The employees were seated in a semi-circle, their minds anxious and their hearts heavy with anticipation of what the executive would say. The company had been on a downward spiral for several years, but senior level acknowledgement had only been forthcoming for the past six months or so. Even now, bolstered by the advice of timid PR henchmen, the executives underplayed the severity of the financial situation and downplayed the impact it would have on the workforce.
In an attempt to “rally the troops” and to “engage” the masses, the CEO and COO continued their quarterly “town hall meetings” with employees. After all, what better way to connect with the worker bees than to gather them and hear what was really on their minds, right? Yet, with every town hall, employee skepticism, fear, and uncertainty seemed to rise.
One brave (or foolish) employee stepped forward, like an unwitting lamb being led to slaughter. He hesitated briefly, enough to quell the dread growing in his gut.
“Sir, aren’t we afraid that with all the changes being introduced, and announcements of impending layoffs, much of our top talent will jump ship?” he asked. “What are we doing to prevent a flood of talent out our doors?”
Others around the room nodded in agreement.
The executive chuckled, which did little to ease the discomfort in the auditorium. Clearing his voice, he responded, “Well, that’s just the elephant in the room, isn’t it?”
A momentary surge of hope swept across the seats, only to be dashed when he launched into an explanation that senior leaders were confident the company’s incredible benefits would prevent the exodus of top talent. Instantly, the collective confidence of the employee group vanished.
You see, for months, employees had been watching many of the most educated, most experienced, and most talented amongst them leave for other opportunities. It wasn’t how would they avoid the exodus at all, but rather, how will they stem the flow that has already begun?
On top of that, while the benefits of the company were indeed admirable a decade ago, in reality, those who had looks outside the walls of the corporate headquarters realized that their benefits were now fairly average. While the pension remained (for now), healthcare costs to employees were on the rise, flexible scheduling was becoming more tightly controlled (in part a byproduct of so many employees jumping ship and leaving less employees with more work), education dollars had been slashed, and performance raises were falling well below annual cost of living. Once an employer of choice, the company was now simply on par with other employers in the area.
But, with that answer, the questions faded. The atmosphere in the auditorium went flat. Engagement sunk even further.
Despite the silence in the room, however, every mind in the room had shifted…..to their own escape. After all, on the Titanic, there were only so many life boats. In his own way, the executive hadn’t so much as attempted to distribute life vests to the crew. He merely flipped his hand and smiled through his teeth….and instructed the band to keep playing, as the bow of the ship continued its slow descent into the deep.