By Richard A. Hirschen, CPA, CGMA
Gray, Gray & Gray, LLP
The federal government recently announced that the nationwide unemployment rate dropped to 5% in October, the lowest it has been since 2008. Professions like architecture, engineering and design are not immune to the effects of the tightening pool of workers. Not only is it more difficult to find and hire new employees in the AED field, it’s also more challenging to retain current staff members.
In the past, you may have worried about your best people being lured away by a competitor, or targeted by a head hunter. With the explosive growth of social media, you can add LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to the list of threats to your professional staff. In essence, everybody has a resume floating around the Internet at all times.
This “job hopping” is not limited to Millennials (who seem incapable of staying in one place for long). Several of our clients have reported that some of their most senior and experienced people are being recruited away. Losing personnel at that level poses a significant danger to the continuity of a firm.
Recruiting new staff is expensive, stressful and time-consuming. Once you have good staff, it pays to make sure they stay on board. What are you doing to keep your best people in the fold? How can you “build a fence” around them to prevent them from straying?
The first step is to understand that today’s employees – even those with many years of experience – want more than just a paycheck. They are looking for:
- Career development opportunities and a chance to grow in their chosen field
- A work/life balance that includes a flexible schedule
- Regular feedback on how both they and the company are doing
- A chance to contribute directly to the organization
- Recognition for doing good work
- Benefits tailored to their individual needs
- Good compensation with an opportunity to increase it over time
Given these priorities, your best approach is to create a culture in which employees want to be a part of the organization, to the point where they ignore or dismiss those calls and LinkedIn messages from recruiters.
Some of the techniques being used successfully by architecture, engineering and design firms (as well as in other professional areas) include:
- Employee Friendly Policies – Working into the evening and on weekends to meet a deadline may occasionally be required, but it should not become routine. Telecommuting and flexible scheduling allow employees more freedom, and can actually improve productivity.
- Open Communication – From top to bottom your staff wants to know they are part of a successful and growing company. Don’t hide what is going on, but share it openly and frequently. That goes for wins and losses – hiding bad news is seen as weakness and could open the door to a further exodus of key people.
- Show Your Appreciation – It is not enough to sign the checks every payday. Be alert for extra effort or superlative work that can be acknowledged publicly. Everybody likes to be praised in front of his or her peers. Younger workers expect it – they’ve been getting “participation” awards since they were toddlers and need a steady stream of approval.
- Go Beyond Technical Training – A cutting edge company knows that to have success well into the future, its employees need to have solid management and business development skills. Invest in training programs to help employees improve these skills. Not only will this help retain employees, but it will also make your employees even more valuable to your firm.
- Show Them the Future – Don’t assume that all employees understand the career path at your company. Share with them job descriptions of every level in the company, including owner. Inform them of what they need to do to move up to the next levels.
- Pay People Well – Compensation studies are available that show what professionals of specific professional certifications and experience are earning across the industry. You don’t necessarily have to pay top dollar. Aim to be in the top half of the curve (in your region) to remain competitive.
- Designate a Career Path – It is easy to see that new employees are eager to climb the corporate ladder. But do not ignore veteran staff members who might feel they are stagnating or are blocked from further advancement – they are ripe for recruitment by another firm. Allow senior people to participate in the management of the firm so that they feel a sense of “ownership,” even if they are not financial shareholders.
- Continuous Training – Keeping your people up-to-date and moving forward is a win-win. They feel good about themselves and your firm gains a more valuable employee.
- Keep Things Interesting – Nobody wants to be bored at work. Seek new opportunities for the firm, be willing to go beyond your usual core competencies, and maintain a positive atmosphere.
Taken together these changes will help develop a culture of action, accomplishment and appreciation that will foster a sense of collaboration across all levels of your organization. That will help fend off recruiters and other firms seeking to poach your best employees.