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Turnover plagues American workplaces.

The revolving door — pushed by attrition, downsizing, firings, retirements of the big baby boom generation, and the tendency of younger generations to change jobs often — makes employee turnover a top challenge for human resource professionals.

Forty percent of respondents to the 2015 Employee Recognition Report, a new survey by the Society for Human Resource Management and Globoforce, said employee retention and turnover were challenges.

Looking closer at the survey responses, I think the next top-mentioned matter — “employee engagement” — is a far bigger problem. Employee engagement, cited by 39 percent, nipped at the heels of turnover’s 40 percent, but look at other problems listed in the survey:

Culture management, cited by 24 percent; performance management, 22 percent; employee satisfaction, 22 percent; relieving employee frustration, 14 percent; employee enablement, 12 percent; productivity, 11 percent; employee happiness, 9 percent.

Any or all of them are other ways to talk about “employee engagement.” Any or all could mean human resource officers see that employees are not as tuned into their tasks as they might be.

I just saw a national Workplace Options poll in which 1 in 3 American workers admitted they regularly deal with their own financial matters during the work day, generally because of worries or stress and not because they’re playing the market on company time.

It’s very sad. Even though the U.S. job market — finally — has improved from its post-recession depths, the improvement hasn’t looked like past recoveries that significantly bettered workers pay and/or job satisfaction. We know why:

Part-time and contract jobs without employee benefits have replaced many full-time jobs.

Employee raises have stagnated.

Mortgages and the need to have two-income households have kept many workers tied to their jobs, unable to relocate.

Employee costs have risen for their employer-subsidized health insurance.

Downsizing has reduced options for promotions or transfers.

The power of unions to set wage standards has faded.

Then read the headlines about soaring CEO pay and corporate profits.

We could well discuss whether American workers suffer from an entitlement complex, or whether they’ve been left too far behind while executives and stockholders have prospered. There’s truth in both conclusions.

But the stunning reality is that worker unhappiness permeates workplaces, and that’s not a recipe for productive, innovative, globally leading enterprises.

Human resource practitioners are right to say they’re challenged. But we can’t just tally the problems. We have to stem the employee disengagement spiral.

Ideas?

stafford@kcstar.com

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