Employee Engagement

Employee Retention Strategies in a Tight Labor Market

By Jana Reserva

Sep. 2, 2022


  • Effective employee retention strategies are crucial in today’s labor market, where there are more available jobs than job seekers.
  • Flexibility is a primary factor in retaining current employees, but it can mean different things for employees, depending on the industry and roles
  • Technology plays a vital role in gathering data and feedback that can help measure employee satisfaction and spot potential issues that trigger employees to quit.

The COVID-19 pandemic. The Great Resignation. Quiet Quitting.  

All of this has created a much tighter job market with low labor participation. Currently, there are around 10 million vacancies for just 5.7 million unemployed workers. The labor participation rate is at 62.6%, down from 63.3% in February 2020. This is the equivalent of 1.8 million fewer workers.     

All of this has made it trickier as well as vital for HR professionals to keep positive employee retention rates and hold on to their top talent, particularly since remote work has become more commonplace and sought after. Employees now have a much larger job market to find new opportunities, which, in turn, means tighter competition for talent. 

Webinar: How to Retain Hourly Employees

With more jobs and a smaller talent pool, how do you retain top talent and increase your chances of attracting new employees? There are several ways to boost employee retention, but what’s challenging is implementing a strategy that makes the most sense for your organization and people. We spoke with Jack Light, a labor economics Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago, to provide us with more insight.

Understand why good employees quit and why they stay

It’s impossible to identify the best employee retention strategies for your specific circumstance without finding out what causes attrition. According to the Work Institute’s 2022 Retention Report, over 47 million employees voluntarily quit their job in 2021. This is the highest turnover rate since 2001 — when the Bureau of Labor Statistics began measuring this metric

According to the report, some of the most common reasons why people quit their jobs include:

  • A lack of career development opportunities
  • Stress due to a lack of resources or training
  • Prioritizing health and/or family – caring for dependents, personal health reasons, or health-related issues due to work
  • Searching for different opportunities that will give them a better work-life balance
  • Issues with their current work environment

These areas are well within leadership’s control, and they can quickly improve these conditions by implementing changes and using the right tools.  

It’s always easy to assume that compensation is the main motivation for employees to stay at a company. However, that’s not always the case. What’s valuable to your team is not always as apparent as you think. Beyond a competitive salary and benefits package, there are other areas that can be equally valuable to employees.

  • Fulfillment or finding purpose in a role
  • Job satisfaction
  • Workplace culture
  • Relationships with bosses and colleagues and teamwork
  • Company values
  • Processes such as onboarding
  • Flexibility

Once you understand what your employees value most, you’ll be more equipped to make changes and create programs that compel them to stay. 

Watch: How to Predict an Employee Flight Risk

Establish a feedback system

There are two sides to feedback that are crucial to employee retention. The first is feedback from employers about job performance. The second is feedback from employees regarding operations, policies, and colleagues. Both are key to creating a culture of employee appreciation.

And both are important and should be gathered and addressed promptly.

Employees value feedback that’s immediate and clear. It helps them improve their work, makes them feel appreciated, and shows how valuable their contribution is to the organization. 

Meanwhile, encouraging employees to provide feedback about the company and their tasks helps with retention, too. When employees are comfortable enough to share their thoughts on what works and what needs improvement, you’ll have a goldmine of insights on how to keep your best talent.

“The goal of gathering employee feedback is to try and surface low-hanging fruits that you can be actioning on that you may not otherwise be aware of,” says Light. “So it might actually turn out that a lot of your employees are struggling to get to work, for example, because there’s a bus route that’s been canceled. Or maybe you have a particular manager who many people are struggling to work with. Those are the sorts of things that are valuable from the perspective of an employee but can be quite difficult to find out.” 

That’s why having a healthy company culture that embraces feedback is crucial. And it shouldn’t stop at gathering employee sentiments. Another equally important part of the equation is the mechanism to act on them.

“If you don’t do anything with that data and that feedback, you’re probably going to get less and less of it as time goes on,” says Beau Grzanich, head of solutions at Workforce.com. Transparency is key here. You need to inform your employees about the actions you’ve taken based on feedback they’ve provided. Doing so will incentivize people to provide more information that can drive more results and benefits in terms of employee retention. 

The frequency of feedback is also important. Typically, companies do it regularly — quarterly, semi-annually, or annually. While this provides some structure, feedback tends to be more effective when it’s fluid and immediate. Moreover, it doesn’t always have to be in a formal setting. It can be casual, during quick catch-ups, or through automated tools like Workforce.com’s Shift Feedback and Rating feature

Engage your managers, and they’ll engage their teams

People leave managers, not companies. This popular phrase regarding employee engagement and retention is supported by data from Gallup that shows that “it takes more than a 20% pay raise to lure most employees away from a manager who engages them”. And it takes almost nothing to poach disengaged employees.

Empower your managers to engage their teams effectively. One way to do this is to take administrative and repetitive tasks off their plate. This makes it easier for them to focus on the people-centric aspects of their work.

Implementing the right technology can help managers work smarter and spend less time on tasks like scheduling, time tracking, labor forecasting, and payroll. As a result, they focus more on coaching their employees and understanding and addressing potential issues.

Offer flexibility

Employees tend to stay with a company that offers flexibility. Research has shown that flexibility at work is becoming increasingly important for job seekers, particularly among younger employees. But before you think about implementing policies around it, you first need to understand what flexibility actually means for your employees. 

Typically, people view flexibility as being able to control their work arrangements. This means having the option to work outside of the typical office setting and set hours, enjoying a flexible schedule, or being able to attend to important matters that typically warrant PTO or waiting until the weekend.

“An important thing to remember is that flexibility is often quite loosely defined. It’s much harder if you’ve got regular opening hours or you’re a retail store, and there are fixed tasks that need to be done and planned in advance,” explains Light. If that’s the case, how do you create a certain level of flexibility for hourly workers? 

Light says that offering a certain level of predictability is important for hourly workers. This means providing their schedules ahead of time, so they can plan their activities outside of work accordingly. In fact, data shows that employees who get their schedules a couple of days before their shift are more likely to quit compared to staff who receive their schedule at least 10 days in advance.

Create programs and perks that are valuable to your employees

Competitive benefits, incentives, and perks can compel employees to stay with you. But again, the key here is to know what types of benefits they find valuable. Game rooms, free meals, and company-sponsored gym memberships are all nice to have, but those perks are not always good enough reasons to keep employees from looking elsewhere. 

Get to know your employees to understand what matters to them. Consider that you have employees who are probably in different life stages. Looking at your workforce’s demographics is a good first step in determining what programs you can devise that will make the most impact. 

Your employees’ age group, seniority level, gender, as well as their personal circumstances will all dictate what they deem important. Some perks and incentives to consider:

  • Professional development. Opportunities for employees to learn new skills, such as training programs or attendance at industry-specific conferences
  • Health and wellness stipends or reimbursement. To cover costs of things like sports activities, healthcare, and mental health programs
  • Company culture. Activities, such as team-building games, that help establish a stronger company culture

Whether it’s additional time-off benefits, family activities, upskilling, professional development opportunities, or employee recognition programs, make sure that your benefits package includes items that make the most sense for your operations and where your employees are — both in tenure and life in general.  

While it’s not easy to figure this out, you can always drill down on data and employee feedback to determine the specific types of programs you should implement within the organization.

Enrich your onboarding process

Convincing and attracting new hires is just half the battle. The other half is making sure they stay. Employee onboarding sets the tone for a new hire, and you need to make it count to retain them. According to Gallup, 70% of employees who had a positive onboarding experience say that they have “the best possible job.” 

Employee onboarding is a crucial process where companies must deliver on what’s promised during the hiring process and integrate new hires into their role and the organization. Successful onboarding is not attained overnight. It is a process that can last through a new hire’s first year with the company. 

Here are some of the ways human resources teams can make employee onboarding successful:

  • Create a clear and intuitive onboarding roadmap. Define where you want your new hires to be at specific time frames, whether monthly or quarterly or what makes sense for your organization. Gather feedback about the process and iterate your roadmap and programs as you go along.
  • Incorporate onboarding programs that will help employees build initial rapport and cultivate healthy working relationships with other team members. It’s vital for new hires to feel included and part of a group.
  • Equip new hires with mentorship and training. New employees become more productive faster when they have the tools to learn and carry out their responsibilities.
  • Provide clarity when it comes to expectations and goals. Employees, especially new hires, become more efficient when they clearly understand their roles, career paths, and how they directly contribute to the organization’s overall success.
  • Use technology to organize onboarding files, keep track of employee details, and streamline new hire paperwork. This frees up time for more critical parts of onboarding. Besides, no new hire would want to deal with a pile of documents to sign and information overload on their first day of work. 

A well-structured onboarding process not only gives new employees a good first impression of the company but also plays a big part in reducing employee turnover. 

Maximize the offboarding process to benchmark market trends

On the other end of the employee life cycle, you must also pay attention to your offboarding process. While it is the stage where an employee transitions out of the company, it can still help with your employee retention strategy. 

You should ensure that any employee leaving the company has a smooth exit. So maximize exit interviews and use them to gather feedback on what you can improve and what departing employees think will make current staff stay. Use this opportunity to understand their motivation for leaving. Is it career advancement, a more competitive salary, or burnout?

You can also use the exit interview to gain insight into their new job and what other companies are doing to attract and retain employees. Inquire about what compelled them to move. Is it a generous sign-on bonus, more comprehensive learning and development, or the promise of a healthy work-life balance? 

“Exit interviews, in particular, are beneficial for benchmarking where people are going and what the wages and working conditions are gonna be like in the firms that they’re moving to,” says Light. 

With this information, you can create benchmarks on how the market is, compare it to where you stand, and strengthen your programs and processes accordingly.

Harness technology to boost employee retention

Data and feedback are crucial in strengthening your programs for retaining your employees.

“Something that’s particularly interesting at the moment is that the data is getting increasingly available in real time” remarks Light.

For instance, when an employee is coming in late more often, the right tool can help you identify this and address it before it becomes a real issue.

“Moving from the sort of survey done at fixed points in time to more proactively identifying when you need to be stepping in and checking in if everything is okay is super exciting,” says Light.

Furthermore, technology significantly contributes to the employee experience. It helps organizations streamline administrative processes so that managers can focus more on being on the ground with their teams and coaching their staff. It also helps employees perform their tasks better and more efficiently, allowing more opportunities for innovation or additional time for training and development.

Streamline workflows and improve the employee experience with Workforce.com

Workforce.com provides efficiencies around demand-based employee scheduling, time and attendance, and labor forecasting. It helps improve the employee experience by providing staff with a straightforward way of clocking in, accessing their schedules, and filing leave requests. It has real-time insights, shift rating and feedback, and an in-depth reporting functionality that can provide managers with actionable insights on key metrics. 

Book a call today if you want to know how Workforce.com can improve your workforce management and employee retention. 

Jana Reserva is a content manager for Workforce.com.

Schedule, engage, and pay your staff in one system with Workforce.com.