The Indiana unemployment rate fell to 3.2 percent in September, the lowest rate the state has seen in nearly 20 years, as employers throughout the state continue to see workers leaving their organizations at staggering rates. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that since 2014, the average number of employees who left their jobs in Indiana increased by 14 percent, compared to a 4 percent increase nationwide during the same period.

There were more than 109,000 unemployed people in Indiana in September 2019, while the available job openings in the state hovered around 233,000. With significantly more jobs to fill than available talent, employers in Indiana are fiercely competing for candidates across all industries. For those in the manufacturing, transportation or logistics industries, you are experiencing this at an even higher level, with these industries in the top five percent of those seeing the most turnover in Indiana.  

Let’s face it: employees in Indiana aren’t hesitating to leave for new job offers because there is more opportunity for job seekers today than there has been in possibly forever.

Tell me if this sounds familiar. A staff member leaves, and now you are looking at the inevitably expensive process to recruit, onboard and train a new employee. Meanwhile, the supervisor on that team is picking up the slack until their new team member is brought up to speed. With the focus constantly on training, their needs are no longer being met. Suddenly, you’re faced with an environment of dissatisfaction from burned out employees and customers that are dealing with missed deadlines and reduced quality of work. Then, the cycle continues.

Stopping the madness

So, what can you do about it? Your first instinct may be to increase employee wages, but pay is frequently not the root problem. Regardless of age, pay ranges or skill levels, the primary reason workers leave is for career development and opportunity. They are looking for obvious avenues that provide them upward mobility and career advancement.

That said, retention should start on day one with an organized onboarding process, and continue with ongoing training and clearly outlined opportunities for continued development.

From there, you should adopt a “head-up” mentality. Your supervisors or managers need to keep their eyes up off the floor, focusing on employees and making an effort to engage on a regular basis. This can be as simple as looking your employees in the eyes to say, “Good morning,” but to really create a comfortable and inviting place to work in, you need to go further than that. Take a few moments to learn about who they are as a person and ask about their families or their hobbies. If they do something worth complimenting in the workplace, take a moment to acknowledge them with public praise or a personal email. These simple gestures create an environment where your employees feel valued. When you regularly communicate with your staff, you can better sense when morale is up or down and be proactive as needed to curb employee dissatisfaction. You will create an environment in which employees feel cared for and safe to approach supervisors with workplace issues and, ultimately, reduce turnover.

At Kelly Services, we work closely with companies throughout the state that are successfully implementing this mindset. A great example is Dia & Co in Greenwood. When we discussed the importance of engagement, human resources representative Judy McElfresh told me that her entire goal is to create a sense of community through small gestures, like bringing in pizza for National Pizza Day and creating a painted “family tree,” made from the employees handprints.

Judy said it best when she explained, “It’s extremely important because we spend so much time at work.  You see more of the person across the desk from you than your own spouse, so we want to ensure our employees are enjoying their environment.”

At the end of the day, engagement is the key to understanding why employees join your company, why they stay…and why they leave. When you know your staff, you know the best ways to accommodate their needs.

Engaging with your staff is just one piece of the puzzle, as employees most frequently express a desire for a clear career path, including opportunities for advancement and skills development.

Keep in mind that employees are looking for different benefits at different points in their careers. While a cookie-cutter approach to benefits and perks might be tempting as the simplest approach, unfortunately, this can lead to certain groups of employees feeling like their needs are not being met. For example, a younger employee might be looking for new experiences over money. A middle-aged family worker might want flexibility and work/life balance, while empty nesters seek a new challenge. Having an array of benefits can keep the different demographics of your workforce happy.

There’s always going to be some level of employee turnover, but by engaging your employees with the right strategies you can help reduce turnover and create a workplace environment where people want to work.  

Jack Van Tiem is vice president and market leader of the Midwest region at Kelly Services.