Hello Friends!

Welcome to November. It has finally cooled down here in the low country and Halloween night brought a bumper crop of trick or treaters to our front door.

This month’s Headlines has a lot of information about dashboards in it, and the national one I am watching most closely relates to employment. The numbers are daunting: more than 15 million U.S. workers have quit their jobs since April of this year. A McKinsey study included that 40% of surveyed employees stated that they are at least somewhat likely to leave their current jobs in the next 3-6 months. Of those, 64% would be willing to do it without another job in-hand. The number among educators is a little lower, with roughly a third of employees at least somewhat likely to leave their jobs in the next 3-6 months.

The Atlantic draws out a fine point in its review of the bizarre landscape in which we find ourselves:

The great mystery of this moment is the labor shortage. America’s GDP is larger than it was in February 2020. But the total economy is down about 7 million workers. That’s akin to the entire labor force of Pennsylvania sitting on the sidelines. In September, the number of people working or actively looking for work mysteriously declined, which is not what you would expect to see in a rapidly growing economy with simmering inflation. Wages are rising. Job openings are everywhere. But we’re running out of people who seem to want a job right now.

In SAIS’ own career center data, the job postings for this year have been consistently higher in every month except for late August. Anecdotally, schools report having a harder time recruiting staff and teachers, losing key staff members during the school year, and being unable to fill roles. These trends are being more closely monitored in the public schools, although NAIS ran a snapshot survey in September that showed almost 60% of schools experiencing slightly or significantly more job openings of this year, with 44% of schools reporting more turnover among faculty in particular. We did not escape this trend in the Southeast, with 42% of schools in our region reporting higher turnover among faculty, 22% reporting higher turnover among administrators, and 23% reporting higher turnover among other staff.

Although it can be hard to glean what employees are looking for, general trends give us some insight. The most frequently referenced job enhancement is around flexibility. Having gotten a glimpse into worlds without commutes or at least windows without workplace distraction, flexibility in time and space has become a commodity as people redefine their relationships with their jobs. This is particularly true for the Millennials and GenZ, who are both starting to make up a larger part of our workforce in independent schools. As employers stretch to meet this desire for flexibility, the concern is that schools and faculty will be left behind.

The good news is most reports show that Millennials and GenZ do not necessarily want to work from home full-time, and employees are generally not seeking additional compensation. According to the McKinsey study, instead of compensation and other perks, employers should be considering more fundamental shifts such as:

  • including staff in internal decisions
  • listening to employee input
  • being sure not to shelter toxic leaders or colleagues
  • ensuring that the right people are in the right jobs
  • studying the health of the organization culture (even before the pandemic)
  • ensure that benefits are aligned with the priorities employees are thinking
  • providing a sense of community
  • providing career paths and opportunities

A lot of these topics help improve staff engagement, which drives not only employee retention, but also student engagement in schools. This is important as the engagement data around educators could be better. Gallup did a survey of educators several years ago and noted that slightly less than a third of educators are engaged in their work, 56% were not engaged, and 13% were actively disengaged. Their recommendations were not dissimilar to the ones that McKinsey has identified.

This leaves the question of how our schools can use these suggestions to evolve the staff experience in new directions in an environment that has been so driven by time and space constraints. Beyond that, we will need to look at the fundamentals of work in our schools, as many contend that the Great Resignation is more existential and much more about the relationship people have with work. We are seeing some experimental steps already include:

These approaches may or may not work in your culture. However, given the pressure that schools are experiencing and observing how profoundly so many employers are being impacted by the Great Resignation, schools will want to start reflecting on the employee experience and how work might change. These nuances may help your school secure your current and future educators. In addition, if schools want to retain top talent for nonacademic positions, the competition for these people is getting more intense, requiring schools to look closely at how school employment compares with that of other industries. 

Finally, as you head into November, please know that we at SAIS are so thankful for your continued engagement and support. This has been a remarkable time and this community has provided us all with incredible sustenance as we continue to face these challenges together.