If the many reports of late are to be believed, 2015 is looking relatively good for the UK economy. The doom and gloom has, by and large, disappeared. It is now more common to see business commentators outlining company success and growth. Given this growing optimism, organisations can perhaps be forgiven for assuming that the workforce is happier than it has been in a while.

However, HR and talent management professionals shouldn’t allow their business to fall into a false sense of security. In fact, I would argue that it is perhaps more important to engage, motivate, and subsequently retain, employees during a period of growth, than it is during difficult times. My reasoning behind this is arguably simple, but certainly logical when given the required thought.

During a downturn, it’s highly likely that staff will focus their attention on keeping their existing job, particularly amidst reports of company closures and redundancies elsewhere. This is a natural response that many individuals have when they feel less secure about the wider hiring market. After all, how many people are likely to take the risk of moving to another business when the economic outlook is bleak? Very few, I would guess.

On top of this, when times are tough some individuals do have a tendency to group together and support the company and any difficult decisions it makes. As such, more employees are likely to simply accept cutbacks or pay freezes during a downturn.

In comparison, during an upturn staff confidence will be higher and, as such, they are likely to be less concerned about the downfalls of a potential job move. In fact, given the tough time employees might have endured as the company struggled to survive the recession, it could be argued that more individuals are likely to want a fresh start at a new business. For those who held out during tough economic times, reports of growth elsewhere could be just the prompt they need to move on.

This sentiment is indicative of a recent report from the Institute of Leadership Management (ILM) which revealed that more than a third of the workforce plans to move roles in the coming twelve months – a significant increase compared to last year (19%).

Clearly then, employee retention needs to be a top priority for HR and talent management teams this year, regardless of the perceived company sentiment. Even if a business is creating more promotion opportunities or increasing salaries, it simply can’t be assumed that staff will be happier in their job.

Instead, organisations need to stay on top of workforce engagement – by revamping employee benefit strategies, for example – and ensure that they are going the extra mile for their staff. If this is ignored, the risk to the business is immense. Losing top talent now could severely damage a company’s growth potential. Given that replacing lost talent can be costly – over £30,000 per employee according to Oxford Economics – the financial impact could be great.  

What do you think – should more emphasis be placed on employee engagement when optimism is high?