Roundtable Discussion: Dinsmore Employment Partner Tammy Bennett on Great Resignation, Future of Workforce 

March, 2022 - Tammy R. Bennett

Dinsmore Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer Tammy Bennett, a labor and employment partner, was a featured panelist in a Columbus Business First roundtable discussion on the future of the American workforce, including the Great Resignation. The full article is below.

Record numbers of people are changing jobs, quitting to start entrepreneurial ventures or exiting the labor force entirely. As workers consider what they want in a career, attracting and retaining talent has become a key skill for businesses across all industries.

Columbus Business First held a virtual roundtable with Central Ohio leaders who are experts on the topic of workforce talent. The Table of Experts discussion was moderated by Nick Fortine, president and publisher of Columbus Business First.

Panelists included Opal M. Brant, director of business solutions for the Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio (WDBCO); and Tammy Bennett, chief equity and inclusion officer and a partner in the employment law and environmental, social and governance practices at Dinsmore & Shohl.

Below are excerpts from the discussion, condensed and edited for clarity:

FORTINE: How do you define the Great Resignation? And what do you see as the core causes for it?

BENNETT: Quite frankly, the specific culture challenges that underlie mass resignations undoubtedly existed pre-pandemic. And when viewed through this lens, the Great Resignation is the manifestation of unaddressed culture problems. And a few of the elements of culture that are the source of worker frustration and disengagement are the lack of agility and work-life integration; workers feeling stressed out, burned out and underappreciated; career stagnation, or the actual or perceived limitation in career opportunities; and ineffective people managers.

FORTINE: From your perspective, Opal, what are the key barriers to increased labor participation? There are clearly a lot of job openings.

BRANT: The key issue I see is a mismatch. And when we say mismatch, we mean that some folks rethought what their opportunities are and just don’t know which industry to go into. So they’re just kind of sitting it out because they can at this time. The other thing is that, whatever job they had before, they realized, “I don’t have to put up with this anymore.” There are significant opportunities now and they have other places that they can go. The other thing that we see is there has been a disruption— issues with childcare and the schools shutting down during that time—and some people just can’t afford to go back. Some women, unfortunately, have been significantly impacted with young children because they can’t effectively do remote work at home with children in the house. So I think those are significant barriers and have been key issues to why.

FORTINE: What are you doing to help businesses and individuals solve this problem?

BRANT: I think a lot of our work has significantly accelerated, in particular with businesses around sector partnerships — having them look to solve this issue as an industry. I’ll just point to health care as an example. You can’t automate a patient transport person. You can’t automate someone who’s going to go in and clean the patient rooms. You can’t automate that patient experience. So health care, in particular, is hurting a lot. What we want to do through our sector partnerships is create access opportunities for someone who may have never thought of health care as an option for them — because there are a lot of non-clinical roles. So we want to create opportunities for businesses to interact with targeted communities and marginalized communities to think about ways that they can create quicker access to those frontline jobs that have significant growth opportunities, and that’s the same for manufacturing and definitely in the IT sector.

As far as individuals, at the Workforce Development Board, we facilitate a workforce advisory council which is comprised of many workforce agencies that serve people directly, many community-based organizations that alleviate some of the barriers to employment such as childcare and transportation. So we want to work better as a system to help our community be prepared with the skills that they need to go into these in-demand jobs that are essential for the advancement of our community. And as far as the employer side, we want to help them retain these workers by providing them growth opportunities internally. So that’s how we’re working to increase the labor force participation rate through the connectivity of the individuals to the employer.

FORTINE: How should organizations go about coming up with a post-pandemic work policy or philosophy?

BENNETT: Gathering data is key. So, for each employer, the solution will be different because the root cause is different. And the only way to fully understand what is driving attrition rates within a particular organization is through data analysis and the determination of the root cause for that workplace. So for those employers who have departed from conducting exit interviews, now is a good time to reinstitute that practice. And by interrogating data, whether it’s gathered from exit interviews or other sources, employers can better identify specific factors leading to high attrition rates and examine trends.

By way of example, are the attrition rates higher among certain demographics, departments or locations? Once that information has been gathered and analyzed, employers can tailor retention and intervention programs. But the one thing employers cannot do is to stay the same and expect different outcomes. So there’s a need for employers to look inwardly at structure, culture and policies and practices. The adoption of unnecessarily rigid practices is going to be outdated in the post-pandemic workplace. Workers expect employers to exercise agility and flexibility. A prime example is the growing expectation for employers to adopt hybrid remote work policies. And to maintain a competitive edge, employers must become more accommodating than perhaps businesses have been accustomed to historically.

FORTINE: A staggering amount of jobs will require retraining or reskilling in the next five years. With business, culture and technology changing before our eyes, what do future jobs look like?

BRANT: Hybrid isn’t going away. But if you’re talking about the skills of an employee, I think the main skills and the most in-demand skills are problem-solving, communication and dependability. I talk a lot to employers about creating the pipeline of talent, and sometimes you’ll hear that training providers are not putting out the right people or that they don’t have the right skills. But the training providers really can’t keep up without the business support. Employers have to be ingrained with the training providers, as well as the community and workforce development agencies that are serving individuals. We can make sure that we are a connection to the HR teams in such a way that is seamless for a person to enter with the skills that are necessary for success with that particular employer

FORTINE: Tammy, how do you counsel your clients on this?

BENNETT: I reinforce what Opal alluded to, that is, the significant difference between capabilities and qualifications. In many instances, qualifications are artificial guidelines that may or may not accurately predict a worker’s ability to perform in a certain role. Employers would be wise to reevaluate how they assess talent and, in particular, focus on what an individual may be capable of doing with effective training and development. A skill that immediately comes to mind is critical thinking. I rarely see it mentioned in job descriptions but it’s essential to success for an organization. Bottom line, human resources may do well to take a deeper, data-driven analysis into hiring practices and modernize the approach for development and retention.

FORTINE: Is there anything you would like to leave our audience with?

BENNETT: As challenging as this period has been, it offers an opportunity for C-suite executives and managers to prioritize employee retention. We’ve reached the inflection point and it’s time to shift the focus from the great resignation to the great re-engagement. Keeping in mind, employees are the most valuable asset of any business; employers must consider employee-centric approaches to managing people. Research shows that engaged, empowered and inclusive employees are happier. Happy employees are more productive and deliver outstanding customer service, and importantly, they don’t quit.


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