I am constantly amazed at all the tools our information age has given businesses to recruit new associates. Sites and applications like Indeed, Monster, and LinkedIn are all very visible, inexpensive, and accessible ways of finding those new employees who will keep our doors open and our customers happy.

I am old enough to remember a time when the way someone conducted a job search was either by perusing the classified sections of newspapers or trade journals. This was a tedious process that required letter-writing skills, thank-you notes, and a ton of patience. Now, job seekers can apply for 50 jobs a day through an app on their smartphone, they can contact thousands of starving recruiters desperate for new wares to peddle, and they can interview and receive job offers without getting on an airplane and talking face to face.

This phenomenon has created a very competitive recruiting landscape with businesses working very hard to bring in quality applications and working even harder in their attempts to land high-potential employees. Sign-on bonuses, relocation reimbursement, new-hire welcome programs, flexible schedules are the tactics used to entice much-needed talent to join a team and produce the results it needs.

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These hiring practices, from recruitment to onboarding, can take a ton of time and it is easy for leaders to be consumed by hiring, especially in industries where there are more jobs than qualified individuals to fill them. While I would always argue that filling open positions should be one of the most important priorities of any hiring manager, I have found that this can often create a situation where the current associates are neglected in favor of the new ones. This neglect towards tenured staff can lead to profound job dissatisfaction, which then escalates into turnover, which only feeds the need to bring in more new employees. This “revolving door” is a difficult circumstance to transcend, and throughout my career, I have seen several businesses struggle needlessly and fail because of it. They justify the turnover due to the employee not being the right “organizational fit” or state that she “wasn’t as good as she was in the interview” rather than owning up to the fact that they didn’t take care of the associate after the honeymoon was over. Open positions and the need to bring in new recruits seldom have anything to do with applicant flow and perceptions like “nobody is willing to work hard these days.” It has more to do with organizational inability to “re-recruit” the existing workforce and motivate them to re-engage for the good of the company.

There is universal truth in the statement that untended relationships always grow stale and this dynamic is as true in professional and personal lives. When relationships are new, we tend to approach them with great optimism and enthusiasm while hoping that they are going to fulfill our needs in a way that makes our life better; however, over time, as imperfections and faults become more obvious, we can grow disenchanted with these relationships and begin to question whether or not we wish to continue with them, especially if no effort is made towards improvement and growth.

A new employee generally views his or her new company as a great organization that lives up to its mission statement and provides its staff with the same enthusiasm seen during their first day of orientation; however, it isn’t terribly uncommon for that same employee, six months later, to be complaining about a supervisor and wishing they were somewhere else. How does this happen? How can a person go from such an extreme high to such a devastating low in a relatively short period of time?

Interior Of Busy Modern Open Plan Office

Image credit: Cathy Yeulet ©

While I will absolutely admit that employees share ownership regarding their morale and attitude, I must also clearly state that the majority of the fault regarding job dissatisfaction among the tenured ranks is due to an inattentive leadership culture that fails to “re-recruit” its veteran workforce. It is easy to focus on the new associates because they don’t have baggage to deal with, no promises unkept, and no failures to forgive. Every new hire is a fresh start, and it can be very addictive for a manager to live off their enthusiasm and energy. Conversely, it can be very easy to slide a check in with a five-year employee to the back of the “to do” list who has had wages frozen, benefits taken away, and appreciation withheld. Those conversations are generally not fun because they often have legitimate criticisms fueled by negative energy. Rather than asking, “What can I do to re-engage this person,” the prevailing question becomes, “Why can’t he just resign?” I would argue that the moment any manager starts wishing for the resignation of a tenured associate, he or she should evaluate their overall purpose as a leader and either leave themselves or better yet work to become more effective.

So, how do you re-recruit your veteran staff? The first step is to understand that it isn’t going to be easy. In fact, it is going to require that you swallow your pride and take responsibility not only for omissions and shortfalls on your part but on behalf of your organization. This takes tremendous humility and commitment towards changing a culture; however, while the price is high, the payoff is most certainly worth it. Here are a couple of things for owners and managers to consider:

1. Change Your Mindset

How you consider your associates is precisely how you are going to treat them. If you perceive your workforce as entitled, lazy, and incompetent, that is precisely what they are going to be. Employees’ ability to sense their supervisor’s opinion of them is uncanny, and they will always detect their contempt if you view them in a negative way. If you can be mentally agile enough to reboot your perspective so that you can see your employees, especially long-term employees, as the most important part of a business, then your behavior will follow your perception. Those behaviors create the foundation for any re-recruitment efforts. Therefore, if you fail at this, you will fail with the rest of this list.

2. Accept That You and Your Organization Is Not Perfect

One of the most destructive things businesses do is not accept responsibility for mistakes and bad decisions. This practice, if we can even call it that, is born out of a great insecurity that people will somehow think less of you or your organization if you highlight a fault. Nothing could be further from the truth. If the organization contracts with a supplier that disrupts delivery times and upsets your customers, then admit it openly to your team and inform them what you are doing to fix the issue. If interest rates increase and impact your ability to give your employees a 401K match this year, be transparent about it rather than hope they simply won’t notice. Leadership and organizational credibility can be won during both seasons of profit AND loss if you respect the fact that all employees are shareholders, too, and deserve to be dealt with transparently.

3. Operationalize Your Outreach to All Existing Employees

Quite simply, all associates are worthy of your time and attention. They are the individuals responsible for keeping your promises to your customers. Without them, there is no revenue, strategy, or growth.

Pilots who disregard the condition of their airplanes and allow them to slip into disrepair shouldn’t be surprised when their engines fail and they crash. The same goes for businesses. To avoid mechanical problems, good pilots implement systems and checklists to validate the airplane’s safety and functionality. Good businesses do the same with their workforce by implementing regular associate check-ins, genuine open-door policies, and exceptional appreciation programming. They don’t assume that their staff are regularly listened to and appreciated when they do a good job. They create systems and opportunities to hardwire this outreach and make it an uncompromisingly high priority. This requires uncommon organizational discipline to initiate and sustain effective employee outreach programs; however, the return is always greater in the end.

Over the past decade, I have had the privilege of being involved in several turnaround efforts with organizations struggling financially and culturally. It isn’t uncommon for me to receive feedback from various sources regarding the quality of the workforce I will be inheriting and, from time to time, I have been told that I am going to have to “clean house” before we are to experience any progress. The term clean house, of course, means that I would have to terminate almost everyone before any real change is going to happen. This is a circumstance that has never materialized in my career. With a few exceptions, the employees who were sitting around the conference room table on day one are the same employees sitting around the table on day 365. Yet their engagement is higher, their enthusiasm is greater, and their results are much improved. How did this happen? They were re-recruited and told that they were important, and the organizations’ actions supported their claim.

Thanks for reading.