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Wanna Keep Those Employees? Try Some Trust

Tuesday, 3 Aug 2010 | 11:57 AM ET

Are employers facing a fight to hold onto their employees as the economy recovers? If Tim Geithner's New York Times op-ed is correct, the question of retention—and especially of top talent—is going to start cropping up in the not too distant future.

While that's good news for everyone, it has a bittersweet tinge for those tasked with holding onto employees.

And there's worse news: the way some of those employees have been treated over the past couple of years may mean that their decision to leave is already made up —they're just waiting for the right opportunity.

There can’t be too many workplaces across the country where the recession hasn’t taken its toll in one way or another: whether it’s layoffs, salary reductions or simply being asked to work harder. In fact, Deloitte’s 2010 Ethics and Workplace Surveyunderlines this: it found that 86 percent of executives “say their company demands more time and commitment from employees” as a direct result of the recession.

The survey also suggests that workers who feel they have been mistreated over the past couple of years aren’t likely to forgive their employers as the economy recovers: “Nearly half (48%) of employed Americans who plan to look for a new job when the economy is more stable cite a loss of trust in their employer as a result of how business and operational decisions were handled over the last two years as a reason for leaving.”

Additionally, 46 percent of respondents said “lack of transparency in communications” also contributed to their desire to leave, while 40 percent cited “being treated unfairly or unethically by employers.”

"Your ability to retain employees depends on two things: your ability to rebuild trust, and the speed of economic recovery." -The Vault, Phil Stott

Just to be clear: those figures refer to the percentage of "employed Americans who plan to look for a new job". Deloitte hasn’t divulged what percentage of the workforce that is, but a recent Vault poll suggests that it's a whole lot: some 56 percent of respondents told us they could barely wait to leave their current jobs, with a mere 9 percent suggesting that they were so happy with their situation that they wouldn't entertain the thought of leaving.

All told, it seems like the recession has driven a major wedge between companies and their employees. But while it’s easy to point the finger at employers over something like lack of transparency, it’s important to remember the environment in which many major decisions—especially those regarding layoffs—were taken in the last couple of years. The speed with which the economy turned south in 2008 was staggering, and undoubtedly many decisions were taken with a haste that prevented the kind of transparency and disclosure that most people would feel comfortable with.

That doesn’t let employers off the hook entirely. The Deloitte report is clear in pointing out that executives recognize they could have been more transparent. More damningly, some 39 percent of executives indicated that the “perception of unfair and unethical treatment of employees over the last 18 to 24 months” would contribute to higher voluntary turnover rates as the economy improves.

It’s difficult to know what to make of that last stat. Were employers aware that they were treating employees unfairly and unethically, but doing it anyway? Or are they just aware that it seems like that’s what they were doing? Either way: as far as employees are concerned, perception is reality. And companies seem set to lose talent because of that perception.

The good news: if you're in that situation, it's still not too late. But the clock is ticking, and your ability to retain employees depends on two things: your ability to rebuild trust, and the speed of economic recovery.

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Phil Stott is a staff writer at Vault.com in New York. Originally from Scotland, he has also lived and worked in Japan, South Korea and Eastern Europe. He holds an MA in English Literature and Modern History, and a Masters in Research in Civil Engineering, both from the University of Dundee.

Comments? Send them to executivecareers@cnbc.com

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