Just Remember

In my day job, I’m lucky enough to chat with lots of smart people about talent-management issues: that is, the art and science of managing people at work.

Recently, some of these smart folks have indicated that their client organizations are suddenly less worried about things like employee well-being and experience and more concerned about the return-on-investment of worker-focused programs.

I’ve seen all this before, multiple times. We go through boom cycles during which employers are having a tough time recruiting and retaining employees. In these cycles, employers give a lot of lip service and sometimes genuine attention to issues such as employee engagement, empowerment, experience, and well-being of all sorts (physical, mental, financial, etc.).

Then an economic downturn hits and much of it goes right out the window. That was the inspiration behind the following piece, first posted on LinkedIn.

I get it. They’re scared. They’re scared and determined to be brave, to survive the hard times. They’ve read enough “motivational” business books packed with tropes and flaccid logic, and so they trot out out the ole “when the going gets tough…” slogans.

Like I said, I get it. But here’s what I don’t like: the sheer hypocrisy of pretending to care about fairness, equity and employee experience one day and then being willing–often eager–to toss it all out the window in tougher times. Suddenly, they’re looking for that “ROI” on well-being and experience initiatives, suddenly the employee “partner” and “stakeholder” represents a line item to be cut, a number on a balance sheet.

I get it. We live in a capitalist system, and that’s how it works. Companies need to do what it takes to survive. Some are determined to “be bold,” to gain “market share” as others struggle. A virtue. Part of the game. The system keeps us all “agile” and works the wonders of “creative destruction.” Proper reallocation of resources. Sure, sure. I know, I know.

But just remember that employees do not forget the hypocrisy after the fact, when the economy ultimately rebounds and suddenly the endless “war for talent” is back on. Just remember WHY it’s so hard to retain good people, remember WHY engagement is viewed as a joke among far too many workers.

I don’t have the answer to these conundrums. I’m not even condemning necessary downsizings and the like. But remember these moments. Remember how one day they’re talking about creating a sense of “belonging” and the next they’re talking about “outplacement.” Yes, it’s brutal, it’s life, it’s the American way.

I get it.

Just remember.

Featured image is a boomerang. Photo by Rama, taken as MEG — Musée d’ethnographie de Genève (official website)