Jaye Kennedy doesn’t hold back on the challenges of workforce recruitment and retention she’s faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I will be very frank with you. The last couple of years, our focus has been survival, plain and simple,” said Ms. Kennedy, chief executive officer of Waypoint Services in Cedar Rapids, as part of a […]
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Jaye Kennedy doesn’t hold back on the challenges of workforce recruitment and retention she’s faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I will be very frank with you. The last couple of years, our focus has been survival, plain and simple,” said Ms. Kennedy, chief executive officer of Waypoint Services in Cedar Rapids, as part of a “Great Resignation – Great Retention” panel discussion hosted by Mount Mercy University on Jan. 27. “How do we survive this? How do we keep helping people but also stay above water? It’s been really tough.”
The “Great Resignation” is a catch-all euphemism referring to the roughly 33 million Americans who have quit their jobs, for various reasons, since the spring of 2021. Employers widely cite it as a significant workforce challenge – 10.9 million job openings remained unfilled nationwide as of Dec. 31, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of mid-January, Iowa Workforce Development reported more than 83,000 jobs were open in Iowa.
So what are some of the key drivers propelling this “Great Resignation,” and what are employers doing to keep key employees and recruit new ones? Panelists had a host of responses during the hour-long forum.
Tracy Bastian, vice president of human resources at United Fire Group Insurance in Cedar Rapids, cited worker retirements as a critical challenge. “We were already going to be facing a huge retirement (surge) within the next five to 10 years in the insurance industry,” she said. “It’s a very aging population. Then we had the pandemic and the ‘Great Resignation,’ and now we’re really being hit pretty hard. Retirement is our number one reason people are leaving.”
Ms. Bastian also noted that “reshuffling” is a common occurrence in the insurance field, as people move from one firm to another. “Recruiters are picking big time,” she noted. “Because we have people all over, we have East Coast and West Coast people picking our Midwestern people because they can pay them less and they don’t have to move. They get to stay in their houses in the Midwest, live their same lives and make a heck of a lot more money from a company on the East or West Coast.”
Holly Adams, human resource director at Timberline Manufacturing in Marion, said more prospective employees are requesting different work schedules.
“We have people saying they want (to work) part-time,” Ms. Adams said. “They want to work, but they don’t want to work 40-50 hours like they used to. Being open to that flexibility is really important. That’s a relatively new thing, and it’s a bit of a challenge in a manufacturing world to be able to offer that. We are definitely trying to figure that out.”
Crystal Lofsgard, senior manager of human resources at Collins Aerospace, said the company’s adoption of flexible working arrangements has helped keep younger employees, including working parents, in the fold.
“For the folks closer to their early career, they’ve entered a workforce that’s been tumultuous the whole time,” she said. “A lot of that population is more likely to stay put, not knowing what the next year or two is going to be like, given that they have the flexible arrangements that they want … speaking for myself, I am working from home. I’m able to take my kids to school or to the basketball game. It’s just not work-life balance anymore. It’s work-life integration. I think a lot of people are in that boat. If you were to come to me tomorrow and say, ‘Hey, Crystal, I need you to go into the office again,’ you would flip my world upside down. I think a lot of people are feeling that.”
Ms. Kennedy said Waypoint often finds itself competing with service and retail employers and noted that proactively addressing employees’ concerns can help with retention.
“We have an initiative called Project Culture, and it’s basically the health and well-being of our employees,” she said. “When someone asks an employee, ‘What is Waypoint?,’ they would respond ‘I am Waypoint.’ We consider ourselves a movement. Before the pandemic, our employees really got that because we were all together. But now, with COVID, we don’t get together that often … we really need to get back to that. I don’t necessarily hear, ‘my supervisor should have done this or that.’ But I will say we want to start checking in on our employees while they’re working. So, instead of having an exit interview, what about having a stay interview while they’re working here? How are things going? Why are you working here? Getting back to those deeper meanings.”
Arial Montag, talent acquisition leader for GreatAmerica Financial Services, said a balanced approach will likely be required as the business world continues to adjust to new behaviors and attitudes toward work.
“I am hybrid – not fully remote, not fully on-site – and that’s the perfect mix for me,” she said. “I think it’s way too nuanced to fall on either side, to say one is better than the other, especially at this point in time where so many organizations are still learning about what works and how to make virtual and hybrid a really strong culture. In the next several years, there will be a lot of research that will come out that will help to support decision-making. We’re still running all the pilots, collecting all the data, figuring out how we learn from the mistakes that we’re making. Then we can meet in the middle, where the business and customer needs are being met, while also being considerate and compassionate about what each individual person wants for their life and their work.”