Retaining talent might be the single greatest challenge companies have in this recessionary economy. Management-Issues blog cites research by The Conference Board that argues that organizations need to find a way to attract, grow, and keep knowledgeable, talented, innovative people who can position their companies for a turnaround. Nic Paton writes:

The difficulty, of course, is that managers will need to spend the next eight to 12 months walking a tightrope between continuing to curb and control costs while ensuring they don't emerge blinking into the economic sunlight bereft of the top talent they need.

As organizations try to do more with less, managers should not assume that simply because they have highly engaged employees that those employees will stay with the company and continue to be productive indefinitely. Thomas Britt, professor of industrial psychology at Clemson University, says that a worker can be engaged but not committed. Scienceblog writes:

According to Britt, there is a difference between an engaged worker, meaning one who invests himself or herself in superior job performance, and organizational commitment, a worker's psychological attachment to his or her organization or employer. Britt's research found that an engaged employee isn't necessarily committed to the organization.

In an interview on, Britt says that highly engaged employees, although very productive, might be more susceptible to frustration from negative factors in the workplace. These factors include many of the things that happen in a down economy, such as budget cuts, inadequate supplies and equipment, not rewarding employees for success, and pay raises not tied to performance. Highly engaged employees are highly motivated to do well. When they believe that the company is blocking them from performing at that level, they become disappointed in the organization and themselves and will seek other opportunities.

One of the key negative factors that Britt identifies is “insufficient guidelines for what’s expected.” This makes sense to me, given that humans need to feel in control of their lives. Clarity about what is expected gives talented employees a feeling (even if it is illusory) that their work is predictable and manageable. If they don’t have this sense of control, they will either do their jobs less effectively or go somewhere where they know what is expected and can perform at the highest level.