Experts: Efforts now will prevent losses when recovery comes

NORTH BAY — As the job market slowly rebounds, employers who relied on slimmer, more pressed staffs could be in for a surprise – many of them could be eying a swift departure once the opportunity arrives.

According to a recent poll by the Philadelphia-based human resources company Right Management, 60 percent of employees said they intend on leaving their current job once the market is stabilized.

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The recession may have led some companies to overly rely on the fact that there are fewer opportunities in the workplace and that employees will remain where they are out of necessity, according to Jill Williams, president and chief executive officer of HR Biz Partners in San Rafael. But such executives should take note of any perceived recovery if they want to maintain the talent pool.

“As the economy as a whole recovers, it’s going to be about retaining the talent that you have remaining,” she said. “And as the economy opens up, employees are going to look at how they’ve been treated.”

Ms. Williams’ viewpoint was echoed by Brenda Gilchrist, principal and founder of the HR Matrix, who encouraged chief executives to take the economic downturn as a moment to recognize the contributions employees have made amid staff reductions and reduced pay.

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“CEOs should pay attention to a possible mass exodus when the job market opens up,” she said. “The executives that say, ‘You should be lucky to have a job,’ may end up being lucky if they have 20 percent of their work force stay when the job market improves.”

Ms. Williams and Ms. Gilchrist said the reasons for a potential en masse migration from the work force are twofold: opportunities for personal advancement among employees was virtually erased during the sharp downturn, and employees who’ve endured steep pay decreases or tamped down benefits packages won’t be looking to do so for much longer.

“Employers have gotten somewhat spoiled because there was nowhere to go for employees,” Ms. Williams said, adding that she is advising clients to begin addressing the matter before any sudden surprises, particularly if a company is looking to expand in light of better economic conditions.

“That’s part of the message – how to hang onto what you have after you grow.”

One way of preventing an exodus of top talent is to retool benefits packages, Ms. Williams said.

“Certainly benefits play a role in that,” she said, noting that employers would do well to seek more affordable plans for employees. “Employees are much savvier about compensation packages, so employers need to step up to the plate.”

Wanda Lee, a local executive coach, agreed that executives should heed the warning. She said she recently told a CEO, “Think of your employees as investors – they are investing their time, their talents and their energies in your company.”

Ms. Gilchrist, who heads a HR Roundtable, a group of HR executives in the North Bay, said she found “companies that thrive the most during and after a recession are those that invest in their employees.”

The number of employees leaving jobs voluntarily recently outpaced the number of those laid off or fired, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for the first time since just before October 2008. The number of voluntary departing employees per month had been about 2.7 million since the BLS began tracking the statistic. But since October of 2008, that number dropped to about 1.7 million. The number only recently ticked upward, at roughly 1.87 million in March of this year.