Survey: Employers Face ‘Significant’ Employee Retention Challenges

Employers of all types are facing unprecedented employee retention challenges.  A recently released American Society of Employers Employee Turnover Survey provides concrete data to show just how significant these challenges were in 2021.

According to the ASE survey, annual voluntary turnover rates for 2021 reached nearly 17% among all employee types.  Voluntary turnover among hourly employees reached nearly 26%, and almost 12% for white collar employees.  This is a dramatic increase from pre-pandemic levels where voluntary turnover rates were under 10%.  

Total turnover, including employer-initiated separations reached 25% in 2021.  It should be noted that the survey does not contain large quantity data from retail operations or fast-food operations that witnessed historically high levels of employee attrition.

According to participants, compensation demands, retirements, and personal problems (family, health, etc.) lead the reasons given for separations.  Employers have responded by implementing a variety of employee retention initiatives including conducting exit interviews (80%), allowing remote work (71%), assessing compensation rates to the market (59%), implementing or improving the employee onboarding experience (51%), and expanding or introducing flexible work options (43%).

The survey also calculated the net hire ratio of participants.  The net hire ratio measures the extent to which employers might be expending their workforce or contracting.  The results suggest overall that employers are replacing as many employees as they are losing to turnover, but not expanding.  The exception was in the Service sector, where results show a net hire ratio of 1.15.  This finding is not surprising given data we are seeing from Bureau of Labor Statistics that show job openings peaking in December of 2021 at over 11 million – many of those openings going unfilled.

This is all in an environment of very low unemployment.  As of February, Michigan’s unemployment rate was 5.3% with Detroit at 5.4%, Ann Arbor at 3.7%, Bay City at 6.2%, Saginaw a little higher at 6.8%, and Grand Rapids at 3.8%.  However, nationally, if you include people who are discouraged or marginally attached to the workforce or include those who are working part-time due to economic reasons, the unemployment rate could be as high as 6.9% – more than three points above the official unemployment rate.

So what do we make of this data?  Clearly 2021 was a year like few others in modern memory and regardless of any confusion around statistics and workforce dynamics, the fact remains that employers continue to struggle with retaining and attracting talent.  There are many signals that the challenges we are facing now as employers are here to stay, and employers should not look to a return to how things were before the pandemic.  Companies will need to take a new approach to employee retention.

Kevin Marrs is vice president at American Society of Employers.