The Executive View: The Employee Exodus

Companies are scrambling not only to hire but also to retain employees, according to several recent articles.

By Dana Wilkie July 19, 2021
The Executive View: The Employee Exodus

​Some executives have blamed the recent difficulty in hiring workers on federal unemployment benefits, which they believe have kept potential employees from applying for jobs. After all, they say, given the choice between staying at home and earning perhaps $750 a week in federal and state benefits and dressing for work, commuting and earning $290 a week at a minimum-wage job (and that’s before taxes)—how hard is that decision? 

Yet the federal benefits are only part of a bigger story. Companies are scrambling not only to hire but also to retain workers, according to several recent articles, including one from Business Insider that explained the motivations behind “rage quitting” a job. The article followed, among others, a former Dollar General worker who said she’s never been the type of person who acts out of anger but decided she’d had enough stress, reduced hours and pay, and incompetent management. So she walked. 

No doubt the pandemic had a big influence on workers’ decisions to quit their jobs, though as Business Insider pointed out, “gigs in industries like retail have long been denounced over low pay and high stress. But will the boiled-over rage of workers fresh off a life-altering pandemic—and any resulting labor shortage—finally prompt a major shift in working conditions?”

It may, says Quincy Valencia, vice president of product innovation at the hiring platform Hourly by AMS. If a company doesn’t address the reason why it has so many unhappy cashiers, for instance, those cashiers aren’t inclined to make the shopping experience very pleasant for customers. And a bad experience with a cashier—or a waiter or sales clerk—“is going to ensure that a customer doesn’t come back,” Valencia said. 

The Exodus of Women 

Those job defections, however, spell trouble for women—about half of the U.S. workforce. 

Faced with an astounding lack of day care opportunities during the pandemic and saddled more than men with child-rearing and home schooling responsibilities, women quit their jobs in droves. And many haven’t returned. 

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo sounded the alarm in a recent interview with Fortune: The pandemic, she said, has wiped out more than 30 years’ worth of women’s employment gains. 

The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) noted that 80 percent of those who dropped out of the job market this past January were women.

The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly jobs report showed that the economy gained 850,000 jobs in June 2021 and women accounted for 47.6 percent of those gains. “Nevertheless,” the NWLC stated in a July fact sheet, “women will need more than nine straight months of job gains at [June’s] level to recover the nearly 3.8 million net jobs they have lost since February 2020.” 

“You cannot have a strong workforce, a strong economy and a strong democracy if women aren't included,” Raimondo told Fortune

‘Appeasing Workers with Fridays at Home Won’t Cut It.’ Not Anymore. 

Inc. offered some suggestions for becoming an employer of choice during the recent labor shortage. 

But first, it offered this warning: “The post-pandemic talent war is unlike anything we've seen before, and companies will either get on board or be left behind.” 

The trouble is, there appears to be a big disconnect between what job applicants want from an employer and what those employers want from their applicants. 

For instance, a Prudential study found that 1 in 3 workers would not work for a company that requires them to be onsite full time. Many flat out won’t accept a job if it’s not a remote position. 

But according to PwC, 68 percent of employers believe workers need to be in the office at least three days per week. 

What’s to be done? 

“To succeed in this environment, employers need to shift their thinking and create flexible environments that allow their employees to thrive,” Inc. recommended. “We should be thinking less about what yields the optimum productivity and more about how we can provide an environment for our employees to be the best version of themselves.”

Or, as Inc. stated more succinctly, “Appeasing workers with Fridays at home won't cut it.” 

Advice from Bill Gates and Warren Buffett: Focus 

Given the labor shortage, women out of the workforce and post-pandemic challenges, what’s an executive’s best recourse? 

It may sound far too simple, but legendary leaders say it comes down to a single word: focus. 

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and U.S. business magnate Warren Buffett advocate delegating, refusing to micromanage, not spreading yourself too thin and not getting distracted by the small things. 

Instead, zero in on strategy, employee recognition and financial sustainability. 

The unfocused executive might be so intent on the optics of current financials that he’s afraid to invest in future success, which can lead to outdated technology and business practices unlikely to lead to big growth for his company. 

On the other hand, consider a focused executive like Walt Disney: He made employees stakeholders in decision-making at a time when a traditional workplace hierarchy was the norm, collaborating with several artists to develop major motion pictures. 

Dana Wilkie is Editor for SHRM.org. 


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