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You can’t pick up a paper or business publication without reading about job losses and pay freezes…

British Airways has asked its employees to go without pay for a month… Telstra has frozen it’s top execs’ pay.  51% of privately held businesses have frozen salaries. 44% of telcos have pay freezes and 33% of IT companies. And of course, the finance industry is frozen.

If I were an employee in one of these organisations I’d be asking questions of the leadership team. I’d be wondering what implications such freezes have to my career. And how would I feel that I could get ‘ahead’?

Many organisations are saying ‘no jobs will go – but we’ve all got to tighten the belt’; a ‘we’re all in this together approach’. Some are leading by example and reducing management salaries and benefits. Many are using the opportunity to invest in infrastructure to enable future growth – which will lead to career opportunities.

What will this do to employee engagement? There are not many people who work just for the fun of it…. Because they love their job so much they don’t need to be paid – except of course the millions of people who volunteer their labour- (but that is a whole other story and they are usually working for not for profits, charities or a cause.)

Is a commercial enterprise a ’cause’?

I remember when Steve Jobs returned to Apple after years in the wilderness after he was dismissed from the organisation he founded. There had been a series of CEOs running Apple before his return – all famous for the massive remuneration packages. When he returned, he came back in an ‘acting capacity’ refusing a salary. When he was finally appointed to the role he took a salary of $1. You could argue that this unbelievable commitment to the purpose of the business – turned it into a ’cause’. Jobs then had the opportunity to completely re-energise and focus the business on what it was the best in the world at.

So if I was an employee in British Airways I would be asking the question – what fundamental restructures are going to be made to ensure that it is the world’s best at what it does. If it was truly world class then the career options available would blossom  – for the investment of one month’s salary, long term I might end up with better career options.  To give up a months salary is a massive investment to make, I’d really have to believe in the leadership of the organisation, that it was in a market that had great potential, and that I believed in not only what I was doing but that I respected my colleagues and wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself. I become a true stakeholder.

Apparently, more than a third of employees are just waiting for the ‘crisis’ to pass before they begin to search for their next role. People will remember how they were treated during this ‘blip’ and it is why recognition programs are more important than ever.

There are signs of recovery, and some believe that Generation Y will be back in charge by the end of the year.

People will contribute to an organisation and stay engaged if they believe in what they are doing and that they see a long-term benefit to their own personal circumstances. If new career opportunities arise as a result of restructuring then they are likely to not just hang around but also play full out. People want to contribute to something bigger than themselves and if they feel truly connected to the organisation they will do a lot for the good of the whole.

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