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Deals under fire

Ksenia Zheltoukhova

05 April 2011

Employers would be wrong to assume that once they have found and recruited talented workers, the deal is sealed and set in stone. Soon after the contract is signed, employees will test the promises made to attract them to the job. To engage and retain highly skilled individuals, organisations need to understand what would keep the deal going if some of their expectations are not met.

Over the past two years, the Future of HR programme at The Work Foundation has explored how individuals achieve, sustain and negotiate the balance of their psychological contracts. This morning’s ( 5 April 2011) partner event ‘Re-balancing the deal: Engaging and retaining employees’ focused on the last stage of that process, emphasising that employers have to act early to avoid or repair broken deals.

Jane Sullivan and Wilson Wong at The Work Foundation highlighted the fragility of employment deals in turbulent times of change. Presented with multiple internal and external opportunities, employees are challenging their current deals by asking ‘what is in it for me?’. Employers may find it difficult to maintain engagement levels while unstable organisational contexts put employees’ deals in flux.

Recognising how individuals make sense of their place within the organisation will provide solutions for managing employees’ intentions to quit. To sustain changing deals employers have to see the employment relationship from an individual perspective. For a particular employee the deal could rely on personal meaning found in the job, team identity, trust in the line manager or be a more transactional relationship.

David Blackburn’s work on increasing employee engagement at Shepherd’s Bush Housing Association illustrates the importance of focusing on the individual in the employment relationship. David asked employees what would make the organisation ‘the best place to work’ for them to implement their values into a successful retention strategy. One example of his approach to engagement is strengthening employee affiliation with the brand.

Taking into account individual perspectives means that although people will dislike changes in their deal, they will be more able to understand why it is happening and stay loyal to their employer. Line managers are key actors in identifying employees’ needs and meeting their expectations; it is therefore essential to equip managers with tools (such as the deal framework) to address individual deals and form honest, trusting relationships.

Finally, Steven Bevan shared insight on the individual and organisational factors that contribute to employee turnover. Highly skilled workers are a visible asset and may be attracted to better opportunities elsewhere. Pay and benefits often become the tactical currency of retaining such employees in the short run; however, a strategic approach is needed to respond to the risk of losing talented employees.

When dealing with individuals with high bargaining power, the challenge for employers is not only to attract talent, but also to keep employees motivated and forebearing. Such strategies should build on appropriate training, job design and career opportunities.

To retain talented employees, organisations will have to recognise and meet their expectations from the very start of the employment relationship, before they strike a better deal with someone else. Individual perspective and values may depend, for example, on employees’ age, career or life stage. The next research programme from the Future of HR will aim to add a generational dimension to the deal framework.

Comments in Chronological Order (Total 2 Comments)

John Kirkham

08 Apr 2011 9:29AM

Bryson and Forth find that "if unions are an effective voice for
workers one would not necessarily expect harmony. However, we might
expect better (more stable, more constructive) employment relationships." (Union Organisation and the Quality of Employment Relations, March 2010)
They suggest that by "providing voice for workers, unions encourage employees to tackle the problems they face at work, rather than quitting in the face of dissatisfaction."
I suggest that this strong evidence points to the need for a 'third pillar' - in addition to effective line management and effrective cohesive team working - that of an effective 'collective voice' - whether that third pillar is in the form of an independent trade union, staff association or effective Information and Consultation arrangements.

wilson wong

08 Apr 2011 4:43PM

I can't agree more. John Kirkham brings to the fore the importance of employee voice. Its articulation and the permission to exercise one's needs and concerns play a vital role in the health of the 'deal' . 'Voice' is something that few employers pay more than lip-service and often at ther peril. Without a constructive process, the issues that simmer below the surface can form a corrosive force undermining morale, trust and ultimately performance.

As part of the next research programme, I hope to explore the nature of voice both within and outside organisations. Are there distinctions between generations in the manner voice is exercised? What significant voice cues should employers be sensitised in order to build, sustain and, where possible, rebalance the deal with their employees? The Work Foundation has successfully introduced consultation arrangements via an Employee Voice Group.It has played an important role in sustaining the deal for many during a time of flux.