Can employees spread their wings without being a "flight risk"? In the last few years, the concept of the employee “flight risk” has taken root in HR. Initially, it was used mostly in relation to employee retention—if someone was thought to be planning to jump ship, it was HR’s job to assess the employee’s status as a flight risk, in the hope that there was some way to keep from losing talent.

But the term appears to have evolved to include potential hires that might be the hardest to hold on to—and it may be killing job candidates’ chances. Last week, Sharlyn Lauby, on her site HR Bartender, posted a question she had received from a recruiter who felt that there is an overemphasis on flight risk potential among hiring managers:

The dreaded “flight risk” reason for not selecting a candidate has been really bothering me... It seems that, if there is a snippet of other goals or ambitions, then hiring managers are ready to claim “flight risk”. I know sometimes it may be a valid concern but how can you tell the difference between real flight risk concerns versus legitimate dreams/ambitions?

In her answer (notably her first video response), Lauby says that:

There’s definitely a difference between pursuing your dreams and passions, and taking a job just for the money and bolting at the first sign of a little bit more pay or a little bit more benefits. This is where the recruiting process is so important; making sure that you ask the right questions and understand the difference between the two can really set your organization apart, and possibly even allow you to hire an employee who will want to move on to bigger and better things within your organization.

Lauby’s answer makes very clear the distinction between long-term goals and loyalty issues, but even more importantly, it really turns the question around and hints at how what initially may seem to be a flight-risk might actually be a huge opportunity for an employer. The most desirable talent, Lauby’s answer suggests, may naturally be the candidates with the greatest ability to think bigger and better. Is there a way to channel that vision and ambition into the company?

Within the workplace, the flight risk issue has confounded many companies. The stagnant economy was thought to have turned the workplace into a recruiter’s dream, and yet, for instance, in August the Conference Board of Canada reported that:

Canadian organizations face heightened “flight risk” as employees evaluate new opportunities in a recovering economy. The recession gave employers only a brief reprieve from looming workforce shortages and an ongoing competition for talent. A growing economy and an aging workforce make it just a matter of time before pressure in labour markets begins to build again.

How to beat the flight risk issue? Most experts say regular assessment is the key to retaining employees who may be getting restless. Caela Farren at Workforce Management has a list of 15 questions to evaluate the flight risk potential of your employees, ranging from immediate talent-management issues like “Do you remain vigilant for any sign of fatigue or overwork, and do you take prompt supportive action to correct it?” and “Do you have an open, trusting, respectful relationship with this person?” to long-term questions like “Do you know this person's #1 career concern and are you working with him or her to address it?”

03 November 2010

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