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Guest column: Keeping the right employees

The idea of finding a lifetime employee has diminished greatly in the last couple of decades. At one time people were told to find a good job and do everything to keep it.

Matthew Mohr
Matthew Mohr
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There is a lot of discussion within most businesses about how to retain and attract employees. Although somewhat magnified today, this is not a new phenomenon; human resource professionals have calculated employee tenure, turnover, and watched the hiring process closely for years.

The idea of finding a lifetime employee has diminished greatly in the last couple of decades. At one time people were told to find a good job and do everything to keep it.

Today we have the impression this idea has shifted to “find a job, take as much as you can and leave the moment you find anything better!” If this shift in attitude is real, many people are going to find life much less satisfying and will be less prosperous as their futures unfold.

A recent Wall Street Journal quoted a new graduate or Generation Z worker as saying, “The most important thing was being at the top of the pay scale.” In today’s job environment, pay is a primary benchmark, but pay alone has proven out over the years to be the wrong motivator for most employees.

Entry level jobs have never been the most desirable, but the idea one can start at the top is much more flawed than the age-old prospect of taking an entry level job then working your way up in an organization.

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When I finished school, one of my classmates put on his resume his expected starting position was “Vice President.” None of the classmates I have spoken with about him since our graduation knew if he ever found a job or what he was doing to make a living.

Certainly, to expect to start as a vice president of any organization without experience is a preposterous idea; yet he seemed to think at the time that this was reasonable. It didn’t work out then, nor would it be likely today.

Every organization needs to be competitive with general pay and benefits in respect to the market and the position, though some businesses seem to get by with offering the lowest pay with poor benefits. Low pay and poor benefits are not a long-term successful strategy.

However, a business must be profitable to survive. If the pay scale for a profession becomes too high that the industry becomes unprofitable, no one wins.

Recently a regional business manager I know received a message from a person he hired asking this employer for more money to pay for his health insurance. Before getting the job, he was on a government funded health care plan with no cost for care or for the policy. His “advisor” suggested he ask for more pay or to be reclassified as a non-employee.

The person was more than willing to lie about his employment status to get free health care. If he could get paid, but claim he was unemployed, the government-provided benefits would continue. This employer told the person no, and suggested to the person this might be an illegal act.

The audacity of someone even asking such a question is amazing. If a person is willing to lie to the government to get something they want, the person will surely cheat their employer. The person gave up an opportunity to significantly improve their life, future opportunities, and now the person is supposedly back on government benefits looking for a good job.

As people job hop today, they are unlikely to build much of a retirement package for themselves. Although retirement funds such as 401K savings are “portable” through the process of moving from one job to the next, transaction costs, time spent learning, the small breaks in contributed funds, and similar costs, add up to such a high level few understand or anticipate.

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Unfortunately, many businesses made pension promises that were not possible to fulfill, and the employees who placed their faith in these promised payments have suffered.

Our environment today is not very different. Young people are being sold on the idea of putting away a small percent of their earnings into a 401K or mutual fund and by doing so they will retire like royalty. After all, the sellers of this notion claim, over time stocks always go up! Normally if you save nothing you understand you will have nothing. Historically if one saves little one ends up with little.

Every business must determine how its pay and benefits relate to options from other employers in the marketplace. Employees are smart and will do comparisons, and so should employers.

Matthew Mohr is president of Dacotah Paper Co. based in Fargo. 

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