By Katy Brooks, CEO, Bend Chamber
This article originally appeared in The Bulletin on November 21, 2021
It’s everywhere. From the lowest paying jobs to high-wage earners, employees are walking out the door. And not just in Bend, but people are resigning across the country, causing disruption to businesses and a wave of labor shortages.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that nearly 20 million workers have left their jobs since April 2021. Here in Oregon we’re struggling, too. And there is not a singular reason why the workforce is changing so rapidly, but we know it is causing chaos in many industries.
And this may last a while. Karen Turner, a managing director at Express Pros says the workforce will be disrupted well beyond the pandemic. “The labor shortage has been in the works for quite a while, but the pandemic accelerated the timeline”, she says. The result will last for several years.
Employers are responding with big pay increases. Many restaurants and retailers have boosted pay. Some are taking it a step further and offering “appreciation bonuses” to entice their employees to stay.
But the money’s not working. A Texas A&M professor labeled it “The Great Resignation,” and the term has stuck. This has involved those just starting their careers as well as many who’ve decided now is the time to retire.
There’s been lots of speculation about the reasons. Some call it burnout. Others point to the flexibility of remote work or think the federal government’s COVID-19 unemployment program was overly generous. Whatever the reasons, we’ve all seen the result.
In a recent article in Fortune magazine, they claim the answer to the exodus may lie in quality of life and something akin to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. David Rock, cofounder and CEO of the NeuroLeadership Institute told Fortune that the pandemic has made many reassess the meaning of their jobs. “When the outside world is really uncertain, you need more purpose in your day-to-day,” says Rock.
Meanwhile, scores of industries have had to slow production because of parts shortages, as the ports are clogged and truckers are hard to find. Consumers are feeling it, too. Used car prices have spiked because dealers can’t get new models. And Christmas shopping began before Halloween.
So how can employers retain a workforce under so much disruption? Competitive compensation is surely important, but the answer may also come from management principles that align with the human element of work. Here are a few suggestions from a variety of sources:
Say “thank you” — Genuine recognition of an employees’ role in the company and their abilities often directly correlate to job happiness.
Build a “cafeteria” of benefits — Look for opportunities to help with housing, child care, fitness, personal days, even employee discounts can build loyalty, especially if you tailor them to the individuals’ needs.
Ask for and use their ideas — Employees feel engaged and respected when they’re asked for their views on how to make things better at work. Ask your people how you and your company can improve. You’ll likely spark innovation and ownership of the outcomes.
Mix it up — Exposing people to new responsibilities provides variety that keeps workers engaged. Don’t be afraid to stretch people with new assignments that will challenge their skills and expand their knowledge.
Stay flexible — In a recent poll 74% of millennials said they don’t want to return full-time to the office. Cutting out the commute and trusting your employees to get the job done is becoming an expectation.
Build a culture of value — Culture needs to reflect the value of your work, but also of the humans who work there.
Train your managers — There’s an adage that people don’t quit jobs, they quit their bosses. Lots of data points to a bad boss as the No. 1 reason why people quit their jobs. Offer training to your first-line managers to ensure they’re doing the things that make their subordinates happy with their jobs.
Employee turnover is expensive and disruptive. While not every organization can afford the additional expenses of higher wages or benefits, a lot of these activities are free or low-cost. That’s especially important for smaller businesses with modest revenues and little margin to spare. Get creative — it doesn’t cost a thing to show employees you care.