Workplace Rootedness, part I

Originally published on April 18, 2018 by The Montrose Daily Press 

It’s hard to imagine it now: A time where unemployment was in the double digits, home foreclosures far outnumbered building permit and consumer spending was conservative at best. Just over 10 years ago, this great nation found itself drowning in the “Great Recession.” The effects of those economic times span wide into our psyche and play into both personal and business decisions.

Many of us were just hitting stride in our careers when the recession hit. Like many of my peers, career and financial independence were important to me from a young age. I entered the workforce at 15. This experience and the formal education that followed helped pave the way for my first “big girl” job at the ripe age of 22. Two weeks after walking the stage at college graduation, I was gainfully employed as a marketing analyst at Cabela’s corporate office in Sidney, Nebraska.

Being a millennial and all, I was itchy for upward mobility early in my career. Promotions and raises didn’t exactly show up as I had planned and I was hungry for leadership experience and sought out jobs that would provide that. Eventually, I ended up at a Grand Junction marketing agency as a project manager. Although it wasn’t a managerial position, I was finally doing the things I’d always dreamed of when I’d pictured a career in marketing.

That is why it was so devastating.

We heard about struggles in other parts of the country, but it felt like it hadn’t yet affected Western Colorado. However, at 10 in the morning on a Monday, my boss asked for a moment of my time. He quickly let me know my position was no longer financially sustainable at the agency and I was being let go.

I was stunned. I gathered my belongings robotically and walked outside. Directionless, I sat on a bench in front of my (former) office. Minutes or hours could have passed; I’m not sure. I could not decipher if I had actually been punched in the gut or if it was metaphorical. This was not how it was supposed to happen. This was not part of the plan. This was the type of thing that happened to people in the movies or people who did something morally questionable. Not career-oriented and hardworking me.

Virtually overnight, the job market became an employer’s game. There was an abundance of employable talent and very few jobs available. Employers could be choosy. Wages could be marginal. Everyone was replaceable.

That remained the case regionally from about 2009 until 2015. People held onto good paying jobs with benefits because the income was not easily replaceable. During this time, many organizations grew accustomed to an overabundance of applicants for every job posting. Although not intentional, many employers also became more relaxed in their attention to detail surrounding organizational culture and employee retention. Businesses were not afraid of losing talent because the talent pool was wide and deep.

Unfortunately, when a culture such as that takes hold, change does not come easy. We manage what we measure and if we are not paying careful attention to employee retention and morale, it will slip through our fingers. Five years ago, this lax approach had less impact than it does today.

The market has shifted. Much like the early 2000s, we are back living in an “employee centered” job market. Entrepreneurship is on the rise. People are choosing jobs based on where they want to live, what they want to do for a living, and how much they would like to be paid. Talent, not employment, has the upper hand again. As employers, some of us have missed the shifting tides. We now struggle to keep employees long-term. As a result, training and recruiting costs go up and our organizations shift and change rapidly as people move on for bigger and better opportunities.

Despite the increasing automation we’ve seen in many industries, human capital is still the most valuable kind. Employers must ever be mindful of this resource and constantly adapt to the changing job market. Many organizations believe they can save money by eliminating or downsizing human resources. That is a mistake. Investing in our employees will foster a greater return than money can buy.

Next week we will explore retention of the “modern employee” in today’s job market through the creation of workplace rootedness.

Chelsea Rosty is the executive director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce and director of Business Innovation for the City of Montrose. Contact her atchelsea@montrosechamber.com.