David Plunkett

In a recent American Workplace Insight Survey conducted by workforce solutions company the Adecco Group, 53% of respondents said that they question their boss’ honesty; the same percentage said that their boss is unfair; 66% described their boss as impatient; and 76% said their boss lacks motivational skills.

A few years ago these feelings might have lead to employee exodus, but this recession has kept workers in their seats, even if they are unhappy with their situation. “Only one out of six Americans who have been looking for work can find a job,” says Joyce Gioia, president and CEO of The Herman Group, a consulting, speaking, and training firm. Whether they work for small companies or large corporations, Gioia says, “[workers] are staying in the safety and security of their cocoon. They [may not] like their jobs or co-workers, but they’re staying because they’re scared.”

In a blog post, Lance Haun, of brand management platform MeritBuilder, suggests that some company owners may be guilty of taking advantage of the economic situation by not acting with integrity, putting a spin on reality, or forgetting to reward employees’ hard work.

So, it pays to ask: As the economy picks up, will your employees stick around?


People leave their employers for a variety of reasons, says consultant Chris Stanton, owner of The Remodeler’s Advisor, in San Francisco. These may include lack of opportunity, lack of direction, and bad managers. “Most people,” he says, “regardless of how cautious or conservative, are always looking for opportunities to develop their skills and value in the marketplace, do challenging work, and make more money. An employer is at risk if he or she fails to provide adequate direction to [his or her] people. Employees want and need to know what the company future looks like and what their future looks like — short and long term. Last but certainly not least,” Stanton points out, “people generally leave managers, not companies. If you have plough horses managing thoroughbreds, the barn is going to empty sooner rather than later.”


Gioia suggests doing the following to make sure employees stay with you as the economy improves and new opportunities open up:

  • Conduct “stay interviews” and employee satisfaction surveys. Ask employees what they like or don’t like about the job; what they value about staying with your company; and what their “dissatisfiers” are. Then pay attention to their responses. Many organizations will do exit interviews — not so many do stay interviews.
  • Talk to your people. Running lean for the past two years has taken a toll on everyone. Maybe instead of giving a retention bonus, give an employee a long weekend away.
  • Try open book management. Get employees engaged in wanting to help you drive more to your bottom line. You don’t have to embrace “the great game of business” (from Jack Stack’s book of the same name) and spend money on training. Just start out by sharing information.
  • Fix any environment of distrust. Establish trust by making and keeping promises. Admit mistakes and come clean. Let people know how you’ll make it up to them. And it doesn’t mean money. It could be extra time off or more flexibility in where they work.
  • Say thank you in a way that is SMART. Specific: reinforces a particular behavior; Meaningful: comes from the heart; Appreciative: expresses your appreciation in a way that people get it; Realistic: is not overblown; Timely: reinforces behavior as quickly after you observed it as possible.

Stacey Freed, senior editor, REMODELING.