When this employee retention speaker recently read a Wall Street Journal article on IBM’s move to bring it’s remote employees back into the office because it would improve collaboration, my initial reaction was “yeah right!”  I don’t believe for a minute that it was due to that need…not in light of the fact that it comes on the heels of multiple difficult quarters financially for IBM.  This comes after years of promoting remote work as a practice that has been crucial to retaining talent they tout as an important component of their success.

Not only did they expect people to come into the office full-time, they gave them minimal notice do so.  Many of these employees lived hundreds of miles away and had been working remotely for years and are now expected to “come inside” within a minimal amount of time.  Needless to say, the reaction is what you might get from a great many of the employees faced with that situation; they decided to VOLUNTARILY quit and take new jobs.  The end result is that IBM will be able to jettison a large number of employees without paying a significant amount of severance.  Excuse this employee retention expert’s skepticism but that is rather convenient.  Unfortunately, it is only convenient in the short run.

What IBM did was basically destroy a great amount of the loyalty that they have been building over the years.  The remaining employees that are watching are thinking the same thing I was thinking.  This was a great way to downsize to bolster the bottom line without having to pay the price of severance which can be hefty.  Those people that will remain will trust senior leadership less because they didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to come right out and say that they needed to downsize because of declining revenue.  People are used to downsizing as part of business.  Although employees may not like it, they can generally accept it because that is the way business works.

People want to be loyal.  Given the opportunity, people are loyal if they know an organization will be loyal to them.  Most people don’t like leaving a good organization for the sake of moving.  Trust, and the loyalty that it brings with it, are built over time.  The IBM employees will continue to do their job, keep quiet and be good corporate soldiers.  But, don’t kid yourself, they will clearly be much more receptive to overtures from other organizations and the loyalty that may have been an employee retention factor in the past has been diminished.