Good Riddance, 2009

December 17, 2009
I’ve been struggling to come up with one good thing to say about the year 2009, and it has finally hit me: It’s over.

Yes, the best thing about this year is that it’s just about in our rearview mirror—and a good thing, too, because 2009 has been one of the single worst years of the past 70 for the American workforce.

Even terribly bad years have some value, however, and this year certainly leaves us with some great lessons we can take away, remember and, I hope, make use of so that 2010 has a little better chance of exceeding our expectations. You undoubtedly have your own lessons, but here are the things I learned from just surviving this year:

    Telling people they should be happy to have a job is not a good talent retention strategy. My friend and compensation expert Ann Bares pointed out on her Compensation Force blog the results of a poll: Half of employers surveyed “believe that the top factor keeping their highest-performing employees from leaving is the simple fact that no one else is hiring.”

This isn’t much of a strategy, as Bares rightly notes. But the “be thankful” admonition is one that all too many workers hear when they dare to describe the terrible indignities they’ve had visited on them this year. “What workers are telling us,” says Bernadette Kenny, chief career officer at Adecco Group North America, “is that even during a recession, just having a job does not equate to job satisfaction.”

The rubber may meet the road on this “strategy” in the not-too-distant future. A survey released this month by the Opinion Research Corp. shows that “the vast majority (80 percent) of those respondents who are currently employed would consider leaving their current job if presented with other opportunities.” Workers are ready to walk if the 2010 recovery really does materialize, and your most talented people may be looking to leave for an organization that appreciates them in both good times and bad.

It’s silly to worry about managing Millennials, or stress about multiple generations in the workplace. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: There is no single way to manage or deal with the Millennial generation (those born since 1980), just as there is no single way to manage any other generation in today’s workplace.

The notion that the Millennial generation is unique and different from generations before it is nonsense. Every generation has its quirks and preferences, and good leaders have always understood that the very essence of management is the ability to deal with lots of different types of people and personalities in the workplace.

This year saw a huge rise in the number of consultants trying to offer advice on how to manage all the different generations that now work together, but I think you have to question your ability as a manager if you need to spend money for a “leadership coach” to teach you how to deal with a segment of your workforce.

Managers in 2010 will need to deal with the realities of the economy and really work to help employees get their mojo back. Look, only a masochist would want the economy to continue to limp along like it has been. No one wants a “jobless recovery,” or worse, a double-dip recession where things head downhill again after the Christmas season ends and the government stimulus dollars run out.

But I’m tired of the happy talk that predicts the big economic recovery is just around the corner. The key to managing during these uncertain times is the ability to actively engage and help workers get past the depression and bad feelings that so many have about their work and the organizations they work for.

To get workers re-engaged, smart managers need to be plugged in to what their staffs are going through and looking for ways to help them get through these tough times. They also need to communicate and even over-communicate, so that no employee is surprised by what the business is going through and what senior management is doing to cope with it.

In other words, businesses everywhere need to help workers get beyond this grim year with its layoffs and cutbacks. With a possible economic recovery on the horizon, it is time for America’s business leaders to step up and start helping America’s workforce out of its funk.

Investing in the workforce, if it truly is the organization’s “most important resource,” would be a smart resolution not only for the new year, but a smart investment for years to come.

Workforce Management, December 14, 2009, p. 34 -- Subscribe Now!