Its OK to look at the job market

It is a sign of the times, I think, that people are spending quite a lot of time looking at the employment market. If they're not actually looking for a new job, they are at least keeping a watchful eye over their future prospects in case they need to make a move. Its completely something to be expected, of course. It is only natural that employees take such steps when they're feeling insecure.

We may as well face facts: employees need to rely on themselves, not on the benevolence of employers. The days of final salary pensions, jobs for life, and so forth are long gone. And anyway, the value of an employee that has only worked in one company is often much less than those who have had rounded experiences in many different places.

Now the reason I bring this up right now is that walking around our offices, you often see the furtive looks, hurried browser closures, or low toned phone calls going on that are obvious signs that someone is looking at job web sites or talking to recruiters. Here, as everywhere else, there is a culture of keeping potential moves a secret.

That made sense, of course, when the expectation was that once you'd joined an organisation you'd be there for a very, very long time. Make sure you don't chop and change too much on your CV. Show loyalty and longevity in your employment record to ensure that prospective companies can see you're a stayer. Minimise the disruption you cause to your employer.

These days, that doesn't make sense any more. Employees, whether they admit it or not, are pretty constantly looking at opportunities. That's especially true for the new Gen-Y workforce, who are likely to move employers every year or two no matter what measures a company puts in place.

It is surely time we recognise the fact that all employees are looking for new jobs, all the time. And work to eliminate the perception its necessary to hide the fact wherever possible.

There are obvious advantages to this, both from an employee and employer perspective.

For the latter, knowing one of your staff is looking is valuable HR intelligence. It says you need to take steps to enhance the work experience to keep the employee. It signals they need a new challenge or want to take on more responsibility. More usefully, though, it tells an employer he or she might usefully consider how to fill the employees shoes, should they leave.

And for an employee, keeping an open eye on the market is valuable too. At the very least, it is a practice which enables people to benchmark themselves against everyone else. So often, in my experience, people realise they're in a positive position compared to peers outside the company.

In my team, we are quite open about the realities of the employment market, and I have regular conversations with people about what they've found outside. We have one Gen-Yer, for example, who has already informed me that his exit timeframe from the bank is likely to be September (he's doing a start-up). We knew this was the likely outcome from the moment he joined my team, and I think I can say there have been no negative consequences to this individual as a result of the upfront discussion.

In all the discussions I've been having with my staff, I think they've found being open about their external – as well as internal prospects – to have been empowering and useful. I am now beginning to ask which jobs they've found in the last month they were most interested in. I like to know, because it tells me interesting things about how they're thinking about their current role. It is my obligation and duty to facilitate their moves, whether they be internal or external.

Now, in attempting to make it OK for people to look for another job, I've discovered something interesting. Most of the time, the fact of looking, and talking about, potential moves, seems to encourage people to stay. The new openness seems to be a powerful enabler of retention, even given the state of the external market at this time.

The fact of the matter is, no matter how dire external circumstances may be, there are always opportunities for talented people. So every little way you can find to increase the chances of your talent staying is important. Interesting, isn't it, that helping your talent to leave may be one of the best ways to keep it.

2 Responses to“Its OK to look at the job market”

  1. April 27, 2009 at 3:35 pm #

    Wow ! True, This reminds me of what Mr. Narayan Murthy of infosys said ‘Love what you do and not you company, you never know when the company stops loving you’ !

  2. Samantha
    April 28, 2009 at 11:37 pm #

    Hi James
    I don’t believe that this is an organisational change. I believe this is purely based on how your line manager reacts and responds to open communication.
    Most organisations struggle at the best of time to retain their talent and discussing it in an open and honest manner only serves to increase their paranoia about their talent leaving.
    It’s wonderful to read that you are opening up the channel of communication with your team to discuss what their plans are, especially if they are related to leaving your company. I think this type of conversation is few and far between.

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