Schweinfurth Director of Career & Professional Development
Farmer School of Business at Miami University
Have you experienced a revolving door of employees and or staff members over the past year? If so, you are not alone. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics Report, the US employee turnover rate in 2020 was 57.3%, a drastic increase from the national average of 17.8%. Industries across the country are experiencing an unprecedented amount of position openings and this trend includes higher education.
Why is retention of staff decreasing?
When thousands of Americans were asked to shelter in place and work from home during the pandemic, their new work environment revealed the flexibility a variety of careers could offer, including those in higher education. Rather than rushing out the door to beat the morning traffic for a 1-2 hour commute, many of us were able to experience a smooth transition from the bedroom to the kitchen table where all the work materials needed for the day were located. This change of work location also shifted the hearts and minds of employees. A survey conducted by American’s Prudential Insurance (2020), discovered that “one in three American workers would not want to work for an employer that required them to be onsite full-time. Ironically, many universities are calling for staff (if not already) to return to work as it was prior to the pandemic.
Three primary reasons why career services staff are leaving their current positions.
Remote work and the accompanying benefits (low gas cost, short commutes, flexible day) are one of the top 3 reasons that many Americans are leaving their current position. The second reason is that individuals are taking advantage of the opportunity to enter a higher paying position that was not available before now. Lastly, people are taking advantage of the positions available that fit their passions rather than solely working to support life’s daily needs (NPR, 2021).
Are career services staff leaving current positions for the same reasons as many Americans? In short, yes! They are exposed to various companies through the endeavors that a career center executes. Larger career fairs to small company informational sessions give staff a major advantage to gain a wide breadth and depth of industry knowledge. Interestingly enough, it is this comprehension and exposure to diverse employers and industries that could put career services staff at ahigher risk of leaving.
What can be done to retain staff?
While you might be waiting on pins and needles to see who the next staff member is to leave, there are successful methods to retain staff members even during this unprecedented time of abundantly available job opportunities. I spoke with university colleagues within career centers across the nation, and repeatedly heard 3 common practices that senior leaders identified as critical in their successful retention of staff.
Be transparent and communicate often with team members
Jennifer Whitten, Associate Dean & Director of Weston Career Center at Washington University in St. Louis, shared that the Dean of her school held weekly town halls, met with the staff for monthly discussions and sent out weekly emails. As for Jennifer, she ensured that she was accessible to the career team, meeting weekly with individuals. Most importantly, Jennifer pointed out “that during my meetings and weekly discussions with staff, when I do not have the answer(s) to certain questions, I tell them.”
Pay staff a competitive market salary
Sam Dunn, Assistant Dean and Director of the Business Career Center at Brigham Young University in Utah, shared that paying staff competitive salaries as well as regular recognition with both cash and non-cash awards, are all contributing factors to their 95% retention rate of career services staff in this market.
Offer flexible working arrangements during and post COVID
Wisconsin School of Business Career Center retained 100% of their staff and added new hires as well. “I appreciated and noted that the university's emphasis on providing flexibility while still prioritizing student and employer needs was the secret sauce to staff retention and growth,” shared Director of Career Engagement of Undergraduate Programs, Melissa Leffin.
The Road Ahead
Keep in mind that these are a few suggestions of staff incentives to assist with retention and certainly not an exhaustive list. The key is to consider what you can do for staff vs. what you cannot do. For example, have you assessed the average salaries for similar positions to have a benchmark for incoming employees? Have you thought about how often you communicate with staff and considered making a change that fits better with your employees expectations? Are there thoughtful ways that you can recognize staff that are not cash-based but still demonstrate the values of the individual?
Retaining current staff is beneficial for a variety of reasons. Institutions that create and maintain a positive company culture, project flow and employer morale increase productivity by 12% over dissatisfied employees. Companies with a revolving door of employees can find it difficult, almost impossible, to maintain a consistent and cohesive company culture, hence leading to less productivity from staff members. Managers should also work to retain employees because the office budget can be affected by turnover. According to the Center for American Progress, it costs roughly 20% of an employee's salary to replace that individual. If you're thinking, “no way,” that does not apply to higher education (as the budget may already appear lean), I would recommend rethinking that conclusion. New staff polos, business cards, and training certification all add up, effectively influencing costs and decreasing the bottom line of what that institution could acquire. Connecting with your institution's human resource department to determine the cost of hiring could be of assistance as well.
There are varying factors within career centers at universities regarding resources, staff needs and culture. What is consistent for all employees is the need for university leaders and managers to continue to focus on the staff needs and expectations in efforts to maximize retention (SHRM, 2018).
Needs and expectations change over an employee's lifecycle and it is important that universities stay open, willing and flexible to meet the needs of employees. If you have the ability to advocate and/or execute at least one of the 3 attributes mentioned above, then you will likely increase your chances of staff retention.
A Better Way to Develop and Retain Top Talent, (Harvard Business Review, 2020)
Understanding and Developing Organizational Culture, (SHRM 2021)
What the “Best Companies to Work For Do Differently, (Harvard Business Review, 2019)
Monique Frost is the Schweinfurth Director of Career & Professional Development with the Farmer School of Business at Miami University. She has a true passion for servitude leadership, and enjoys coaching individuals through decisions that assist in achieving their desired career and recruitment goals. Monique values the learning, growth, and development that happens throughout a student’s collegiate years as well as guiding new and experienced employers to the appropriate talent to fit their recruitment needs. Through employer relations, student engagement and faculty and staff initiatives, Monique enjoys the contribution she has been able to make to the growth and advancement of the Farmer School of Business at Miami University of Ohio. Monique is currently in the Career Leaders Fellowship Program with The Career Leadership Collective.