ncsl base camp virtual meeting on keeping workers

Clockwise from top left: Amber Clayton, director of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Trent Burner, vice president of research for SHRM, and NCSL's Natalie Wood discuss retaining staff amid a flurry of headwinds.

How to Keep Great Staff for a Stronger Legislative Institution

By Mark Wolf | Aug. 4, 2021 | State Legislatures News | Print

The numbers would make human resources managers cower in the corner.

The nation’s revolving employment door is stuck in “out” with an estimated 40% of U.S. workers either actively searching for a new job right now or planning to over the next six months.

Driving the “turnover tsunami” are workers seeking better compensation, work/life balance, benefits or a career change.

Job security was the highest concern (62%) before and early in the pandemic, but as the nation reopens “64% say they now have different expectations they want in a job compared to before the pandemic,” Trent Burner, vice president of research for the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), told an NCSL Base Camp 2021 session on “How to Keep Staff for a Greater Institution.”

The top reasons for leaving, he said, are looking for better compensation (53%), looking for a better work/life balance (42%) and better benefits (33%).

Sixty-four percent say they now have different expectations they want in a job compared to before the pandemic.” —Trent Burner, Society of Human Resource Management

“People had major life changes, family members passed away due to COVID-19, issues with their home or other major life changes that have affected them financially. And these changes could actually make people think about looking for another job maybe with more flexibility to work around these major life changes or higher salary and better benefits,” said Amber Clayton, director of SHRM’s Knowledge Center.

To help prevent turnover, managers need to know the signs, Clayton said, which include major life changes, missed promotions, high turnover in a department, reduced communication and absenteeism.

Flexibility for employers is a key, Burner added.

“Almost 20% of U.S. workers say they would begin to look for a position elsewhere if their employer did not give them the option to work remotely at all; 7% said they would quit their current job if they didn’t have the option to work remotely either partly or fully,” he said. “Where employees have a better option to determine their hours, days, when in office and not, how you get to those 40 hours, we’ve seen some major improvements in engagement.”

One effective tactic, he said, is offering workers assignments outside their normal day-to-day routine.

Clayton said companies should conduct “stay interviews” with employees to find out why people stay with companies and what employers could do to make it a great place to work. “Be empathetic, be flexible,” she said.

The pandemic’s impact on employee psychology has been substantial.

“We tracked mental health during the pandemic and really focused on the impact of mental health and burnout,” Burner said. “We found 41% of Americans feel burned out from work; 48% feel defeated at the end of the day; 41% feel emotionally drained from work; 52% who have had colleagues leave say they have had to take on more work and responsibilities, and 28% felt more isolated at work.”

Corporate culture is a critical piece of getting and retaining the right employees and having them thrive, Burner said, citing recent research that showed 32% of employees reported the culture in their workplace is moderately to extremely toxic or dysfunctional; 39% said they have seen inconsiderate or insensitive treatment of a coworker in the last year; and 27% said can’t discuss these issues without recrimination.

Too many institutions have never taken a stance on what the civil workplace looks like, Burner said.

“Talk is free, recognition is free: a note from top of house on, ‘Here is our stance on culture and civil behavior and what we just won’t tolerate.’ When we ask executives, a lot of them say, ‘Yes, we have them’ but we talk to managers and employees and they say ‘We don’t.’ Either they don’t or, more importantly, they’re not being communicated well.”

Legislatures do have an advantage in retaining workers, Burner noted.

“We haven’t done a lot of public research in the last year and a half, but our research does show that impactful work is what motivates individuals,” he said. “You think about working in government affairs and you do things that impact people’s lives. (Work/life) balance and meaningful work are the two things we found that apply to both public and private sectors but probably more so to the public.”

Mark Wolf is editor of the NCSL Blog.

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