Why am I here?

Don’t worry I’m not having an existential crisis – it’s far too early in the day for that.

I recently read a discussion on an HR forum about the problems of retaining staff in a small business where promotion prospects are slim. My initial reaction was ‘well tough, you can’t’. Let’s face it, if an organisation’s managers are a permanent fixture, clinging on until they finally drop/retire, what’s left for anyone who’s the slightest bit ambitious or (let’s not be squeamish about it) wants to earn more?

As many of the contributors to the discussion suggested, making the work more stimulating through development opportunities and projects can help. If however people have very limited scope for using their increased knowledge/skills in the longer term, sooner or later they will go.

Or will they?

I’ve been kicking myself for falling into the trap of assuming everyone wants promotion (as this assumption was built into the wording of the problem, I’ve forgiven myself). It’s the same assumption that comes into play when recruiters get worried that someone’s over-qualified for the vacancy on offer: surely they’ll get bored and move on?

Retaining staff and keeping them engaged requires constant thought. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, only 13% of employees are engaged at work. This means only about one in eight workers are psychologically committed to their jobs and likely to be making positive contributions to their organisations.

Is this something we just have to accept, or is there something we can do about it? Psychologist and author of Why We Work Barry Schwartz argues that many workplaces are designed in a way that almost guarantees lack of engagement. For a taste of his argument (and to start you thinking about how to overcome the problem), I’d recommend watching his TED talk.

I remember being told about one remarkably honest but rather misguided job applicant who informed the people interviewing him, “I’m looking for a job that’s a chore not an ordeal”. Perhaps he’s setting his sights quite low, but at least that’s one potential employee whose needs you should easily be able to meet and possibly exceed.

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