tranzition executive recruitment

Attracting, Motivating and Retaining Staff

when times are tough and you can’t afford to pay higher salaries

In the new economy, information, education, and motivation are everything.

Bill Clinton


In these tough economic times, businesses are challenged to do more with less. There are expectations from shareholders, boards and senior management to improve or at least retain market share, share prices, profitability, and viability.  And to do it with less money for R&D, a tighter budget, and no new staff.

While businesses globally are struggling to survive the current economic downtown, some businesses will actually thrive, albeit at the expense of their failing competitors. What allows these businesses to ride out the storm while others do not? 

Answer: Good staff.

When the budget will only buy so many resources, the #1 resource not to economise on is staff. The human potential to achieve and succeed, even during tough times, makes it even more important to recruit, develop, motivate, and retain the right people.

The first challenge is to recruit the best people. In a recession, workers are less mobile, and those in secure, reasonably satisfying, fairly well remunerated positions are much less likely to be looking to change jobs. So attracting great candidates requires more creative strategies, such as marketing your organisation, and not just the job – promoting the company and what you do well (truly superior products or service, great safety record, environmentally friendly, contributing to a better local or global community, employer of choice, etc). This promotion can be expensive, e.g.: corporate advertising campaigns; or cheap/free, such as local media stories, winning awards and the free publicity that often follows, networking within your industry or community, or, perhaps best of all, positive word of mouth from your current, highly satisfied staff.

However, promoting the job vacancy itself will still be necessary, in print media, online job boards, or through a consultancy, and there are strategies to help your role stand out from others, such as emphasising the benefits – many job ads are written to suit the employer and what they want from their new employee (qualifications, experience, skills, etc), whereas it is increasingly more important to promote what the employer is offering, and not just in terms of salary. It may be helpful to keep in mind the generational profile of the most likely candidates for your role, and consider what would be most appealing to that generational profile, e.g.: Baby Boomers generally value security (especially now) and recognition; Gen Xs are attracted to fair rewards, autonomy, and work/life balance; and Gen Ys find aligned values, challenging work, and a sociable workplace appealing. Even when you can’t offer the most competitive salary package, many candidates weigh up other benefits of working for your organisation, such as non-financial rewards, job satisfaction, and cultural fit, when considering whether to apply or accept a job offer.

When it comes to developing the staff you already have, be they new recruits or long-term employees, the same general principles apply – both performance and job satisfaction levels are positively correlated to effective induction, training, and development. All new staff should be thoroughly inducted into the organisation and their role, but equally, existing staff should receive position- or department-specific inductions if they change roles or teams. All staff should be trained in new tasks or procedures whenever these are implemented. And perhaps most importantly, all staff should be encouraged to develop additional skills to equip them to take on new responsibilities, both to improve staff retention (through offering additional challenges and therefore improved job satisfaction) and to assist in succession planning, through developing a high quality and loyal internal talent pool.

Motivating staff to perform at higher levels, or even just more consistently, can be challenging in organisations or economic climates where performance pay isn’t a viable option. However, as discussed above, when looking to attract quality candidates without necessarily offering the best remuneration packages, it is often a matter of ‘horses for courses’.  Some candidates will only consider a role that offers a higher salary than their current role, but many other candidates are as attracted, or even more attracted, by other benefits such as career development opportunities, flexible working hours, encouragement of work/life balance, values alignment between the organisation and employee, positive working environment, great location, generous leave provisions, etc. As many of us spend a third of our lives at work, it can be more important to get a good cultural fit than just a good salary.

Retention of quality staff need only be a real challenge for organisations when effective recruitment, development and motivation strategies aren’t in place, because it is much easier to retain good people when you already have them and are taking care of them. If you have appointed the best person; inducted, trained and developed them appropriately; and recognised, rewarded and motivated them effectively; why would they leave?





By Trevor Neville, Principal, and Kirsten Ferguson (Human Resource Management Consultant), TranZition Professional and Executive Recruitment, Level 3 Waterfront Place, 1 Eagle Street, Brisbane Qld 4000. Email:  Web:



trevor neville linked in

The FREE TranZition™ Report

TheTranZition™ Report covers the latest HR and employment issues in your sector, lists Available Candidates and for a bit of fun, has some trivia!

free tranzition report

Sign up below for your copy:

TranZition™ Report Comments

“Thanks so much for your newsletter; it is a great mix of entertainment and opportunities” Sandra T

“Thanks for the newsletters - I enjoy them and the trivia makes me feel partially stupid, which is also good for the ego.” Brian F

“I really like your newsletter. Well done, to the point and very interesting. Keep it that way.” Diane B

“It’s good to have some little reminders about things like performance appraisals – my staff is due soon.” Kathy T

“I look forward to the next newsletter” Dominic B