The 3 Keys to Recruiting and Retaining Top Talent in a Tight Labor Market

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This year, Amazon will begin hiring for the first of 25,000 new jobs it is bringing to northern Virginia. This is a big win for the local economy, but this influx of open jobs in the midst of the tightest labor market in decades means DC-area companies will need to be more competitive than ever to recruit and retain top talent.

An important rule in business is that if you want to sell a product or service, you should design it based on what customers want. Likewise, if you want talented, engaged employees who see your company as a place to build a career, you have to offer what employees value most.

It is not enough to attract great employees; you must also retain them. This year, companies in the DC metro area — and beyond — must assess their recruiting and retention strategies to identify what they’re doing right and what they could do better. Here are three areas in which many organizations could make immediate improvements:

1. Support Personal and Career Growth

According to ClearCompany, career growth is one of the top non-monetary motivators, and 76 percent of employees value job opportunities that support their professional development. But simple professional development is not enough on its own. Employees also want employers to support their physical and emotional wellness, financial health, personal goals, and charitable activities.

At PenFed, we often recruit veterans transitioning out of the military because they bring strong work ethics and unique skills, and they understand the financial goals and challenges of our national defense community. To recruit the best candidates in this talent market, we have to offer a sense of camaraderie that feels as strong as the one they are leaving behind. We have to make our employees feel like family, and that means constantly supporting their growth and success both personally and professionally.

Valuing this growth means, first, matching employees with roles in which they will have opportunities to advance. It also means offering comprehensive perks and benefits, such as wellness incentives, healthcare, tuition assistance, retirement funding, and financial advice.

Companies should also offer employees special benefits based on what they offer their customers. In the credit union industry, for example, that means employee discounts on personal loans, auto loans, and mortgages. In other industries, it could mean access to special events, free services, or discounted products.

2. Be Mission-Driven

According to LinkedIn’s 2018 “Workplace Culture Trends” report, 71 percent of professionals would take a pay cut to work at a company with a mission and values that aligned with their own.

People want to work for companies that better the lives of others and give back to their communities. At PenFed, our work on veterans’ causes, including the PenFed Foundation, has been a strong motivator of recruitment and retention for our employees.

But recruiting is a two-way street. If you are offering employees a mission-driven culture, you need to be sure you only hire people who share that mission. That’s why, instead of the word “hire,” I like to use the word “select.” We “select” employees who fit our culture and can achieve our mission. Remember: A mission is more than a mission statement — it is grounded in real action. Every employee must believe the mission and feel their skills play a valuable role in driving the mission forward.

3. Set the Highest Standard

Strong leaders set the example when it comes to work ethic and company values. According to a 2017 Gallup report, 70 percent of the variance between good and bad cultures can be attributed to the knowledge and behavior of the team or organizational leader.

Employees want leaders who care about their well-being; they want to work for leaders who recognize and appreciate them. An Appirio study found that 60 percent of workers feel the most important factor when weighing job opportunities is whether or not the managers appreciate their employees.

Companies need to hire great leaders at all levels who can give individual attention to the people under them. That includes top executives, who should communicate with their employees regularly through emails, phones calls, and personal interactions.

The best leaders aren’t afraid to let their employees see them as real people — and that includes acknowledgeding their mistakes. In my weekly emails to employees and quarterly town hall meetings, I talk about everything from my workout goals to what it means to support the community. Most importantly, I listen. I let employees reach out to me directly with issues and suggestions. Putting yourself out there can feel like a risk, but you are often rewarded by a happier, more engaged, and more loyal workforce as a result.

Competitive salaries, good benefits, and flexible schedules are no longer enough to entice the best talent. By some estimates, as many as 69 percent of employees are open to new opportunities or actively seeking them. Leaders who want the A-players in today’s tight labor market need to bring their own A-games to the office.

James R. Schenck is president and CEO of PenFed Credit Union and CEO of the PenFed Foundation.

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