Business & Development

Beyond pay and benefits; Experts: How to keep, attract employees in tight labor market

The timeless game of picking a petal off of a flower and chanting, “she loves me, she loves me not,” has been replaced in many circles by instead reciting, “recession, recession not.”

Experts and regular folks agree that we are no closer to predicting if and when we will head into recession than we were at the end of 2022. 

Yet, while this uncertainty pervades, one thing is still abundantly clear, we remain in an incredibly tight labor market and employers are still struggling to find the people they need.

Yes, yes, I know the tech sector has been making news with really big layoffs recently, but even that fact hasn’t dampened the fact that nationally and locally, we have roared back to prepandemic employment.

The latest guidance for the State of Oregon Department of Economic Analysis forecast portrays a labor market that remains tight for both cyclical and structural reasons. 

The analysis states that the economy is strong, and nearly everyone who wants a job has a job. Employment rates for prime working-age Oregonians are higher today than they were pre-pandemic across different levels of educational attainment. 

The workers have fully returned, and in December there were 1.5 job openings in Oregon for every unemployed worker. Employers continue to hire as they chase market opportunities due to strong consumer spending. 

Overall, this labor market strength is keeping upward pressure on wages which are rising as firms compete for workers.

So that’s the situation many employers find themselves in today. They have jobs they need to fill and are having a hard time finding people to fill them. Additionally, many bosses and owners are fearful that they could lose vital employees who are certainly in the driver’s seat when it comes to the job they have at the moment.

What’s a good leader to do?

I recently spoke with two human resource pros in different industries to get their take on the labor market and hear their best practices for both retaining and attracting employees.

Bill Nevell, the vice president of human resource for Springfield-headquartered Timber Products, is a big believer in two key philosophies in the recruiting and retaining process – being thorough and being transparent.

“When recruiting younger employees into the timber industry, we have to do a good job of thoroughly explaining the business and the fact that there is a huge component of technology involved,” he said. “Many people new to it think it’s more of a 19th or early 20th century industry. That’s not the case. If we do a good job of educating them, we stand a better chance of hiring them.”

Nevell is a strong proponent of continually educating existing employees and new recruits about both the current  and future opportunities at the company. By being thorough in defining the possibilities of a job, an employer stands a much better chance of creating an environment that keeps current employees happy and piques the interest of those looking for a new opportunity.

The other important aspect of retaining and recruiting employees, according to Nevell, is company transparency. 

“People want honesty from leadership, and they want to know where they stand within an organization,” he said. “Successful companies communicate openly and honestly with the people they already have and with the people they are trying to recruit. Loyalty is created when employees believe that their employer is treating them fairly, and also talking to them without any kind of hidden agendas.”

When it comes to creating an environment that can flex to an employee’s needs and desires, Shawna Gribskov, an human resource manager at Dutch Bros, says it’s all about accommodation.

In fact, her official title, leave and accommodation manager, shows how important Dutch Bros take this relatively new role within human resources.

“It’s true that having someone to concentrate on employee accommodation is a pretty recent concept in business,” said Gribskov. “It just goes to show that finding ways to keep employees happy and give potential recruits something tangible to consider in their decision- making process is key.”

She said that Dutch Bros has created a robust program of employee accommodation that works to create a culture where employees can believe that the company has their best interests at heart, and many times that is demonstrated by accommodation.

“Sometimes it’s simple things like allowing our employees to choose their music in our stores, or having half-days on Fridays during the summer,” said Gribskov. 

Gribskov also points out that accommodating employees who are experiencing stress and anxiety is a great accommodation that demonstrates company culture and commitment. 

“When I started in HR, most employers would simply tell an employee to just deal with stress privately,” she said. “Today, we really work to make sure our people are taken care of, and doing that means giving them some space to take care of themselves.”

At the end of the day, good pay, good benefits and a good working environment are keys to retaining and attracting employees.

In a tight labor market, companies often have to go beyond the obvious to ensure it has the staff needed to compete and thrive.

Michael Dunne is a business columnist for The Chronicle. Reach Michael at [email protected]



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