Job Jumpers and How to Manage Short Term Employees

In an article I read yesterday in the KC Chamber Business Intelligence Brief there was an article on the new generation of workers and their attitudes about work. One of the trends they found was that these people who are getting ready to enter the work force actually expect to jump from company to company in order to move up and get better pay.

To most employers, this is not good news. In industries such as IT the cost of acquiring and making an employee productive is very high. First you have to pay for the effort of finding the right person. This is a cost in both man power as well as direct monetary costs. Then you have to pay the new employee while they learn the job and often have to take an existing employee off production in order to train the new employee. I have heard it said it takes an average of 6 months to make an employee fully productive. If the employee only lasts a year or two, this is a high price to pay for such a short term of productivity.

As always, rather than complain about a problem, I try to look deep into the issue and find an opportunity. Yes, we have to identify the problem but once it has been identified, how can we turn that lemon into lemonade?

Here are some things I recommend employers keep in mind as they start looking at finding the right people for the job:

  • Make sure the new hire already has most if not all the skills necessary to get the job. I like to make it common knowledge what it is we look for in employees and the skills we need them to have. The person who really wants the job will do their research and make sure they have what they need. The person who isn't prepared, well we don't want to hire them any way.
  • Set standards and have your employees work consistently. For us that means we have standards for programming code formatting, standard libraries we use, standards for how applications are built, etc. These standards can be documented and make it much easier to train new people and swap employees in and out of various projects. The less variety we have and the more consistency we have, the less expensive and time consuming it is to both create education materials and then educate new hires.
  • Follow industry norms as much as possible. The more you follow the acceptable norms of the industry, the more likely it is a new employee will come in already knowing what they need to know to do the job. This means less training and a larger pool of great applicants you have to choose from.
  • Require everything be documented. This is probably the least followed suggestion we see in all the companies we work with. Everyone nods and says yes documentation is good. But no one wants to spend time or money on it. It seems like a cost we just cannot take right now. But this lack of good documentation sucks the money out of an organization slowly and often invisibly and costs much more in the long run. We have a term we like to use: Truck Sensitivity. If your employee were hit by a truck, your business is sensitive and is hurt by it. Obviously you can not shield yourself 100% from loosing someone as they move to another job but you can minimize the cost and down time. Once the documentation is in place, force employees to trade off work regularly. An easy way to accomplish this is to send an employee on a 2 week vacation and have another person take their place. If you find you have to contact the person on their vacation even once, you have a problem and need to better document what they do.
  • Utilize vendors who have good standards and practices, especially where you have very few employees to fill the job or where the skill sets are hard to come by. If you loose that one critical person, you could be dead in the water until you find, hire and train a replacement. Even worse, there could be no one with the skills required to train the new person which means it will take even longer to get the new employee up to speed and the new person could mess some things up during that learning process. A vendor that specializes in something outside of your core competency can step in when an employe leaves and train the new person so you have a smooth transition.
  • Help training companies and educational institutions know what you want people to learn so they know what they should be teaching. I have found, at least with educational institutions, that there are very few open ears and some of you may think this will do no good. However, the more companies demand that students are properly trained, the more likely the educators will start to listen.
So where is the lemonade?

First of all, with this new attitude it will become increasingly important that the individual keep their skills sharp. They won't be hired by the next company if they are behind the times. This new attitude puts pressure on the employee to constantly educate themselves. This means there will be less of a need for companies to educate the employee on things that are not specific to your company. In short, there is an opportunity for lower costs of training.

Second, companies will be able to start raising the bar in order for the applicant to land that new job. If the employee doesn't have the skills required before they start, they will have to go out and get them on their own. This will help reduce the ramp up time and cost of the new hires.

This lack of loyalty between the employee and company can be viewed in two different ways and which batch of lemonade you make of it depends on your company culture.
  • If there is a cold business relationship between the company and the employee, this lack of loyalty from the employee is easily returned and getting rid of people becomes much less emotional and just a part of business. It can lead to less friction when having to dismiss employees.
  • On the other hand, if your business is more like ours and you highly value employee loyalty and offer consideration to your employees as well, it may be harder to find people with this strong ethic but when you do find them they will stick with you longer. After all, a company that returns that shows how much they value the loyalty is becoming very hard to find.
There are more ways people can take advantage of the upcoming situation and both employers and employees can benefit from this trend.

Hope you find your favorite batch of lemonade.