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Survey Report

2021 Talent Attraction and Retention Survey

Highlights of key findings, North America

Inclusion and Diversity|Talent|Wellbeing
N/A

September 16, 2021

Employers are taking action to improve the employee experience as challenges in attracting and retaining talent have increased sharply and are expected to continue into 2022.

Challenges attracting and retaining employees have spiked during the pandemic, leading employers to adopt new strategies and plan future actions to remain competitive. Those that don’t risk getting left behind in their ability to get and keep talent.

The August 2021 North America Talent Attraction and Retention Survey examines the reasons why employers are experiencing challenges in attracting and retaining employees, where these struggles are most prevalent, and the steps employers are taking to win and keep talent in a highly competitive environment.

Nearly three in four employers (73%) are currently having difficulty attracting employees. That’s nearly triple the number (26%) who reported difficulty last year, and up from 56% during the first half of this year. Roughly the same percentage of employers (70%) expect the difficulty to persist in 2022. Retaining employees has also been challenging. Six in 10 respondents (61%) are having a hard time keeping workers, and a similar percentage expect the problem to continue into next year. Last year, only 15% of employers reported having difficulty retaining employees.

In response, employers have already implemented or are planning several actions to attract and retain talent. The most prevalent action already taken by 70% of employers is placing a broader emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion. Ninety percent of employers that have done so expect this to be permanent.

One of the most common actions employers are planning or considering is revising their health and wellbeing benefits. Most employers also expect these actions to be permanent for both attraction (71%) and retention (78%).

To improve attraction, 53% of employers have already taken action to focus more on improving the employee experience, while 61% are offering greater workplace flexibility. The most commonly cited next step employers are planning or considering to attract employees is raising starting salary ranges (43%). To retain employees, 70% of employers have taken action to increase workplace flexibility, while 65% are providing tuition reimbursement. Forty-nine percent of employers are planning or considering making market movement adjustments and offering higher base salary increases.

Our findings make clear that to be best positioned to win and keep the talent they need for sustained success, organizations need to understand the range of strategies available to them across the entire employee experience. Employers should ensure their current and planned actions align with their desired employee experience, meet affordability requirements, and consider their current and prospective workforce needs.

Highlights and trends

Attraction and retention challenges persist throughout the pandemic and beyond but vary based on role, career level and industry
  • Nearly three times as many organizations are having difficulty attracting employees compared with last year, while four times as many are having difficulty retaining employees. These trends are expected to continue through 2022, with 70% of employers expecting to have challenges with attraction and 61% with retention.
  • Employers are most likely to have challenges attracting employees with digital skills (78%), although these positions were also hard to fill prior to the pandemic. They are also experiencing challenges attracting hourly workers (61%). Respondents are most likely to say this is due to these workers opting for increased unemployment benefits rather than returning to the workforce. Employers are also having difficulty attracting sales force positions (37%). Respondents are most likely to attribute this to organizations increasing their hiring for these positions, not a reduced supply of labor.
  • Employers report that higher wage expectations are affecting the ability to attract and retain employees in all positions. This trend is evident mostly among digital workers (48%) followed by production, warehouse and distribution positions (43%), and hourly workers (41%). As a result, many employers are increasing their salary budgets for the upcoming cycle. Thirty percent of employers say they will now raise their salary increase budgets from earlier projections. Most are doing so due to tight labor market concerns (75%) and anticipated stronger financial results (41%).

Employers have taken a variety of actions to attract and retain talent, with many of these actions expected to become permanent

The main action employers have already taken to both attract and retain employees is a greater focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (70%), and this is largely expected to become permanent (91%).

To attract employees

Employers have also instituted greater workplace flexibility (61%) and increased their geographic area of recruitment (58%), along with a greater emphasis on improving the employee experience (53%), in order to attract employees. Greater focus on improving the employee experience is most likely to become permanent (78%).

Top five actions taken to attract employees

This table shows the percent of employers that have taken some immediate action to make their organization more attractive to job candidates, as well as the percent of employers that are considering or planning to make these changes a permanent part of their value proposition.
Action % of employers that took action % of employers planning to make action permanent
Broader emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion 70% 91%
Increase workplace flexibility 61% 54%
Increase geographic area of recruitment 58% 49%
Greater focus on improving the EX 53% 78%
Greater partnering with schools and universities to identify candidates for roles 50% 74%

To retain employees

Additional actions employers have already taken to retain employees include increasing workplace flexibility (70%), providing tuition reimbursement (65%) and instituting work-from-anywhere policies (56%). Tuition reimbursement policies are most likely to become permanent (90%).

Top five actions taken to retain employees

This table shows the percent of employers that have taken actions to retain employees, as well as the percent of employers that are considering or planning to make these changes a permanent part of their value proposition.
Action % of employers that took action % of employers planning to make action permanent
Broader emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion 71% 90%
Increase workplace flexibility 70% 54%
Tuition reimbursement 65% 90%
Allow employees in certain jobs to work from anywhere 56% 48%
Off-cycle promotions (w/increase) 51% 61%
78%

Employers are also planning or considering additional actions to find and keep employees

Salary adjustments

  • The most common action employers are planning or considering taking to attract employees is to raise starting salary ranges, with 45% expecting this action to become permanent. Similarly, employers are planning or considering higher base salary increases to retain employees, and 35% expect this action to become permanent.

Health and wellbeing benefits

  • Of employers that are planning to revise health and wellbeing benefits or have already done so, 71% expect it to be a permanent action for attraction, and 76% expect it to be permanent for retention.

Training opportunities

  • Employers are also planning to increase and create more targeted opportunities for employee training. Sixty-five percent of employers that have taken or plan to take this action are making this a permanent strategy for attraction, while 67% expect to make it permanent for retention.

Temporary actions taken by employers could have longer-term ramifications
  • Some actions employers cited as having already been taken, planned or under consideration are expected to be temporary. These include increasing sign-on and referral bonuses and allowing delayed relocation to attract employees. Assigning individuals to higher levels or titles, off-cycle salary increases and cash retention bonuses are the most common temporary actions being used or planned for retention purposes.
  • Some of the temporary actions employers are taking may lead to significant consequences over time, which may also directly conflict with the heightened focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. For example, 1) offering off-cycle salary increases may lead to pay equity concerns if some demographic groups are underrepresented in these roles, 2) assigning individuals to higher levels or titles may lead to inequities in titles and job leveling frameworks and create an appearance of inequity if pay is not commensurate with title or level, or 3) allowing delayed relocation may create inequities for current employees. Employers need to consider these risks when implementing short-term actions to address retention and attraction challenges.

About the respondents

Research findings are based on responses from 380 employers representing 7.4 million workers. The survey fielded in North America between August 4 and August 9, 2021.

Respondent profile

  • 53% for profit, publicly traded
  • 32% for profit, private or family-owned
  • 15% nonprofit or government
  • 1% other
Manufacturing 25%, Financial services 19%, Health care 14%, Energy and utilities 11%, General services 10%, IT and telecom 9%
Wholesale and retail 8%, Public sector and education 4%
Respondents by industry
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