It’s now or never for bad employers to mend their ways

To all bad bosses,

You know who you are. During the Great Recession you got away with mistreating people with few consequences.

Remember the favoritism you used to decide who to lay off when your revenue tanked?

Remember all those Internet applications from desperate job seekers that you never had the decency to reply to?

For workers lucky enough to keep their jobs, you perpetuated fear that they could lose them at any moment. If they did, they would face tall odds for getting another one. There were nearly seven unemployed workers for each vacancy during the depth of the recession.

But now, with the economy recovering, there are only two unemployed workers for each vacancy. Going forward, that’s likely to decline even more, giving employees new options about where to work. “Quit rates” are on the upswing.

Treating employees as interchangeable parts is no longer going to cut it. What are you going to do? How are you going to do it?

For starters, you may want to get to know one of the progressive employers in this special section.

Read about what the company has done. Often, the employers who performed well have had effective personnel practices for years. They actually follow through on their promises.

Call one of them. You’ll learn how important it is to treat people with respect, something you haven’t demonstrated lately.

For example, asking employees for their input before making important decisions is a key driver of job satisfaction. That, in turn, can boost productivity and your bottom line.

For those of you who are hesitating to change, I’ll let you in on a little secret. The Internet is a two-way street.

For quite some time, you and other employers have been checking social media websites to find out about prospective employees.

Guess what? Workers can do the same thing to research you and your HR practices.

During the recession, networking among job seekers exploded. So did the sharing of information on the Web about which employers are hiring and what they’re like to work for.

What’s your reputation — or brand image — among employees? What will they tell prospective applicants?

As you know, it takes a long time to successfully rebrand a company or product after a misstep. Doesn’t it stand to reason that it will take just as long to gain a better reputation in the wake of your poor personnel practices?

Already, there are growing shortages of skilled workers — white-collar and blue-collar — in a host of industries. As the job market gets tighter, those shortages will intensify.

Even low-paying major retailers are starting to raise their wages and promise better conditions, such as more reliable work schedules and promotion policies, to attract and keep employees. Turnover is expensive.

You’ll be competing for the most talented workers against companies with far better reputations. It’s crunch time for you.