New survey reveals what employers are (or aren’t) doing to mitigate talent challenges

by | Feb 2, 2022

By Bethia Burke, president, Fund for Our Economic Future

You know the saying, “people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their managers?” Forget it. People are quitting their jobs.

More than 750 employers from 18 counties across Northeast Ohio responded to survey questions designed to understand employers’ perspectives of the nationwide talent shortage. In what should come as no surprise, the vast majority of respondents reported they are experiencing a talent shortage. Of those, the majority reported higher than usual churn, or turnover, over the past two years.

Churn is demonstrably high. People are leaving jobs in record numbers. The “quit rate,” i.e., the number of employees who leave companies of their own accord,has gone from being an obscure economic indicator to showing up in regular dinner table conversations. Why people are quitting, and what could help mitigate the talent shortage, is the subject of great speculation. Employers’ perception? This survey data cites salaries and wages as the number one reason people are giving for leaving jobs, if they give a reason. Second, third and fourth (in close proximity to one another): burnout, work/life balance and family responsibilities. Way down on the list: management. According to employers, at least, people are quitting their jobs, not their managers.

If that’s true, the challenge should be eminently solvable, if employers are prepared to listen to what can make jobs better.

Through the survey, employers report increasing wages as their top strategy to attract, hire and retain workers, whether hourly or salaried. This strategy makes sense. Offering a competitive wage is basic economics. As interesting are the opportunities presented by what else employers report doing—or not doing—to mitigate talent challenges:

  • To retain hourly employees, employers’ reported number two strategy is to promote more from within the company. Third on the list is supporting their workforce to gain new skills, through strategies like tuition reimbursement and in-house training. For a segment of the workforce that has long been underinvested in, this is good news and suggests pathways to opportunities may be expanding.
  • Also encouraging is the range of tactics employers report using to improve the quality of jobs, from more flexible hours to remote or hybrid work to increased vacation time. The list suggests a growing understanding of what advocates have promoted for years: a good job requires more than just a good wage.
  • Interestingly, child and elder care, noted in a Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank analysis of the Household Pulse Survey as one of the three most cited reasons for nonemployment, were hardly cited in this survey data by employers as factors in the talent shortage. Family care can be a hidden issue. By default, if a worker can interview for and take a job, they have solved (at least temporarily) any care issues that limit work.

Building better jobs most effectively will rely on understanding what matters to workers and potential workers. Only about 8% of employer respondents reported employing a relatively straightforward tactic: asking workers what matters to them. To answer the question, “Where are the Workers,” the Fund and our partners have launched a region-wide survey of working-age adults in which we will be asking what workers are looking for. And we look forward to sharing the results and supporting strategies to build better jobs. But any employer anxious to know what matters to the workforce could ask their existing employees today and use this information to inform retention strategies as soon as tomorrow.

Some survey respondents indicated a strong belief that government benefits are keeping people from working, even though national studies have indicated this isn’t the case and pandemic-related extended unemployment benefits have ended.

The economy has moved into a choice market for workers. “Consumer confidence” is regularly referenced in conversations about the overall economy. What we’re seeing in the labor market now may be “worker confidence.” And while it is painful for leaders of companies with unfilled positions, worker confidence is a good thing. Efforts to improve job quality are long overdue and workplaces that work better for people will be better for the economy in the long run. Leading employers will be those who recognize this new dynamic—a good job requires more than just a good wage—and respond accordingly.

Are you an employer interested in joining a follow-up discussion? Email us at watw@thefundneo.org.

Survey results snapshot

What the Survey Revealed

From December 17 – January 24, employers from across Northeast Ohio’s 18-county region were invited to respond to our survey about recruitment and retention. A parallel effort by ConxusNEO, TeamNEO and partners in Greater Akron contributes additional insights from Summit and Medina County. Between the Greater Akron survey and the Regional survey, more than 750 employers responded.

The preliminary findings below are extracted from the Regional survey only. More detailed analysis will follow in the coming weeks. Nearly 80% of respondents said they are experiencing a talent shortage. Of those experiencing a talent shortage, about two-thirds reported that retention is also a significant issue. Almost all employers experiencing a talent shortage say they’re not getting enough qualified applicants for their hiring needs. 18-30-year-olds appear to be the most elusive age group for both talent attraction and retention. We asked employers what strategies they’re using to compete for talent. Increasing wages was the top response for both hourly and salaried positions, both for attracting new talent and retaining talent.

Higher wages being offered elsewhere was also the top reason employers are hearing from applicants who turn down an offer or from employees resigning.