Are you prepared for the looming employee mutiny?

More than 80 percent of employees plan to jump ship this year. What can communicators do to prevent a mass exodus?


The economic downturn of the last few years has taken a toll on employers and employees alike.

In some ways, management has held the upper hand. They’ve been telling employees the only way their company can survive—and people can keep their jobs—is by going “the extra mile” and “doing more with less,” including little if any salary increases.

The end is near

Here’s some compelling evidence. In a recent study conducted by Vistage, 84 percent of their CEO members answered “yes” to this question: “Have you learned how to make your business more productive with fewer employees?”

Who can blame them? Tough times call for tough measures, right?

Up to now, employees have pretty much gone along. But that may be coming to an end. A different study conducted recently by Right Management coincidentally shows that 84 percent of employees say they’re going to be looking for a new job in 2012—and for good reason.

These days, when young boomers say “50 is the new 40,” it’s not just about age—it’s about being expected to work 50 hours a week for 40 hours of pay. The good news for employees is the job market is improving, giving them more options. The bad news for employers is that workers are getting fed up, and we’re likely to see an employee “mutiny” in the not too distant future.

It’s just a matter of time before people start jumping ship and companies across America begin finding themselves with a serious talent drain that’s going to be very costly to replace. That includes front line supervisors and middle managers who, in many cases, are struggling hardest of all as job vacancies have been left unfilled and resources have been stripped away.

At the same time, they’re still being expected to maintain or expand output. Even if people don’t physically bail out, the “mental mutiny” from trying to keep up that kind of pace is almost inevitable.

Ask the right questions

Trying to deal with that challenge, I often hear managers pleading, “How do I motivate my people?” The problem is, it’s a bad question, and here’s what I tell those managers.

First … Unless God has taken you in as a partner, or you’ve taken in slaves, employees are not your people. They are independent adult human beings who want some say and control over what happens in the workplace—especially when it affects them directly.

Second … You’re wasting your time. There’s only one kind of motivation, and that’s self-motivation. Anything else is either carrots, sticks, sweet-talk or begging. If that’s what you’re using to try and “motivate your people,” the best you can expect to get from employees is compliance—never excellence and certainly not extra effort.

Once managers come to terms with that basic reality, they can ask a better question about how to engage employees in a dialogue about extra effort: “How can I get the very best that people are willing and able to contribute to the mutual benefit of their own personal growth and the success of this organization?”

Right the ship with trust

The key to getting that voluntary extra effort comes down to a simple, yet powerful five-letter word—TRUST. It’s a belief that people will do the right thing … in the right way … at the right time. So what are some of those “right things” you need in order to build trust?

1. Employees need to see their managers demonstrate behaviors that build credibility—caring, honesty and openness, responsiveness, competence, reliability, and the willingness to admit when they’re wrong and apologize for it.

2. Design the organization’s primary people-systems —measurement, rewards and recognition, communication, learning and development, and continuous improvement—in a way that tells employees loud and clear that “You come first, and we trust you to do the right thing.”

History shows that most ship captains who’ve experienced a mutiny have gotten what they deserve. If companies want to avoid the same fate during the economic recovery, they better change their tune AND start asking the right questions.

Les Landes is president of Landes & Associates, which focuses on aligning marketing communications and employee engagement.

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