“It’s hard right now.”
To get people. To hold on to people.
A refrain we’re hearing more and more from HR Directors, and even C-Suites. And when we hear it, it isn’t galvanized with determination. It’s soaked in exasperation. These leaders truly do not know what to do.
But why are we hearing that? Why is this challenge suddenly stopping previously competent and skilled leaders in their tracks? Why are we seeing business leaders, who have been successful at bat for plenty of curveballs in their day, acting so clueless?
Help still wanted: Attracting and retaining employees
On March 30th The Buffalo News published a piece titled “Help Still Wanted” on the recent Sienna College survey of 105 CEOs from the Buffalo-Niagara region of New York State. What the article contained was a regional in-depth assessment of an issue plaguing businesses across the entire country. The Buffalo News’ discussion is relevant far beyond New York, striking at the heart of a nationwide struggle for those who own or run businesses today.
The headline is aimed at these CEOs’ challenges around retaining and attracting employees. The mood conveyed was that business leaders’ attitude was bleak and thin on solutions.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. The article did highlight some commendable steps that NYS is taking to improve the long-term viability of industry talent pools. Steps like informing school-aged students about career paths outside of traditional 4-year degrees, and investing in that education and skills training accordingly.
But the main takeaway was deeply troubling. What’s laid bare in the piece is how misdirected business attention and efforts are on this issue.
The article quotes a few key statistics from the Sienna study. These stats tell us everything we need to know.
- 72% of the CEOs in the group surveyed are having difficulty recruiting people.
- 42% of them are having difficulty retaining the people they do have.
The group is citing the major impacts of these struggles. Most of them are turning down business. And in many cases, the inability to hire or hold onto people is stalling plans to grow or posing a risk to future profitability.
Nearly all of the CEOs surveyed had increased wages. But these hadn’t allayed their staffing troubles. This didn’t surprise us at all.
The last and most important statistic was the small but confident segment of CEOs who have held onto the people they’ve got, are not having trouble finding people, and feel that there was an ample supply of them to pull from. This group understands what hasn’t dawned on the other 80%.
It simply isn’t about raising the wages or benefits anymore.
Sure, those play a very big role. But in a world where competitive wages and benefits are now practically the assumptions of candidates, it’s become silly to try and compete on that basis.
Any business leader worth their salt knows that price can be a dangerous competitive advantage to hang your hat on when it comes to your products and services. The same goes for your employment strategy. If all that you focused on was your wages and benefits, and the other companies competing in a talent pool can offer good ones too – any reason candidates had to choose you has evaporated.
The article cites a lingering 2020 distraction that delayed the reactions of countless C-Suites to this labor situation: the higher unemployment rates and stimulus checks paid out by the government. Leaders who focused too much on the assumption that people preferred unemployment to their careers were strangely not applying the root cause analysis principles that have made other dimensions of their business so successful.
Most of the CEOs surveyed indicated plans to increase the size of their current workforces. And with thousands of new jobs being created in WNY next year by both significant expansions and new players moving into the region – fiercer competition will only exacerbate any existing retention struggles.
The companies that have not sought to understand their employee experience, or have failed to build an emotional connection with their people, are now seeing what occurs when they’re treating the human side of their organization with the same cold mathematical calculus as their raw materials. Those humans quite logically recognized and returned the same cold math.
People are by and large not making economic decisions. They were making one based on emotional fulfillment. The Great Resignation is truly a great reassessment of what is important to people in their work.
Dustin Snyder is the founder of Wayforward, a strategic people leadership firm based in Buffalo, New York.
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