New recruits are turning the tables, running reverse checks on workplace leaders then demanding managers be accountable for their big boasts

Comment: Recently the Black Caps have lost two outstanding cricketers to the T20 Leagues. Colin de Grandhomme and Trent Boult epitomise the drift of New Zealand talent to off-shore opportunities.

New Zealand has a net outflow of such talent – no doubt including the departure of many young people who consider themselves overdue for their OE.

This doesn’t help the shortage of skilled workers, seen by many employers as a constraint on performance and growth. You might have experienced waiting for a bus that didn’t arrive, a delayed plane, or a café closed – because of staff no-shows.  

What if that is an indication of an ongoing chronic issue due to staff shortages beyond sickness-induced absence?

In the early 2000s, there was excellent research into what led to New Zealand staff quitting. We are seeing the effects of pandemic-induced acceleration in the impact of those drivers.

In their 2003 study of over 1,000 kiwi workers, Peter Boxall and colleagues identified a mix of factors that contributed to people quitting. Number one was (lack of) interesting work.

The number three consideration for people who left jobs was a desire for more ‘work-life balance’ in their new job.

The answer to work-life balance has arrived! Work-from-home or hybrid work is not possible for all but it is a thing for many. Don’t expect all those workers to be in the office on Monday or Friday. Employers that are slow to flex around this are losing people.

Boxall and fellow researchers also reported that many of those who had made a recent job move found that it was not all that they had hoped. We have a handy label for that now – The Great Regret (which frequently follows The Great Resignation). 

For such a significant investment many do not seem to have done the appropriate due diligence about the new job opportunity. My suggestion is the ‘reverse reference check’. If you are the candidate, ask to talk to potential colleagues and potential clients. Is the boss as wonderful as he or she portrays themselves? Is work-from-home a reality? Are the KPIs achievable? Are there any KPIs?

The number two driver identified by Boxall and the other researchers was ‘better training opportunities’. James P Guthrie (2001) found that ‘high involvement’ work practices, including investment in training and development, were related to lower turnover in New Zealand enterprises. 

New Zealand organisations are somewhat hit and miss in developing their people.  One argument is that if you train someone, then a competitor will poach them. Just as when the Russians claim some atrocity it means they are planning to do that, employers with this excuse might be hoping they can headhunt someone else’s skilled employee.

Andrea De Bruyne and I (2007) found a two-tier turnover situation: lower-skilled staff turned over faster. This could be an example of the ‘burn and churn’ employment model. 

If your model was based on hiring cheaper workers and relying on replacing them when they are tired of the work in their dead-end jobs, you could keep at that. You may find that there is a sudden surge of work-ready migrants and casual workers.

Or you could radically change – establish a career path, provide skill training to progress and reward greater productivity.

Often training is not the answer. In many organisations ‘training’ is based on an annual cycle of identifying training courses, staff completing courses, but with no connection back at work in applying the new skills and knowledge. These go out the window. Then, back at the next annual review the manager and the worker identify more training courses. 

The solution – identify where the work team needs to develop – probably by using technology (for time-keeping, customer management, inventory management and so on), providing task-relevant training, and making the manager accountable for ensuring the team members practice and get feedback.  

By a happy coincidence, this meets the number four reason people gave to the Boxall team to explain why they moved on – a lack of recognition.

Workers, not just cricketers, go to where the opportunities that meet their needs are better. The research we have indicates some of what they were looking for back in 2003.

Nearly 20 years later, some people are actively looking for work that meets those needs.

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