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Employee retention: more questions than answers.

Employee Retention: More Questions Than Answers

You have just completed a lengthy meeting with your boss during which you discussed several new programs being implemented in the next six months. During this meeting, your boss approved the five additional engineers you requested to assist in implementing these new programs.

As you return to your office, Boyd Simpson, one of your senior engineers, asks if he can have a few minutes of your time. Boyd follows you into your office and sits down at his usual spot on the corner of your work table. As you have for the past five years you've worked together, you spend a few minutes discussing family and the weekend ball games.

It is at the end of this discussion that he informs you that his wife has been promoted to a senior position with her company and is being transferred to corporate headquarters in Chicago. Therefore, he is submitting his resignation to become effective at the end of the month.

You were planning to ask him to hire the new staff personnel and to coordinate the new projects. How do you respond to his wife's opportunity?

Let's look at another situation.

As director of special engineering projects, you place a strong personal emphasis on your ability to locate and train qualified personnel for your section. One of your rewards for your efforts is to inform a staff member of their promotion to other assignments within the organization. So it is with a special pride that you call Susan Williams and ask her to come to your office.

As she enters your office, you congratulate her on her promotion and reassignment to the information systems management group. You are a bit surprised as she sighs heavily, sits down next to your desk and apologetically hands you a letter containing her resignation.

How do you respond to her resignation?

We are all aware of the potential of these two scenarios occurring, and many of us have faced them, either from a personal or a professional perspective. What do you do? After all, your employee is sitting in your office and you have to make a decision.

In many organizations your next step has been formally defined within the company's policies and operating procedures. Do you follow these formal practices, or do you attempt to salvage the situation?

As a manager, you may approach these issues with mixed emotions. Do you try to talk Susan out of leaving the organization and hope that you can keep her through the next few months? This will involve determining why she wants to leave, the new opportunity she has accepted, and probably an actual or promised pay increase. Would your efforts, and perhaps a promotion or salary increase, be little more than a short-term response to your present needs at the expense of the employee?

Of course, we have not considered the question that her resignation may be a political power play and that she does not have another position. If you are able to talk her into staying, can you trust her again? She has quit once, and may do it again. After all, a salary increase and/or a promotion will look good on a revised resume.

Should you concern yourself with these issues? Or do you accept her resignation, congratulate her on her new opportunity and walk her to the personnel department for her exit interview?

How do you respond to Boyd's opportunity? After all, he told you that he is not leaving because he is dissatisfied with your organization. His wife has received a better opportunity, and he is becoming the trailing spouse. Are your thoughts centered around the career potential Boyd is abandoning in support of his wife's career? But it wasn't too long ago when an organization expected the wife to drop her career and follow the husband.

Discussions on situations as these are becoming more common in professional association meetings, technical and popular publications and journals, in-house seminars, and even in upper division and graduate level classes on the university campus.

Initial discussions on employment opportunities and career changes are soon expanded to include other significant issues as medical costs, dual career families, "glass ceilings," retirement, transfers, "the mommy track," day-care, team-building, organizational restructuring, or motivation. The issues are complex and sometimes emotional. Within many organizations, there is a natural tendency to pass them off to the specialists within the personnel function and not worry about them. But is this an appropriate response?

The two situations discussed above appear to be different. Are they? In either case, someone within your organization has resigned. You are left with an open position that must be filled. In one case, you may be able to retain the employee. In the other, all you can offer is your assistance in locating another position. And, if your organization is large enough, maybe a potential transfer to the Chicago facility.

You may face these or similar situations on any given day at the office. What complicates these scenarios is that the answer you develop reading this article may (and probably will) be different from the one you develop as you face the actual situation. More than likely, the response you develop today will probably be different from the one you would develop next week. This is not to say that you approach the problems differently. Only that your personal circumstances, the nature of your activities that day, and the personnel involved will have a significant influence on your solution.

If you are looking for five easy, standard, recommendations or answers to these scenarios, this is the wrong place to look. In fact, there are more answers than questions. It is the number of potential appropriate responses that is making the area of organizational staffing and career planning more complex.

What we can do is remind you of several basic strategies to reduce the loss potential to your department if these, or other similar, situations occur. For example:

* Have you identified two people to fill each position within your department in the event of a vacancy?

* Have you initiated the training to reduce the downtime if you must reassign this individual? * Are your people effectively cross-trained in several positions within your department to allow effective coverage during vacation or illness?

* During your periodic reviews with your staff, do you ask them what specific opportunities they are looking for within their job?

* If possible, are you able to assist them in working towards these goals?

At the organizational level, does your company:

* Have and utilize an established program of employee retention?

* Provide an effective program for promotion and/or transfer within the organization?

* Have and utilize an effective program of exit interviews to determine why employees are leaving the organization?

From the perspective of retaining present employees or in assisting new employees, does your organization have a formal policy that:

* Provides effective relocation assistance for trailing spouses?

* Provides assistance in recommending or locating child or adult day-care facilities?

* Provides a predefined and limited amount of time off without penalty for employees to use for personal business, as taking other family members to the doctor, school visits, and so forth?

This is not an all inclusive listing of questions. Each management team must decide what steps are appropriate for their organization. What may work for one firm may have a disastrous impact within another organization.

There is no way we can reduce the element of surprise when effective and valued employees accept other opportunities and submit their resignations. What we can do is develop and implement a program that will allow us the options of attempting to retain the employee or to recover from the loss as quickly as possible. Part of this option is the development of a personnel philosophy that recognizes the importance of the employee and the value of their contributions to the organization.

There is a definite cost element involved with some of these ideas. In many cases, this may be one of the deciding factors in the development and implementation of an extensive employee retention program. But the real cost may become apparent as a result of not considering or implementing these programs.

Richard M. Morris is president of R.M. Morris and Associates, a management consulting firm in Dayton, Ohio. Morris received his MBA from Portland State University, and is involved in research and management control systems, planning, and organizational analysis. He is a senior member of the Institute of Industrial Engineers and director of IIE District 6.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc. (IIE)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Support Systems
Author:Morris, Richard M., III
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:Sep 1, 1990
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