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What employers need to heed to keep employees on board

Unhappy D-FW workers cite the lack of a career path as the No. 1 reason they want to jump ship.

“Should I Stay or Should I Go” is the song playing on repeat in the minds of many employees these days.

We’ve all heard of the Great Resignation, with one recent national poll indicating that more than half of the people in the workforce expect to say adios to their current bosses over the next 12 months.

The Washington Post recently called it the “great reassessment of work in America.”

With unemployment at historic lows, some employers are in panic mode.

So how can they stave off this outflow of talent?

Doug Claffey, founder and chief strategy officer of Energage LLC, our research partner for The Dallas Morning News’ Top 100 Places to Work, has insight about what they should do.

Doug Claffey is the founder of Energage.
Doug Claffey is the founder of Energage.(BETSY BARRON 215.512.5845)

Claffey says there are eight key reasons why people want to stay or go. And employers need to keep a closer eye and keener ear on all of them during this unprecedented period of talent flight.

“You need to understand at a strategic level how you’re doing on career growth, team, benefits, management, remote work, pay, work/life and culture,” he said.

“Managers need to have a conversation with every employee about what’s important for them to give their best to the organization, because everybody is different.”

This year, Energage surveyed more than 74,000 D-FW workers at 337 companies to determine our Top 100 winners.

Our surveys were taken in late spring and early summer just as vaccines were reaching mainstream Americans. And many were still just grateful to be drawing a paycheck with insurance and other benefits.

Ready to jump ship

Just the same, there were plenty of unhappy campers. About 10% of the workers surveyed in North Texas said they were ready to call it quits if the opportunity presented itself.

The keyword here is opportunity, Claffey said. If you want to keep your folks from leaving, you need to show them where they are headed.

Employees were asked how strongly they agreed with 24 statements. The most critical one when it comes to revealing whether employees intend to go or stay is: “I have considered searching for a better job in the past month.”

Energage found nearly 13,800 staffers on opposite ends of that happiness spectrum. They used them as an online focus group to find out why they hated or loved their jobs.

Our research partner searched for keywords in both sets of responses — growth, manager, benefits, pay, diversity, stress, mission and purpose, etc. — to figure out what matters most to the at-risk leavers and here-to-stayers.

The 7,159 who said, “Heck yeah! I’m outta here!” were asked: “Besides higher pay, what would make you less likely to leave this company?”

Claffey’s favorite response: “A million dollars.”

Stuck in a rut

The question was crafted to play down pay raises, which can be an important secondary factor when it comes to employee disengagement but is rarely the root cause, Claffey said.

“Pay has always been the easy answer, so we try to filter it out,” he said. “People aren’t necessarily looking for a higher-paying job. And money is not going to make them happier. We know that from 16 years of our research.”

Time and again, those D-FW employees who said they wanted out said they saw no clear career path in store for them.

“It’s about improving your circumstances at the company,” Claffey said. “In some cases, they’re not even meaning upward mobility. They’re saying, ‘I want a new role. I’m bored with the one I’m in,’ or ‘I need variety.’”

One disgruntled employee wanted “the ability to move to new roles or learn additional skills to use during my career journey.”

“There is limited upward mobility in the company and few opportunities to develop further,” said another.

Not liking their co-workers and poor benefits were the second- and third-most cited reasons for wanting to say farewell. Management, limited remote working, pay, work/life balance and culture — in that order — completed their grievances.

Heavenly culture

The 6,637 D-FW workers who said, “Absolutely not! I’m here to stay!” were asked: “What contributes most to you wanting to stay with this company?”

They love the people they work with, their company’s culture and, yes, their opportunities for career advancement — in that 1, 2, 3 order.

Stay-putters were downright effusive about their colleagues.

“I actually want to get to the office each morning so I can ‘harness up and pull the wagon’ with these fine folks,” one engaged employee said. “We work for great clients who matter, and we do the best for them.”

The word opportunity cropped up here, too. “The endless opportunities to learn and advance in my career,” said one of many who cited career growth as a big plus.

Appreciation, diversity, stress, micromanagement and job security didn’t matter much to either group. Mission and purpose were way down the list for both cohorts.

“People may join a company because of its mission and values, but when they’re thinking of leaving, that’s not the reason. It’s also not a key reason for staying,” Claffey said. “The exceptions to this are teachers and health care workers, who work in terrible conditions and stay because they see a great purpose in what they do.”

Finding the sweet spot

When the pandemic sent many of us into work-from-home mode nearly two years ago, we talked about the “new norm.” But few of us really thought this was a forever thing.

But employees have gotten a taste of the flexibility of working from home and are demanding more of it, survey after survey shows.

“That’s the toothpaste that you can’t stuff back into the tube,” Claffey said.

Energage runs best-workplace competitions and does consulting work in 61 media markets. So while Claffey doesn’t have specific updated data for North Texas, he picks up on a lot of trends, including one interesting juxtaposition.

New college graduates just entering the workforce are looking for socialization and mentorship, while workers who are more established in their careers really like working from home and the added time with family instead of fighting traffic.

“That creates this weird situation where the young people are coming into the office to socialize, but they’re not having those mentors there to learn the ropes,” Claffey said. “I’m hearing that from leaders in all sorts of industries, but this is primarily a white-collar problem because many blue-collar jobs are hard to do remotely.”

Companies are having to decide how accommodating they’re willing to be.

As Barbara Smith, CEO of Commercial Metals Co., one of our Top 100 winners in the large company category, put it: “Without question, the future of work will involve more work/life flexibility than ever before. We now have an opportunity to find the sweet spot between time in the office and time working at home,” she said.

Leaders are taking two different approaches.

“One is, ‘This is the New World, and we have to go with it,’” Claffey said. “The other is: ‘In our business and our industry, it is so important to have the in-office experience and mentorship that we will only take people who are willing to work that way.’”

Time will tell which tactic proves the most successful for which industries. It won’t be one-size-fits-all, he said.

“The CEO of an investment bank who I know took a very hard line on that,” Claffey said. “When new candidates come in and say, ‘I want to work from home a few days each week,’ he said, ‘Great, go somewhere else, not here.’”

Century 21 Judge Fite Company realtor Patricia Tafoya Valenzuela works at her computer at...
Century 21 Judge Fite Company realtor Patricia Tafoya Valenzuela works at her computer at her home office in Dallas. (Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

Craziest time ever

Claffey has been helping companies deal with employee issues for nearly four decades and can’t remember anything like the staggering pay raises he’s hearing about now to poach talent.

The closest thing to it was during the bubble, but that was primarily centered around technology talent, he said.

“In my discussions with senior leaders around the country at companies of various sizes and sectors — manufacturing, services, tech, you name it — I’m hearing of people getting raises anywhere from 50% to 300%. Those are anecdotal, but there certainly is an awareness of that happening.

“There’s life-changing money being thrown at people now, and they’re taking it,” Claffey said.

He’s worried about where this pay escalation might lead us.

“Our economy can’t handle everyone getting a 100% raise,” he said. “I wonder how and when the pendulum begins to swing back again. But right now it’s crazy.”

Claffey is also occasionally hearing about people who left for big money and have already boomeranged back because the grass wasn’t greener.

And that’s why companies still need to pay attention to those eight key reasons why people decide to stay or go.

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