Despite record-low unemployment as the economy emerges from the pandemic, companies continue to struggle to retain their workforce. Employee turnover threatens companies with economic decline and possibly closure. Experts predict 35% of the US workforce will choose to leave their jobs this year; the trend cost the economy over $1 trillion in 2022. By late 2021, 47 million Americans left their companies in search of better overall working conditions, including respect, higher salaries, and flexibility in work location and schedule. And those are only the people who chose to exit their jobs; at least 50% of the US workforce are quiet quitters who disengage while remaining employed.
Employees across various industries are expressing their frustrations in more public ways. For example, more than 7,000 NY nurses staged a walkout in January, demanding improved staffing levels and salaries. The American Nurses Association confirmed[MOU1] that these work environment challenges predated COVID-19 by decades. In the largest strike of 2022, 48,000 academic employees of the University of California sought to be recognized and valued for their contributions with fair pay, quality health and family friendly benefits, and a supportive and respective work environment. Consequently, there are human costs of such actions and challenges.
Academic studies echo these complaints. About 80% of the factors that motivate deskless employees to leave involve emotional needs more than functional ones, such as being respected, appreciated, and valued. Workers value a good working environment more than pay, rewards, advancement, and promotion. Employees prefer environments that support engagement in decision making, procedural justice, and supervisory support.
To be sure, salaries influence retention, but money alone does not address livelihood, work-life balance, or personal growth and fulfillment. Organizations that create and sustain a work environment where employees feel valued and heard experience workforce retention and organizational strength. These rewards outweigh the risks associated with turnover.
Genuine engagement is linked to retention, more inclusive work cultures, and ultimately, higher profitability. Strategies like listening attentively to individual concerns and suggestions, offering attention and support, and being willing to compromise when possible, make a profound difference. Valuing and appreciating employees’ skills and competence helps employees view work as more than just a job, creating a sense of workplace belonging which will leads to retention and better organizational outcomes. By hearing and responding to workers’ expressed needs and concerns, employers show they want employees to stick around.
By utilizing these strategies, NY health systems and striking nurses reached a deal which provided enforceable safe staffing ratios with financial penalties for non-compliance with agreed-upon staffing levels; 19% increase in pay over the three year life of the contract; and lifetime health coverage for eligible retirees. In return, the health systems were able to return to delivering safe, high quality health care to patients, families, and stakeholders.
The American economy is a kind of buyer’s market for a thriving workforce. The question now is whether companies are ‘selling’ what top talent seek to ‘buy,’ with their creativity, loyalty and commitment.