Fresh data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Jobs and Labor Turnover Survey also doubles as a Rorschach Test from internal communicators—it can stir optimism or pessimism depending on how you look at it.
The pessimism is louder. U.S. job opening numbers sat at 11.3 million on the last business day of January, little changed from the numbers in December. Several industries saw a decrease in job openings including accommodation and food services (-288,000), transportation, warehousing, and utilities (-132,000); and the federal government (-60,000).
On the flip side, the number of Americans quitting their jobs decreased slightly to 2.8%, according to the report, and year-over-year employment increased by 6.4 million over the 12 months ending in January.
Scott Hamilton, global managing director of Gallagher’s HR & compensation consulting practice warns that, because there is often much noise in JOLTS numbers, change of several percentage points might not mean anything at all.
“I’m looking at this as just kind of a continued shuffling of the deck,” he says. “You know the old saying, ‘What happens when you give a party and nobody’s shows up?’ Well, what happens when you give an HR strategy and nobody comes to work?”
Though the current jobs and labor market is driven by several variables, Hamilton explains that employees’ changing lifestyle needs are influencing turnover the most. To that end, Hamilton offers future-forward tips and suggestions on how you can avoid raising your own internal quits rate:
1. Craft communications that connect employee well-being to organizational well-being
Hamilton thinks we’ll see a drop in both job openings and turnover as the last pandemic restrictions disappear. While most kids nationally have returned to full-time schooling, rapidly increasing childcare costs are forcing parents to make decisions around remote work or retiring to become a caregiver.
“We’re gonna see parents making good decisions about them being able to be back at work more full-time in the office where employers are requiring or asking for boots on the ground presence,” Hamilton says.
“High-performing employers have always tried to take a balanced approach at matching employee wellbeing and organizational wellbeing,” he adds. “And I believe that’s when we’ll start to see the drop in the openings and turnover, as companies and people basically get back to business.”
Hamilton explains that Gallagher increasingly conducts surveys on behalf of employers to determine what it will take for them to want to come back into the office. The answers are, unsurprisingly, more flexibility and time off.
“If I’m smart as an employer, I better ask the brand questions, get the answers, and then get the communication strategy around that,” says Hamilton. “There’s a lot baked into this idea of communications between what the employer needs to do, what the employees want.”
2. Let employees know you acknowledge their choices.
While the main driver of retention used to be wages, Hamilton says that employees are now bringing their own basket to the labor market as they get to pick and choose benefits and perks that work for them. Acknowledging these choices can double as another opportunity to connect the dots between employee and organizational well-being.
The trending rollback of in-office mask requirements demonstrates what communicating choices to employees can look like.
“Many businesses are simply reverting back to the pre-COVID standards of asking employees to be sensitive to co-workers health and smart about potentially bringing illness into the physical office space,” Hamilton says. “If you need to be masked when you come in because you’ve got risk factors, please wear a mask and whatever you need to do to be comfortable. If you don’t have health risk factors and, and you don’t have to wear a mask, just be smart and healthy. Most businesses are saying, ‘look, we need you guys to figure it out.’”
He adds that these choices illuminate why matching lifestyle needs is so important. “People have to feel comfortable that the employer is providing them with a safety net of things that will help them be healthy, safe, and flexible at meeting their needs — in and out of the office.”
3. Remember you are hiring the whole employee.
Ultimately, those who can communicate the connection between employee and organizational well-being can foster behaviors that allow culture to thrive by reminding their workforce why being present with one another is crucial to the needs of their business. But being present requires communicating with each worker as a person with distinct needs.
“That gets back to the idea of companies recognizing that they are hiring the whole employee: Their lifestyle needs, scheduling needs, childcare, health risks, all that comes with them,” Hamilton says.