Chamber Connect hears from OneDigital about labor force

Published 3:27 pm Monday, March 6, 2023

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Members of the Bainbridge-Decatur County Chamber of Commerce gathered at the Bainbridge Country Club on Thursday for the month’s Chamber Connect Luncheon. The speaker for the day was David Hughes, practice leader for the HR advisory firm OneDigital. Following an introduction to OneDigital by client executive Will Peterson, the main topic of Hughes’ speech was the labor shortage currently affecting the workforce, “the demographic drought” as Hughes called it.

“It’s just something that is very, very important for business over the next decade for certain,” Hughes said. Hughes first discussed the negative growth of the country’s workforce, which was heightened during the COVID pandemic. “The absolute number of prime-age working people went negative in 2021,” he said, “and it is never coming back. It is never coming back, we’re gonna have to do more with less.”

According to Hughes, there are three ways to potentially replenish the workforce: “You can birth them, and we know that’s not happening, birth rates are down 53% since I was born. We can immigrate them into our country, that’s not happening… politics aside, it’s poison, no one’s willing to do anything about it, and I’m talking about legal immigration.” The third and final way he mentioned was to improve the labor force participation rate. “Sadly, that number’s been going down the wrong way for the past 22 years as well.”

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Hughes went on to discuss ways to increase retention rates, as well as what he sees as the wrong way to handle staff retention. “They end up throwing money at the problem, and they stop holding people accountable,” he said. “Those are the top two things when you actually preach the retention message in a vacuum.” He described additional pay or wages as a “short-term motivator, not a long-term reward”, and yet it was also listed as the number one driving reason behind people leaving the workforce. Other driving factors in people leaving the workforce included doing work they weren’t passionate about, as well as limited opportunities for workplace advancement, clumsy policy and administration, and even issues with having a dress code. Hughes emphasized the importance of balancing short-term and long-term benefits to the company and employee for retention.

“That’s why our approach has evolved to taking care of the whole employee,” he said. “We think it’s important to worry about their physical wellbeing, their mental wellbeing, their financial wellbeing, a sense of community, and that career purpose… We’re not a one-trick pony at OneDigital, because it’s not what works.”

Hughes closed by reiterating that the labor force would continue to be scarce, and that employers would have to work with what they have. “You know, I grew up in a world where, if Sally wasn’t doing a good job, we fired Sally and we hired Jane, and hoped that Jane was a little better than Sally. That’s not the world we can operate in anymore.”