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The year of restless employees


The economic picture is brightening, and the new year should be better for your business in almost every way, with more customers to serve and more orders to fill. Unfortunately, you might be the only one showing up for work.

CNNMoney.com quoted a Manpower survey that found 84 percent of American workers plan to look for a new job in 2011. Eighty-four percent – that’s higher than the proportion of people who believe water quenches thirst.

“After years of increased work and frozen compensation, ‘a lot of people will be looking, because they’re disappointed with their current jobs,’ said Paul Bernard, an executive coach and career management advisor,” according to CNN.

It seems unlikely that all of those malcontents could actually find new jobs, not unless they’re trading places directly with each other on the public square – your disenchanted accountant goes out for lunch, and somebody else’s disenchanted accountant takes his place in the afternoon, then starts complaining about wrist pain. But it’s always possible that there’s one employee somewhere who can start the dominoes falling.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, some 3 million jobs were open in October, despite the high unemployment rate. Not all of these jobs are what the typical college graduate might consider desirable; some involve solvents, and some demand familiarity with hog bellies. In Louisiana, a handful require proficiency in voodoo.

Still, there are jobs out there. It could happen that a frustrated human resources executive in West Des Moines finds her dream job elsewhere, creating an opening for a restless employee from Dubuque, which clears up a slot for someone who has had enough of Keokuk, and so on. Before you know it, everybody has a new job, and the manufacturers of corporate name tags are gargling with champagne and pricing Learjets.

So what should you do to avoid losing your staff? First, remind yourself that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if some of those characters disappeared. Some employees make their main contribution to the company’s success by calling in sick. They should be reminded, every time you see them practicing the kazoo in the break room, that Monster.com is just a click away.

Also, there’s probably nothing too illegal about sending them e-mails that appear to be job offers from your competitors. Probably. This is a commentary factory, not a law school.

But what about those valuable workers who bring in new business, elevate profit levels and occasionally spend a lunch hour rotating your tires? It’s probably worth spending more to make them happier. Remember, it costs money to replace an employee. For one thing, you have to buy new ink pens to replace the ones he or she absconds with.

Raises seem to be a popular morale-booster. Naturally, your minions are happy to devote their lives to burnishing your reputation, but they also like to keep pace with inflation. One effect of the Great Recession is that many Americans have cut out steak and wine in favor of macaroni and melted snow.

The next step would be to make sure your top people feel appreciated. Remember their birthdays. Compliment them on their work. Be patient when a strategy planning session turns into a debate about which is better, faking a workplace injury or actually sustaining one.

But if you do wind up alone, handling everything from bills to inventory, focus on the good news: You can ask the vending machine guy to stock only your favorites. Of course, there’s also the bad news: You never did learn how to put new toner in the printer, did you?

Jim Pollock is the editor of the Des Moines Business Record. He can be reached by e-mail at jimpollock@bpcdm.com

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