Why Higher Education Employees Are Leaving and What Managers Can Do About It

min read

The CUPA-HR 2023 Higher Education Employee Retention Survey was conducted to understand the factors driving the retention crisis after COVID-19. In this video, a CUPA-HR executive discusses some of those factors and what leaders can do to retain staff.

You can view all of CUPA-HR's finding by visiting the CUPA-HR 2023 Higher Education Employee Retention Survey.

View Transcript

Rob Shomaker
Senior Vice President

Rob Shomaker: The pandemic's changed all of us in a lot of ways, in terms of how we work, kind of, what we value, you know, in life. Here in the United States, we lost 1.1 million people due to COVID. Studies indicate maybe about 900,000 of those individuals would've been in the workforce, but now they're gone. So, you know, in a lot of ways there's that, there's also retirements. We had a lot of people that exited the workforce earlier than they would have, otherwise, because they're viewing life through a different lens. And, they've said, you know, this isn't worth it, or I want to do something different with my time, and they've completely exited, whereas they probably would still be working right now. Also, childcare and elder care continues to be a significant issue in our country, which unfortunately, culturally, in our country, that falls largely to women. And, until we figure that out, we're gonna have a large segment of the workforce that is inaccessible, you know, to us as employers. And, then we have a demographics issue. We've long talked about the employ, the enrollment cliff of 2025, but that affects the workforce too. And so, what we're also seeing, as we move forward in time, we've had less participation, in just, workforce over time. And, that's expected to continue to decline. So, you take all that together, and we have more openings in higher education than we have people to fill them.

Graphic: CUPA-HR released their 2023 Higher Education Employee Retention Survey

Rob Shomaker: The biggest reason that the individuals who participated reported leaving is pay, which is not a surprise in the least, given the current economic environment and, kind of, what some other employers, especially outside of education, are doing to lure top talent. But, overall, the biggest predictor, or the biggest driver of retention in higher education, is job satisfaction and wellbeing. And, there's a lot that goes into that. But, ultimately, if someone is satisfied with their work, if they're recognized for their contributions, if they are, regularly receive, you know, praise, if they have a boss that actually invests in them and is trying, is looking out for their overall wellbeing, if they've got a good culture, that encourages overall wellbeing, these are all things that help create a space that people are more likely to stay in, you know, as well. But, flexibility and remote work, continues to be a big driver, you know, as well. And, we have a significant misalignment with that in higher education. And, as for where people are going, when they're looking outside of higher education, the response tell us, overall, people are looking to stay in higher education. But, when it comes to our IT friends, which is what we're here to talk about primarily, a significant number of them, that's about 78%, are looking at that for-profit, you know, community outside of the nonprofit, higher education world. So, that's actually not too much of a surprise, given what we were also dealing with pre-pandemic with IT positions, and some of our top talent being pulled away.

Graphic: What can managers do to retain higher education staff?

Rob Shomaker: Well, I mean, first and foremost, continue to advocate for salary increases and regular pay increases that are meaningful. You know, as a CIO, you know, or as a, you know, a chief technology officer, you know, typically you're going to be more senior in the organization, have a seat at the table, have the year of HR and the president talk about these things. The fact of the matter is, is that pay continues to be a big driver, but we can also do more to offer options in the way of remote and hybrid work, which helps with that flexibility piece. Furthermore, we've got to be mindful of workload, and what we're asking people to do, and how our culture impacts people's overall wellbeing, and ultimately their job satisfaction, you know, as well. And, also, simple things, like looking for ways to recognize employees for their retention, asking them, you know, some of the simple questions, of like, "How are things going?" "What are some of, how can I help you?" "Are there things about your job that energize you, or maybe that drag you down?" And, also, having a, kind of, a concern, or enter into conversations with your teams, or, well, "what is it you would like to do?" You know, I like to say, "what do you wanna be when you grow up?" But, it's basically the same thing. It's, you know, if it's not where you currently are, what is it you would like to be, and how do we help you get there? 'Cause, ultimately, these are things that all contribute to the culture of our organization, our teams, and help drive overall job satisfaction and wellbeing.