To Help Retain Employees in a Strong Job Market, Keep Them Moving

With summer now in the rearview mirror, more Americans are back to clocking in longer hours and crunching more deadlines. All this should be bearable—and for the most part, enjoyable—if workers like what they do.

So, are Americans satisfied with their jobs? To find out, The Conference Board surveyed over 2,000 individuals from various sectors and locations throughout the U.S. Together, they represent a snapshot of the nation’s workforce.

Let’s start with the good news: After many years of high dissatisfaction during and following the Great Recession, a small but clear majority of the workforce now feels content with their employment. Satisfaction jumped from 51 percent in the prior year to nearly 54 percent. Workers also report being much more at ease about their job security. And they’re largely happy with their commutes, colleagues, and bosses.

But the picture isn’t all rosy: Workers gave weak marks to their current job’s potential for future growth. Out of 23 factors, our research identified that component as having the most influence on satisfaction, but less than 40 percent are satisfied with it. Growth becomes an even bigger concern in today’s tight job market, when workers can more easily attain new jobs that better align with their skills and future plans.

This cautionary sign should motivate CEOs and management to re-examine their organizations’ programs around employee development. They should consider an approach called Total Talent Mobility, by The Conference Board, which keeps employees growing by periodically moving them around the organization. Here are some tips for putting Total Talent Mobility into practice:

Avoid the temptation to hoard talent

The Conference Board’s research shows that talent-hoarding is one of the top barriers to mobility. Simply, leaders are unwilling to let top employees move from their team. This occurs when managers overly prioritize their individual metrics to the detriment of the organization’s overall success and/or their top employees’ desires to learn and grow.

To prevent this, CEOs must hold their companies’ leaders accountable for mobility. In this case, it means regularly reporting the number of internal moves, along with assignee performance ratings and retention numbers. At one global financial services organization, leaders take a reputational hit if they do not help their employees move internally; this creates a further downward spiral when other employees do not want to join their teams.

Focus on employees at all levels

Another core component of Total Talent Mobility is providing job rotations across all functions and levels. Every year, many large companies conduct leadership development programs, during which they have leaders rotate across different functions to acquire diverse experiences and gain broader business knowledge.

For emerging leaders, Johnson & Johnson does notable work. Rising stars participate in a four- to five-month development plan that provides them with a wide range of experiences where they learn from individuals — or organizations — both within and outside of the enterprise. The company retention rate for participants hovers around 80%.

Total talent mobility should also be used at more junior levels. BLS data shows that the average tenure of employees under 35 is only 2.8 years. Rotational programs and job shadowing provide employees with new skills so that they don’t have to switch companies in order to get them.

Invest in technology that facilitates talent mobility

Many companies lack the HR technology and data analytics capabilities to match employees’ skills and wishes with business needs. For years, HR has been spread among many disconnected systems, weakening workforce planning and preventing employees from moving flexibly across projects and teams.

What to do? Give employees the ability to provide a profile of their experience, qualifications, completed training, past roles, and assignments. They could also add their career aspirations (visible only to HR or project managers). Recruiters could then match profiles with potential job opportunities using various tools. For example, a U.S. global informational technology company has developed an AI tool to match its employees with internal opportunities and highlight relevant training.

Meeting the challenge

America’s CEOs cite the ability to attract and retain talent as a top business challenge for 2019. That comes as no surprise in today’s tight labor market, when workers are now leaving their jobs at the fastest pace in over two decades.

Rather than see rampant employee turnover as inevitable, CEOs and management can help spearhead robust advancement pipelines within their organizations. In doing so, they’ll boost the growth and satisfaction of their employees, making them more than good enough to leave but satisfied enough to stay.

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