How to Survive Employment’s ‘Perfect Storm’

Bryan Zaslow

Jul 6, 2021


When they look at the country’s economic situation, most experts are seeing only sunny skies. The commercial and industrial sectors are roaring back, the number of available jobs is hitting new records, jobless claims continue to fall, consumer demand is at all time highs — and the list goes on.

But for a lot of companies, the current situation is a “perfect storm” that we could never have predicted. As the economy finally opens up, they need to fill empty positions as quickly as possible. However, they are encountering job seekers who are more aware of their options and are taking their time deciding whether to say yes to offers. On top of that are those who are simply not yet ready to return to the workforce, whether it’s because of the government stimulus that may still be available to them, the chance to take the summer off before heading back to work, or that they are stay-at home parents who can finally see the light at the end of the homeschooling tunnel.  

Then we have current employees who are seeing so many opportunities elsewhere, often with the allure of higher wages and incentives like remote work, equity in the company, and sign-on bonuses. How long till that bubble pops?

In a report issued by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in June, the number of job openings reached a record 9.3 million. There are simply more opportunities out there for those in the job market. The number of people who decided to give notice to their employer skyrocketed to nearly 4 million in April, easily setting a new record and May and June don’t seem to have offered employers any relief.

Like all storms, this one will pass. But for right now, the situation is challenging for a wide range of businesses. Here at JBC and Janou Pakter, all of the industries we support are facing this perfect storm of conditions, and we see no end in sight throughout the summer. However, we are quite optimistic that we will see a leveling out this coming fall. 

I believe that what we are seeing is temporary, a combination of pent-up demand, a massive recovery of what was lost during the shutdown in 2020, and a record stimulus that allowed the bulk of the population to continue being active consumers even when they weren’t working. Things will get back to normal when the stimulus comes to an end, when millions of children finally return to the classroom in late August and early September, and when parents who are no longer needed to do double duty as teachers return to work.

But in the meantime, what do we do? Here are some of the top reasons employees say they are giving notice:

Higher salaries. Money is being thrown at job candidates left and right, which is making retention difficult. Then there are the counter offers that have become more common and more lucrative than ever.  We’ve all heard about the woes of retailers who see their longtime staffers leave for better hourly rates down the block. But it’s also a wide ranging problem in areas like tech, where there just aren’t enough developers and engineers to go around.  

Remote work. As more and more companies “invite” their employees to return to the office, they are getting some pushback. More than three-quarters of workers say they want to continue working remotely at least part of the time. Of those who are currently working from home, 42% say they plan to look for a new job if their employer doesn’t offer more flexibility in the future.  

Job Satisfaction. During the pandemic, employees had a lot more time on their hands to think about what they wanted from their job besides a paycheck. (Maybe too much time, especially if they are considering a new position without asking themselves, “Will this change offer me stability 6, 12, or 18 months from now?”)

Not everyone decides to leave. One study published in Harvard Business Review looked at why people stick with their current company, and it found that those who stayed were 31% more likely to say they found their work enjoyable. They were 33% more satisfied that their jobs used their strengths, and 37% percent more confident that they were gaining the skills needed to advance their careers.

With all these factors contributing to the revolving door, what can you do? In terms of compensation, your employees might be attracted by another employer’s higher salary. But in reality, most employees just want to feel appreciated. If matching a competitor’s offer is out of the question, consider a one-time bonus instead, or incentives and milestone rewards to help them achieve those goals with you.

Chances are there are other benefits that would mean even more to your employees. Offering more vacation days, for example, has a minimal cost to you but can be very valuable for your workers. Transportation stipends are also popular perks, as are reimbursements for workshops, seminars, and continuing education classes.

Regarding remote work, have a talk with all your employees about your long-term plans. I called a mandatory all-hands meeting here at JBC where we discussed how and when we’d be returning to the office. I think my team appreciated knowing that working from home, at least part of the time, would continue to be an option. In fact, my approach moving forward is three buckets: stay home, come in, or some mix of both. Just be productive!

I understand that many of our clients simply cannot offer that flexibility. As I talked about in a prior post, “Wake Up! We’re in a Digital Pandemic,” companies that are innovating products and services need their creative teams together. How do you balance what may be a forever-changed work culture with the need for personalization?

Dealing with job satisfaction is tough, since it’s a concept that means different things to different people. But the bottom line is that if you want to keep your employees — especially the ones you couldn’t bear to lose — you need to pay more attention to how you approach their jobs.

Traditionally, companies look for employees that fit a job description that they’ve written. But companies like Facebook have reported success when they do just the opposite: They find talented people, then create jobs that take advantage of their skills.

You can use this technique with your current employees as well. Take the time to talk with them about their jobs. Which parts do they enjoy, and which parts would they be just as happy to give up? Which of their talents are being underutilized? What skills would they like to develop? You might find that making small changes to their day-to-day duties will make them much happier in the long run.

Making sure that your employees are doing work that’s meaningful for them and allows them to grow takes time. But the benefit for you is keeping together the team you worked so hard to build. When they are fulfilled and challenged, your employees won’t want to work anywhere else.