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The most common question I am asked today is, “Where have all the people gone?” Much has been written about why this shortage of people is occurring. I have written extensively on this topic as well. While we may have a better understanding of why this is happening, the more pressing question is what to do about it.

From my perspective, there is a solution to the problem but it’s not the quick fix that many employers are looking for. To provide some context, and to get your mind in the right place, I would like you to generate a report showing the name of every person who has worked for your company in the last 10 years but is not employed by your company today. For some of you, this list is enormous. And there may be very good reasons for it being large. I want you to visually see the names and number of people on the list.

(Photo: Credit: The best photo for all / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

(Photo: The best photo for all / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Why people leave

Now let me ask you a question. What if a percentage of these people still work for you today? Would you still have a labor issue to solve? Or would every position be filled? More to the point, why don’t these people work for your company today? Understandably, some were seasonal-only employees. That’s fine. But what about the rest? What went wrong in the relationship that led to separation? What could have been done differently to restore the relationship before it was too late?

The reality is that every relationship matters today more than it ever has. And relationships will only be successful if they receive significant attention. From my perspective, many employers are not equipped or interested in making the level of investment required to foster long-term, successful relationships. The result is a never-ending revolving door of constantly changing names, faces, and social security numbers. Maybe at one time, that approach was acceptable. Today it clearly is not.

Building successful relationships

Think about your personal relationships. They provide insight for us into the employee-employer relationship. What makes a relationship successful? Open communication, honesty, and restoration when things don’t go as planned. Successful relationships have a foundation of hopefulness with an eye toward the future. Every relationship starts out with this foundation. The key is to maintain it.

The all-too-predictable progression is for a new employee to start out full of hope and excitement – until something goes wrong. There is a crack in the relationship. This is a critical moment. The crack can be fixed; it’s not too late! But in many cases, the crack is not fixed. The relationship sours, hopes are dashed, future plans are abandoned, and the relationship slowly dissolves. The result is unnecessary turnover and expense, lost opportunity and wasted investment.

The only way to have long-term, successful employees is to have long-term, successful relationships. Are you up for the challenge? Not sure where to start? Call ten people from your list of previous employees and ask them.

Now go forth.

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Phil Harwood

About the Author:

Harwood is a Managing Partner with GrowTheBench and Pro-Motion Consulting. Reach him at He is a Landscape Industry Certified Manager, NALP Trailblazer, NALP Consultant, and Certified Snow Professional. Harwood holds a BA in Marketing and Executive MBA with Honors from Michigan State University.

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