A very good friend of mine runs a dental-health business. For the past 20 months she has endured a whipsaw running a business in the Covid-19 era. Her once flourishing venture plummeted early in the Covid pandemic. Then, when business rebounded, she had trouble bringing employees back. Some were not ready to return to the workforce or the workplace. Many more had simply moved on to other jobs or entirely new careers.
She’s not the only one dealing with a worker shortage. Between April and August this year, nearly 20 million U.S. workers left their jobs, according to the latest federal data reported in the Wall Street Journal, a number more than 60% higher than the resignations handed in during the same period last year and well above the resignation rate during 2019’s record job market.
Help wanted signs have become a fixture in restaurants across the country, but it’s not just fast food companies dealing with a retention crisis. In nearly all the occupational profiles followed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from healthcare to professional services to personal care, job vacancies have skyrocketed.
Despite these dire statistics, at least a portion of the C-Suite remains blissfully unconcerned. According to a recent survey by NTT Data Services and Oxford Economics of information technology and business leaders, only 16% cite employee retention as a priority. CEOs need to wake up to the problematic retention trend quickly. As a framework, CEOs can start by segmenting their workforce and creating retention strategies aimed at each. While individual companies and industries are different, here are four categories of employees for CEOs to consider:
• Clutch shooters. In basketball, certain players are known to take the ball and make shots at critical times in the game. Similarly in the workplace, clutch shooters knock down difficult tasks in pressure situations. Citing emotional exhaustion, an alarming number of U.S. workers—surely the clutch shooters— are walking out of a job in frustration (some in more extreme anger as Rage Quitters). Senior management should create safe spaces and prioritize wellness breaks for clutch shooters.
• Front-line workers. There are many employees, especially within essential industries, who must physically show up to their job. Many of these “front-line workers” have taken on even greater risk in their interaction with customers. According to an analysis of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, front-line workers are quitting in droves. Until Covid-19 is under control, front-line workers will fret going into work and continue to turn in their resignations. Adding positions, flexibility and resources for frontline workers needs to be an ongoing priority.
• Knowledge workers. Many professionals who left the workforce did so in order to enhance technical and professional skills. We at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School experienced a 55% year-over-year increase in applications across all MBA programs during the 2020–21 admissions cycle. Knowing competitors are poaching more experienced and educated workers with ruthless aggression, management should consider training or tuition reimbursement as an incentive to keep critical players.
• Boomers. In stark comparison to recent years in which Baby Boomers remained in jobs in record numbers, Goldman Sachs economists noted in a recent report 3.4 million of the 5 million who have left the labor force since the pandemic’s start are 55 or older. Boomers who remain have greater institutional knowledge and experience. Senior managers should develop incentives for continued employment among Boomers as well as knowledge-sharing opportunities, such as mentorships and workshops, to arm younger workers for success.
The Great Resignation is a major threat to seamless business functioning and to executive leadership. But times of trial are surmountable when leaders take intentional action. My friend in the dental business maintains her optimism, despite working long hours focusing on recruitment and retention strategies. To sustain and build their operations, every executive in America should do no less.