How to Survive a Downturn? Retain Your Talent. 09.24.2023 | Jennifer Connell

As interest rates climb and parts of the economy cool, many companies are tapping into the not-so-secret key to business survival: retaining their talent! That means shifting away from steep layoffs and instead prioritizing how to keep workers right where they are. This change in strategy from what we saw 12-18 months ago may, in fact, help the economy avoid spiraling downward.

Even in the national recessions of 2007-2009 and 2020, inflation and high interest rates prompted mass layoffs which led to sharp declines in consumer spending, only hurting an economy that was already struggling to stay afloat. The trend to keep and further develop talent may be counterintuitive for businesses trying to cut costs, but by keeping people employed, it’ll prevent them from making dramatic spending cutbacks and ultimately help the economy stick a soft landing (and avoid a more serious, longer-lasting recession).

Part of this trend arises from a fear that if companies lay off their talent today, they may not get them back when it comes time to hire again. According to the Wall Street Journal, this was the case for the freight rail industry, which struggled to rehire following a period of mass layoffs during the pandemic; many of these operators then lost out on additional revenue as they didn’t have sufficient train crews to meet demand. In a climate where the competition for skilled workers is so stiff, businesses are keen to keep their greatest assets – their people – where they can see them.

So, what are employers doing with their retained workforce?

They’re developing them.

Savvy employers are leveraging technology to find efficiencies and cut costs, then cross-training employees to integrate these tools within their roles. Investing time into employee development allows these companies to do more with their existing workforce, and this agility reduces the need for layoffs when business priorities shift.

Where does mobility fit in?

For today’s employees, work and life are no longer disparate realms.

Particularly with the rise in remote work – and many people working in the same space where they live – work is more personal than ever.

Accordingly, employees are looking for employers who walk the walk when it comes to engaging their employees, promoting balance, and communicating how they are contributing to the overall goals of the organization. Mobility is a vehicle for all this (and more); therefore, it’s a tool to be leveraged in any employee retention strategy.

The glorious thing about mobility today is that it’s incredibly adaptable, especially as innovative technology tools allow us the ease to manage relocation programs in a multitude of different ways, accommodating multiple policies, move types, and specific employee/business needs (hey, have you seen what Weichert Go can do?).

Here are a few of the many ways mobility is being leveraged to meet retention goals:

Personal Fulfillment: Gen Z is more motivated than earlier new hire generations to seek out professional opportunities that offer business travel. Ensuring that mobility opportunities are available to this demographic may keep them from looking for outside opportunities.

Flexibility: Today’s employees want flexibility in how and where they work, and this applies to mobility opportunities too. More companies are integrating “choice” into their relocation programs where possible, such as choice in locations, suppliers, accommodations, or even who the employee can bring on the house hunting trip.

Development: We’ll say it again: Employees are hungry to grow! I realize this seems absurd…“Why would I train my employee on a new skill, then watch them leave for another company?” Well, that’s exactly what employees are going to do if employers DON’T provide career-enhancing educational opportunities. If the training is related to leadership development or requires a global mindset, a three-month program that helps to identify internal talent could save significant recruitment costs later on. Supporting Developmental and Leadership programs through rotational assignments as well as internships are an important way for companies to build their own pipeline of talent from the inside and engage their workforce.

 If it’s clear that mobility is an important piece of the retention equation, what’s a mobility manager to do when faced with employees who are reluctant to move when offered these opportunities? Well, companies are leaning in, asking employees what they want to feel fulfilled in their roles, and working to provide opportunities to help them grow, learn, and thrive!

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Written by Jennifer Connell


Jennifer Connell, SCRP, SGMS-T, is Vice President of Weichert’s Advisory Services group. She has over 25 years of experience in the workforce mobility and employee benefits industries and is a recipient of Worldwide ERC’s Distinguished Service Award. She has spoken on workforce mobility topics at industry conferences throughout North America and written for mobility- and HR-themed blogs and magazines worldwide.

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