As published on Medium.com
Since the beginning of the year, the U.S. has entered a recession, inflation has soared to record highs, the Fed has continued to raise interest rates, supply chain bottlenecks have shown few signs of easing, layoffs have accelerated, labor force participation has plummeted, and “skeleton” workforces have become the new normal. So, amid an otherwise bleak business climate, where should managers look for a bright spot? Something to give them optimism about the future?
Believe it or not, employees who’ve remained loyal throughout the pandemic and through the roller coaster that’s been 2022 deserve even more credit than you might think. By just remaining in their roles, these individuals are saving your business 6 to 9 months salary in recruitment and training, and they are bucking nearly every emerging workforce trend, from quick quitting and quiet quitting to early retirement and exiting the labor force altogether. Employees willing to fill the roles you offer are becoming fewer and further between, at least without strings attached (e.g., remote/hybrid work requirements, generous PTO packages, above market salaries, etc.)
There is a term in sports called “prehab.” If you’ve ever heard of rehab, prehab is just the opposite. Instead of recovering from an injury through rehab, the goal of prehab is to prevent injuries from ever occurring in the first place, thus preventing weeks and months of extensive recovery that would sideline athletes and negatively impact their teams. The idea behind prehab is that a little investment in injury prevention each day will prevent the much larger investment in recovery and rehabilitation that would follow an injury down the road.
If we think of the myriad economic headwinds that businesses currently face, it makes sense to approach workforces the same way. Costs are already unprecedentedly high, so incurring additional, preventable costs isn’t sustainable. And while employee turnover might be the most expensive variable cost a business faces on a regular basis, thankfully, it is also preventable with the right dose of “prehab.” But what does this look like in practice?
For starters, all the core bases must be covered. From work anniversaries to birthdays and other milestones, at a bare minimum employees must be recognized on the built-in benchmarks in any calendar year. These are separate from performance. Second, supervisors must be able to recognize and reward high performers both at regular intervals and at their own discretion. Instead of waiting for the traditional negative (“do better”) or neutral (“no issues, keep it up”) feedback during annual job reviews, supervisors must emphasize positive reinforcement and break the predictable feedback loop. Lastly, colleagues must be empowered to recognize each other and expected to participate in a peer-to-peer recognition network. Accountability among peers often is more motivating and impactful than the traditional, top-down approach.
Putting each of these mechanisms in place shows employees you care in a meaningful way. No matter who they interact with, employees will always be motivated to perform at a high level, and they will understand that their hard work will be seen and properly appreciated. Long term, such a comprehensive strategy yields far better results than sporadic discretionary bonuses or the occasional office pizza party. This Thanksgiving, employees across the country are looking for employers that offer a sincere, two-way relationship, with open communication and consistent acknowledgement of loyalty and high performance.
Every great salesman understands the sales process isn’t over when a client signs the dotted line. If you don’t prioritize the clients you have, they’ll be out the door and onto greener pastures before you have a chance to stop them. These days, the same is true of employees. Managers cannot forget to prioritize their workforce and continue looking for ways to show meaningful appreciation. If they don’t, employees will keep leaving, turnover costs will continue to rise, and businesses could find themselves beyond the point of rehabilitation.