An Open Letter to Employers Everywhere on Recruitment and Retention

Daryl Thomson

Dear Employers,

Over the last several months I have been reading considerable amounts of current literature about employee recruitment and retention. Due in large part to the well-publicized mass exodus of baby boomers from the workforce over the next several years, Canada and the United States are apparently headed into a labor shortage of epic proportions. In truth, many of the solutions and incentives being paraded as cutting edge simply represent more of the same: more money, more personal flexibility, more vacation, more benefits...more, more, more. More ways that you as an employer can enrich my working experience while enhancing my personal development needs outside of the office.

On the one hand, thank you.

But on the other hand, I have begun to think that you can keep your stock options, your company car and even your performance bonuses. I no longer think I am totally satisfied with the offer of more toys and trinkets on my desk or in the lunchroom.

It's not that I am ungrateful. It's that I am starting to look for something else.

It's like I have been living in a cubicle-induced coma for the last several years and every now and again I am blessed with a brief moment of clarity that—quite frankly—scares the hell out of me.

For in this moment of clarity, I realize that in many ways, you and I have made a bargain that I am no longer comfortable with. Perhaps, quite unconsciously, I have agreed to offer you my time, my education and my creativity in exchange for a good salary, a few weeks off and extended medical benefits. While these are all good and have afforded me many opportunities, I would like to renegotiate. What I am slowly realizing is that there are some things I value more than a corporate discount at a big-box store.

I will continue to offer my time, my energy, my creativity and all the other tools I have been blessed with by birth or acquired through life experiences. This is all I can do.

What I want in return from you is only one thing—hope. Simple. Basic. Perhaps a bit old fashioned. But over the last several months, I have been involved in several discussions both inside and outside of the workplace where people have confessed their poverty of hope.

They look at their workplaces and think that nothing changes and nothing will change—so they start the slow decent into apathy and resignation. They attend change management workshops, work-life balance seminars and healthy workplace conferences hoping to find the solution to issues of meaning, contribution and happiness. But judging from the constant flood of books, seminars and training sessions, perhaps we have grown accustomed to the taste of organizational development snake oil like a drunk grows accustomed to the taste of cheap wine.

So I ask for hope. Hope that I am investing my time into something worthwhile. And sorry to say, but exchanging my life's work to increase shareholder profits are no longer considered worthwhile.

I want hope that the world is a better place or that someone's life is better as the result of my sitting in front of this computer day after day. Not just better because he or she can change his or her address over the company's intranet or better because he or she no longer has to fill out Form A24/L anymore or better because consumers have a really great new product. I want my contribution to be more than that.

I want hope that you know where you are going and that if I follow you, I won't be disappointed. I know you have a briefcase full of plans—strategic plans, staffing plans, organizational plans, succession plans, budget plans, expansion plans and perhaps even downsizing plans. You seem to have life all planned out already, but your plans do not give me hope. They simply tell me that you spend a lot of time trying to construct a future you cannot control.

In truth, sometimes I think you care more about your plans than you do about me. I respect your planning, but I need hope.

There is an entire world that seems to be crumbling and cracking under the weight of a political, economic and military system that has gone seriously wrong. Do you know how hard it is to get my head around cost-benefit statistics after reading the newspaper in the morning? Don't you ever find it hard to sit through another PowerPoint presentation on effective leadership, while having just read about the death of 35 school children in Iraq or the abduction of a schoolgirl in Ontario or the midnight stabbing of a poor homeless man in your own city? Maybe you do what I do, shut that part of yourself down between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Sort of like hanging a "Closed for Business" sign on your soul for the majority of your waking life.

If you could find a way to offer me hope, I know at least a million other people like me who would gladly come and work for you. The labor shortage would be laughable, because I really think that people recognize hope when they see it...or perhaps more appropriately, they know they need it because they don't have it.

The best way to get the ball rolling is to live with a sense of hope yourself. Be a beacon of hope in your office, at the board table and in meetings with clients. Live your life with intentionality, share with those of us who are willing to work hard and invest into your own source of hope. Let us know that our jobs—although sometimes hard, boring and hidden from public view—are contributing to your own vision of a better tomorrow. Allow us (the frequently disgruntled) to see and experience the transformative power of hope that keeps you coming back to the same routine day in and day out.

I know it may sound like a huge challenge, but I am asking you to assume the full responsibility of leadership that goes with being a leader—an authentic leader who moves in hope, yet is grounded in reality.

Recruitment and retention are just fancy words that describe what we really want—a reason to join and a passion to stay. And perhaps hope is the glue that binds it all together.

Respectfully yours,
Daryl Thomson

First published on Human Resources IQ.