forever (especially in this economy).

But I just can’t accept that. Exceptional talent is, and always will be, hard to find, and companies should be doing everything they can to retain their best people. These will be the folks who boost your productivity, make you competitive in the marketplace and, ultimately, carry you to success.

Why treat them poorly?

(Image courtesy of The New York Times)

Leave a Comment