Staff retention woes lay ahead for HR as jobs market starts to recover

HR will have a mammoth task on its hands keeping staff engaged and committed to their employers when the jobs market picks up next year, experts have warned.

Staff who have either grabbed ‘stop-gap’ jobs during the recession, or are demotivated following redundancies or restructuring, will be looking to switch jobs as soon as they can, according to employers’ groups.

The warning comes as influential employment surveys out today (Tuesday) show signs of recovery in the jobs market, and predict a more positive hiring trend for 2010.

The Manpower Employment Outlook survey found that UK employers’ hiring intentions have leapt up from -5% in the first quarter of 2009 to 0% in the first three months of 2010.

The index, based on data from 2,100 employers, is calculated by subtracting those that plan to cut staffing levels from those that plan to hire staff. The finance sector has recovered the most, registering a recruitment intention of 7% for 2010.

Meanwhile, the Monster Employment Index found the number of jobs available online rose steadily to a reading of 116 in November, where the baseline is 100. This is the highest level since February, although it was down by 24% year-on-year.

Job availability in HR is also recovering, with a three-point leap to 66 compared to last month, the index found.

Hugo Sellert, head of economic research at Monster, told Personnel Today: “HR professionals have had a tough year behind them – they have had a lot of unpleasant work to do, like cutting jobs or benefits. But now is the time for HR to start thinking about retention again. As competition picks up, they need to appeal to staff about their own company being a good place to work.”

Angela Baron, engagement adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said: “Many people have taken ‘stop-gap’ jobs during the recession. But they will look to move into more career-based, long-term jobs when they can. Staff working where firms have restructured or made redundancies may also have become nervous or demotivated and will be looking to move on.”

She added: “Firms need to show an interest in careers, and communicate regularly about future plans. People need to see development opportunities open to them when the market does pick up.”

The Report on Jobs by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and professional services firm KPMG, out tomorrow, is also expected to show signs of improvement in the number of permanent and temporary jobs available.

But Anne Fairweather, head of public policy at the REC, stressed there was unlikely to be a mass exodus of staff overnight, adding it would take many months, even years, before the jobs market made a full recovery.

Opinion: Kate Holt

If the recovery continues into the new year, the chances that HR professionals will have a retention challenge on their hands are much increased.

HR should ensure organisations are providing a strong strategic direction for staff to enable them to engage and commit to the future of the company. They must then articulate through effective performance management the role the individual can take. This, in turn, will contribute strongly to the level of staff engagement and retention.

Kate Holt is head of UK HR business partners at KPMG.

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