It's no secret that the US workforce is in flux and movement. We tend to assume that the pandemic caused our current workforce issues with retention and employee satisfaction; however, employment numbers were already trending downward, with an increasing number of employees voluntarily quitting their jobs as early as 2018 - just before the pandemic hit us. As we face an uncertain economic future and possible recession, it's unsurprising that employee satisfaction is deteriorating even further.
The state of the workforce should be concerning for employers who have seen a dramatic shift in candidate availability over just 14 years. In 2008 there was an abundance of workers looking to fill open roles - 40 people per role on average. But by 2022, this ratio has shifted drastically, with one unemployed worker available for every 1.7 open jobs. Even more challenging than that dwindling number of available candidates? The next ten years will see approximately ten thousand baby boomers reach retirement age daily, further reducing potential talent pools. Factor in declining birthrates and we're truly at crisis levels.
Many employers have gotten creative about recruiting new employees, while others struggle to find the right people to fill their openings. One thing is certain, though...all employers will need to resolve themselves to the fact that beyond recruiting, retaining great employees is critical to business success. If you pay attention to why people leave their jobs, poor leadership is often listed as a key reason. A great leader can have the most direct impact on an employee's happiness and engagement at work. A great leader can make a difference in employee retention.
So what can organizations do to help their leaders become the most important asset in keeping their employees happy and engaged? First, leaders should be provided with the skills they need to be successful. During a recession, training budgets are often slashed to save money, but this should be a time to lean in hard and ensure leaders have all the tools they need to be great leaders for their people. Organizations can't assume people have the right skills to be good leaders. If they don't take the time to train their leaders, they're not setting them up with everything needed to be successful. Given the importance of a good leader in employee retention, employers can't afford not to make an investment in developing their leadership.
Next, organizations shouldn't assume their leaders are mentally and emotionally okay. The past few years have highlighted the fact that we have a mental health crisis in our country. Employees are feeling stress and anxiety from the weight of everything that has taken place over the past few years. That means leaders are probably feeling that too. Organizations should check in regularly with their leadership teams to make sure they are okay and provide a safe space for them to talk and process through tough situations. Remember, when you're on an airplane preparing for takeoff and the flight attendant walks you through all the safety procedures, what do they tell you to do if the oxygen masks drop down during an emergency? You're told to put your mask on before you help anyone else. Leaders can't help others if they aren't in a good place to do so.
Finally, organizations should empower leaders to lead with a servant's heart. Focusing on productivity is not bad, but focusing on purpose and people will always get stronger results. Maybe KPIs should center around how positively employees respond on an engagement survey, how much turnover a department had, or the general well-being of the employees the leader is responsible for instead of how much product got out the door on a specific day.
Leaders can make or break an organization. By setting up leaders to be successful right from the start, organizations can create a supportive and people-driven workplace with leaders who have the skills needed to be effective. Investing in leadership will be the best retention strategy an organization can implement.