Our Most Important Assets Are…

Frequently, I hear “our employees” as the closer for that sentence. Nice sentiment, but is it backed up by evidence? When we do a risk assessment, we consider our assets and what it would cost us if they were not available, if they had to be replaced.

I’ve seen firewalls and encryption and digital loss prevention systems put in place around databases, source code, and trade secrets. I have yet to see a company that has proactively made similar protective efforts around its employees. Given the efforts some go to in order to hire those same employees in the first place, I find such a lack of protections ironic.

After all, if a company is willing to offer better benefits, higher pay, and better working conditions than another company in order to attract talented employees, it is definitely showing a value for those employees at the time of hiring. But that value seems to be discounted almost immediately through HR practices that limit bonuses and vacation in the first year of work, annual compensation rules that limit increases in pay, and management choices to restrict lateral moves within the company. These are endemic, even at companies that think they don’t have these problems.

So, the employee stays with the company for a while and then notices other firms dangling bigger and better opportunities. If a person asks for a raise, however, such requests are frequently met with denial or stalling tactics. The current employer basically encourages its employees to actively seek out better opportunities, secure them, and then come forward with an offer letter and a notice of departure. Only then do the negotiations start in earnest, in the hopes that a matching counter-offer is sufficient to retain the person who already made a decision to leave and found a place to go to.

If a person could actually go to a manager, talk about dissatisfaction with current conditions, and then walk out with those conditions addressed to the point where the person won’t bother to look for a better place to be – including the possibility of an out-of-cycle pay increase, then, yes, that is a place where the greatest assets are the employees.

Otherwise, may we please ask that people no longer say “our greatest assets are our employees”? The greatest assets are the ones where investments are made to keep them from walking out the door.

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