We hear it all the time. The continuous chatter of experts reiterating the same old talking points about what organizations need to do to engage and retain their workforce.
But, is any of it working? Gallup recently reported that nearly 70 percent of U.S. employees are disengaged, and 51 percent are looking for new opportunities. Even more problematic is the fact that these numbers have stayed stagnant for at least 15 years.
So, what if our ideas about employee retention are all wrong? What if we are being held captive by our own beliefs and assumptions about the very nature and structure of work in today’s society?
The Problem With Talent Retention Today
Common thinking is that we, as business leaders, should retain talent as long as possible in order to capitalize on things like organizational knowledge and relationships with co-workers and vendors. And somehow, employees who stay with us will be eternally motivated and highly productive members of the team as a result.
We may also subscribe to the risk mitigation side of the argument, seeking to keep talent to avoid the costs—financial and otherwise—of having to recruit, onboard, integrate, and train new talent to fill in the gaps that departing employees leave.
The issue with this philosophy is that we’re basing these rationales on our own beliefs about how work should be, not what it is. We can no longer assume that the longer the tenure of the employee, the more productive, engaged, and fulfilled they will be.
We tend to equate tenure with loyalty, and loyalty is a sought after attribute. But today’s workers don’t necessarily view their experience with one employer from a permanence perspective. Instead, they move from job to job, and organization to organization, in a constant effort to find a place where they can make a meaningful contribution and develop professionally.
This problem started several decades ago and has been reinforced by continued economic uncertainty. Faced with tough economic times and stiff competition from an increasingly global workforce, employers no longer honored the social contract of lifetime employment. Layoffs and the discontinuation of long-term compensation packages like pensions began to break down the sense of security and loyalty that employees had to their employers.
Finding a job with a reputable organization no longer guarantees a lifetime of stable employment and a predictable quality of life.
Younger generations saw their parents and themselves affected by these changes. If they can’t rely on their employers to be there for them, why should they commit to being there for their employers? Is it any surprise that our employees—regardless of generation—are poised to leave within the next 5 years?
Bottom line: we reap what we sow.
Changing the Conversation About Employee Retention
There are two approaches to navigate and excel in this current reality.
First, we could do our very best to attempt to reestablish that social contract between employers and employees. Many organizations work toward this every day to varying levels of success.
The second option is for employers adjust their expectations and shape their organizational culture in ways that are adaptable and agile enough to not only survive employee turnover but actually thrive.
What if, rather than trying our best to hold onto employees and satisfying our own needs, we redesigned work to be accomplished by people who give us their all while they’re with us, and seamlessly pass the knowledge onto new generations of employees when they moved on?
Rather than fighting against the values and trends of the times, what if we embraced the values of younger generations and evolved the way we do business to capitalize on a more consistent stream of new and diverse viewpoints and ideas? What if, instead of spending mounting resources trying to retain talent, we used those resources elsewhere and flexed our way of thinking to thrive in a new age of business?
With the speed of change in organizations today, is the job even the same as it was two or three years ago? One might argue that many jobs today evolve rather quickly, and the gains of retaining talent are a bit overstated. Let’s think about re-designing work and re-shaping our workplace culture to take advantage of new talent that fills these roles over time.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.
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