When the Tiger Finally Gets Out

Like many people, I enjoy hearing what other people do for a living.  To feed my curiosity, I will ask fellow passengers on planes about their occupation.  Several years ago, I met a man on a flight that worked with animals for the television and movie industry.  His favorite animal to work with was an old tiger, Shalimar.  He described the tiger as one of the smartest animals he had ever worked with and seemed to glow like a proud father as he described the tiger’s acting ability in various commercials and television programs.  What could have been short conversation turned into a lengthy discussion of animals, changes in broadcasting, and public preferences for television and movies.  As the plane prepared to land, I returned to the beginning of our conversation and asked him what happened to Shalimar after his career.  He smiled and looked away before telling me that one evening a handler accidentally failed to place the secondary or safety lock on the cage and the large cat escaped.  He said the cat was no found for a long time.  At first I was so shocked by the idea of a tiger strolling through a crowded residential neighborhood or appearing in the supermarket parking lot that I didn’t see the irony of the animal after many years and considerable human interaction would just leave.

As I have worked with employees in various organizations over the last year or so, the level of unhappiness has significantly increased.  One of the most common statements made by employees of all types during focus groups is “just wait until the economy comes back” or “guess what I will do when there are more jobs!”  In these changing times, employees feel that their employers have broken their commitment to protect them.  The reasons for this feeling vary, but the core relates to the lack of resources, recognition, rewards, and stability in most organizations.  Given these conditions, there is a huge wave of current employees patiently waiting to “leave the cage” of their organizations when things improve in the job market.

How many will seek new opportunities?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently published Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey Highlights (August 2010) to summarize the current labor market situation.  Chart 3 on page three of the report summarizes the seasonally adjusted level of new hires, total separations and employment from 2000 to 2010.  The gray area represents the two recessions over the last ten years.  From 2001 and 2007, there were between approximately 4,500,000 and 5,500,000 separations with new hires trending in a similar manner to the non-recessionary years.  The level of separations dropped more than 25 percent during the recession.  When the economy recovers, it is likely that separation patterns will return to similar levels and experience a bump in separations as employment rises.  When combining separation data with employee opinion data, the percentage of workforce interested in leaving ranges between 21 and 64 percent.

The tiger is likely to escape in the future.  What can you do?

  • Conduct workforce planning
  • Develop and implement retention strategies
  • Maintain recruitment resources
  • Ensure that the workplace is engaging
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