The moment you employ someone they are likely to be looking for a bigger
challenge elsewhere. Scott Beagrie finds out how smart companies discourage
itchy feet among their best employees
Do you realise that at this very moment, one in three of your new starters
inducted this week is already scouring the appointments pages or surfing the
net for another job? A study published by career consultancy Penna Sanders
& Sidney, reveals that 36 per cent of respondents actively search for a
better deal, even on their first day of a new job.
The figures are more marked among younger employees (aged 16-39) with seven
in 10 (73 per cent) constantly on the look out for something better.
Consequently, they keep their CVs and career history up-to-date – ready to move
swiftly if a fresh opportunity presents itself.
These findings are largely consistent with the view of HR managers in two
other recent surveys.
Figures presented at the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development’s
Annual Recruitment Conference in June show that 72 per cent of 557
organisations surveyed report retention difficulties – up by 22 per cent on the
And nearly half (48 per cent) of HR managers in an IRS Employment Review
survey, published in May, reported that labour turnover had been ‘uncomfortably
high’ over the previous 12 months.
Penna’s study, Itchy Feet, which examines the attitudes to work of 1,010
employees, highlights the rise of the assured, self-reliant and unsentimental
employee who is well-informed about the job market and whose only loyalty is to
their career – not their employer.
The findings also point to further deterioration in the psychological
contract between employer and employee, and an alarming gap between the rhetoric
and reality of the publicised endeavours of many organisations to find and
retain the best talent. Four out of 10 respondents (41 per cent) claim their
employers show no interest in discovering what they want from their careers.
The same number do not expect to be with their current employer in 12 months’
"The relationship between employer and employee has changed
dramatically compared with 10 or 15 years ago," says Mike Haffenden, a
director of Careers Research Forum, commenting on the research.
"Individuals recognise that old-fashioned loyalty just doesn’t exist any
more. And they won’t think twice about moving if they don’t like the prospects,
the people or the money."
Absurdly, it is precisely these qualities of being able to take charge and
act on their initiative that also makes the new breed of self-reliant employee
a key asset.
As Robert Ingram, vice-president, human resources, Cap Gemini Ernst &
Young (CGE&Y), underlines: "We want people who have itchy feet in the
sense that they are keen to take on new challenges, to develop and to embrace
change," he explains. "The last thing we want is for all our
employees to want to carry on doing everything exactly as they have always done
it. But we want them to be able to walk around inside our company rather than
having to walk out."
Employee loyalty may have gone out of the window, but it doesn’t mean
employers – or HR for that matter – have to be acquiescent in the affair. Competitive
demands, skills shortages and the costs of recruiting and training
replacements, makes it imperative for businesses to take action and put the
management structures and mechanisms in place to prevent the wholesale
departure of employees to rival organisations.
Encouragingly, the solutions identified by respondents in the Itchy Feet
study are not elusive and fall within HR’s remit. These include promotion
(cited by 46 per cent), better training and development (41 per cent), more
recognition of contribution (36 per cent), more information of how they are
doing (32 per cent), regular reviews of progress (27 per cent) and career
switch opportunities (20 per cent).
Any response to retention problems should of course, be tailored to that
particular business’ circumstances, but it is unlikely that bolting on two or
three initiatives or a ‘one-size fits all’ approach will work. Line managers
are also seen as playing a vital role in retention and career development, and
should own the initiatives – although Marks & Spencer, which is reviewing
its career development programme is questioning their involvement.
"There is a school of thought that this is not their area of
expertise," says Tracy Gunn, a learning specialist in management and
leadership development at the retailer, "and [therefore] should we have a
cadre of people in the business who can actually coach and give advice
specifically on careers?"
These issues aside, any organisation that is prepared to take action must
put the career development of its people at the heart of how it manages and
leads. Global consultancy CGE&Y is one company that has done this and has
been rewarded with a notable impact on its retention rates. Its approach
centres on a rigorous quarterly survey, which provides a continual flow of
information about employees’ attitudes and wants, supported by a powerful
Taking the initiative
All vacancies are posted on the company’s intranet and employees can also
request them to be e-mailed directly to their desktops. A ‘hot assignments’
section encourages individuals to take the initiative and put themselves
forward for assignments they like the sound of.
"We publicise them so you don’t have to wait to be asked," says
Ingram. The initiatives are all underpinned by a recruitment strategy that
focuses on the junior end of the organisation, with staff then encouraged to
seek fresh challenges and develop within the company.
"It is easy to move on, but the company that provides the best
opportunities, the best culture and the most interesting work will be able to
retain its people," says Ingram.
The net result is that only 8 per cent of CGE&Y employees anticipate
they will leave before the year-end, 40 per cent wish to remain with the
company for more than five years, while 29 per cent were undecided.
However, as Ingram, who hopes to reduce the undecided figure to 20 per cent,
observes: "If you have talented people you’re always going to have
turnover, and if you have a good reputation, rivals will always hunt your best
Seven ways to retain and motivate employees
– Work out a retention programme and
build a reputation as a good employer
– Improve internal communications – conduct regular surveys to
find out what’s important to employees. Exit interviews also provide valuable
information on which to act
– Use the information gleaned to design jobs that excite and
inspire. Job swapping, secondments, and project work are also effective ways of
– Make company objectives clear as well as the rewards and
benefits employees can expect in return
– Be attentive to the needs and ambitions of employees and
think creatively about how to motivate them
– Recognise performance/achievement
– Appreciate when not to stand in the way of an employee who
wants to leave – individuals will increasingly have to change organisations to