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Keep people happy through the recession

With job losses and pay-cuts all around us, it’s easy to see why the number of voluntary leavers within businesses has reduced. By Mark Bailey

But while it’s easy to be complacent about the people who are still with you, this is a risky strategy. 

The reasons for this are two-fold: first, there are still jobs in the market for your best people. Second, how you behave now will bear fruit in busier times – if you treat people poorly, the moment they have an opportunity to move on, they will.   

Instead, it’s wise to maintain a focus on retention and engagement and it need not cost money.

Employees need to feel secure, although you may not be able to give the long-term guarantees that they would like. However, you can plan positively for shorter timescales and agree objectives for three to six months, which can be reviewed and celebrated on completion.

Likewise, while there may not be large budgets for team events or social activity, small things count – celebrating successes with a glass of wine or chocolates all round costs little but can have great impact. 

On the flip-side, avoid austere money-saving schemes like changing the office coffee to a cheaper brand, or issuing edicts about new expenses rules as these create a negative environment which is full of doom and gloom.

Motivate people

Line managers also need to take responsibility for motivating people and acting as role models. They need to inspire, create a sense of fun, and talk confidently about the future. While it’s dangerous to be over-optimistic, good, honest communication which provides a realistic picture is useful.  

Even if news is less than positive, it is best to be as open as possible, letting people make their own decisions and giving them an element of control over their future. We have found that some employers are hesitant to discuss reducing working hours, only to find that some staff are willing to take unpaid leave during school holidays or work fewer hours to accommodate other commitments.

This flexibility and the creation of a positive working environment can only strengthen the psychological contract between the organisation and employee which will help retention rates, now and in the busier times to come. 

Mark Bailey is director of service delivery at people consultancy Holtby Turner

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