What makes a business an employer of choice?

By Kim Palmer

The organization Bethia Burke leads, the Fund for Our Economic Future, recently has surveyed thousands of workers and hundreds of employers. And those surveys make it clear, Burke said, that beyond competitive wages, businesses that want to be an employer of choice need to create workplaces with better communication and more flexibility.

The data from the Fund’s “Where are the Workers” report found that a lot of people in Northeast Ohio quit their jobs during the pandemic, and 20% are thinking about quitting in the next year. But of those who said they might leave, about half said there was something their employer could do to make them stay.

Crain’s talked with Burke about what the Fund’s surveys and roundtables found, how employers should interpret the data collected, and what tools are available to help with the talent crisis in the region.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: The Fund surveyed 5,000 working-age adults and talked to more than 600 employers across Northeast Ohio since the pandemic. Now that you and your staff have had some time to shift through all that data, what are the main takeaways when it comes to attracting talent?

A: The No. 1 thing you have to have to attract and keep workers as an employer is competitive compensation. One of the problems we found is that employers feel like they have increased wages for workers, but employees said either they haven’t seen great wage gains or those workers saw wage gains wiped out because of inflation, or both.

When we dug into the economics, the bottom 50% of earners saw wages go up somewhere between 8%-14% over the last decade, but inflation is now at 13%, effectively wiping out a decade of real wage gains. That is a big deal, and it is genuinely hard on the employer end because they are feeling stretched.

That needs to be part of the conversation, but also we need to talk about ways to make take-home pay go further. Employers can help by making it cost less for employees to get to work and making sure employees are taking advantage of every tax benefit, whether it’s day care, health care or transportation. This is where finding the right place to move or not move a business comes into play.

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