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The Great Attrition: What to do about the labor shortage

The labor shortage is growing quickly across industries, and organizations are struggling to meet the demand. It’s time to take decisive action to attract and retain employees.
Aaron De Smet

Delivers growth, innovation, and organizational agility and is an expert on culture change, leadership development, team effectiveness, capability building, and transformation

Bonnie Dowling

Partners with clients to achieve and sustain their strategic priorities through a focus on their people and building the skills, capabilities, and culture needed today and in the future

Bryan Hancock

Supports private, public, and social sector clients through expertise in talent management, organizational design, and workforce development

Marino Mugayar-Baldocchi

Partners with organizations to provide research-backed expertise on leadership, talent management, learning and development, and future of work topics

The Great Attrition is brewing a labor shortage unlike any other the U.S. has faced historically. With employees taking on non-traditional forms of employment, retiring early, starting their own businesses, or simply choosing to take a break, organizations across sectors are struggling to meet the demand. Having previously explored which employee groups are leaving, where they are going, and the implications for the labor market, we will turn our attention to what organizations can do about it.

There are three broad sets of actions organizations should take: Make work more fulfilling and sustainable, improve the employer-employee relationship, and act boldly to entice people back into the workforce and onto your team.

Make work more fulfilling and sustainable

  • Enhance the employee experience. Our research has shown that a poor employee experience is to blame for much of today’s attrition—particularly among people leaving without another job. Organizations should make work more fulfilling by tapping into a sense of purpose, creating meaningful work, and ensuring that employees feel valued by their organization and boss. One large retailer seeks to enhance employee experience by emphasizing autonomy, empowering frontline employees to exercise their judgment in customer situations.
  • Make work more sustainable. Our research shows that poor health and well-being is a top factor driving employees away—particularly among those leaving without another job lined up. In an effort to lead in this area, one government organization employs more psychologists than any other company in the world to ensure employees have access to mental health resources. Additionally, it equips managers with training to best support changing employee needs while maintaining their own well-being.

Improve the employer-employee relationship

  • Invest in leadership and better bosses. The strength of the relationship with one’s manager, mentors, and leaders is still one of the strongest predictors of job satisfaction, employee experience, and retention. Organizations should invest in their leaders’ capabilities and hold them accountable. One fast-scaling company is improving people leadership through training, setting expectations and providing tools for regular employee check-ins, and using data to measure and improve manager effectiveness.
  • Build a community based on purpose. Employees crave connection and a sense of community at work. For that to take place, people need to feel that they are a part of something bigger than themselves. Organizations should clearly articulate their purpose and link employees’ individual work to it.

Act boldly to entice people back into the workforce and onto your team

  • Create flexible employment options. Flexible options must go beyond the ability to work remotely, including part-time opportunities or even “gig” work through company-owned or third-party labor platforms. Companies implementing these approaches should do so based on an understanding of what specific changes are likely to attract the workers they want. For example, one retailer located in a college town altered its stocking shifts from overnight to 4-8 a.m. to better match college students’ schedules.
  • Re-examine job requirements to broaden the potential candidate pool. Given that unemployment is still relatively higher for younger workers, those without a college degree, and those returning from prison, companies can expand their candidate pool by finding ways to tap into these segments. The recent infrastructure bill in the U.S. opens the opportunity for individuals as young as 18 years old to apprentice in driving interstate trucks, encouraging companies to rethink their age requirements and other potential barriers to attracting employees.
  • Never say goodbye. With many people leaving without the next job in hand, employers have an opportunity to recruit “boomerang” hires. Companies can think of the exit process as the first step in continuing to cultivate that connection. Employers can keep in touch through regular check-ins, sharing relevant job postings, and informal “alumni” networking events.

With many people quitting without taking another similar job, the labor shortage is growing quickly across industries. Organizations must go beyond the traditional playbook and take innovative, decisive actions to attract and retain employees—including those who have left the traditional workforce.

The authors would like to thank Joachim Talloen for his meaningful contributions to this post.

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This blog post is part of a series on the Great Attrition, exploring the immediate actions leaders can take to retain and attract talent at a time when employees are leaving their jobs in droves. Topics include how to keep top-performing talent, the nuances emerging in different industries, adaptability as an antidote to burnout, the implications for the labor shortage and what to do about it, how to build a sense of community in the new employee landscape, the complex relationship between DE&I and attrition, the importance of employee experience, socioemotional support as the organization’s social glue, the need to reimagine and personalize flexibility at work, competition from the gig economy and entrepreneurism, and how to prevent premature retirement.

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