The Great Resignation and the Microelectronics Industry: Retaining a Skilled Workforce
Now hiring signs are replacing masks and bottles of hand sanitizer as the ubiquitous markers of COVID-19, as the Great Resignation continues, and the Omicron surge ebbs. Everywhere – at fast food restaurants, at top tech companies – there are job openings, offering cash just for showing up at an interview, or up to $100,000 in sign-on bonuses. Consumers across all industries are being asked to be patient as their new computer, their doctor, or their lunch might take significant additional time before being available. This is the new COVID reality: No industry seems to be fully staffed, and everyone is competing for talent.
The Great Resignation refers to the roughly 33 million Americans who have left their jobs since the spring of 2021. It’s surprising, in a way, that when the world feels so much more uncertain and perilous that so many people are choosing to make this important life change. Even more surprising is who is leaving their jobs. It is not just younger workers with fewer responsibilities and more mobility; it is also older workers who see this as the perfect time to find better working conditions. Indeed, NPR’s Greg Rosalsky makes the case that this isn’t the Great Resignation, but the Great Renegotiation. “Americans quitting their jobs merely seem to be aiming to get better jobs,” he writes. “When the stars align as they’re aligning now, workers gun for better pay, perks, flexibility, and treatment. Bargaining power has shifted in their favor.
In fact, a study by the Harvard Business Review found that mid-career employees – those between 30 and 45 years old – have higher resignation rates than younger workers in the 20 to 25 age range. The older set saw an average increase in resignations of 20% between 2020 and 2021, while the younger workers’ resignation rates actually decreased during the same period. When these older workers leave, they take with them institutional knowledge, relationships, and expertise, potentially dramatically impacting their previous companies’ productivity, morale, and profitability.
And the news is worse for the technology industry. The two fields with the highest increases in resignation were healthcare – and tech. In healthcare, resignations increased by an additional 3.6%, and in tech, 4.5%. The Harvard study posits that these higher resignation rates “were higher among employees who worked in fields that had experienced extreme increases in demand due to the pandemic, likely leading to increased workloads and burnout.”
There are no reliable studies about how the Great Resignation has affected the microelectronics industry. However, as an industry that has had significant workforce gaps for years, what is certain is that the pandemic, and this wave of resignations, has exacerbated an already-troubling problem. While an extraordinary amount of focus is put on workforce development strategies in the chip industry – recruitment, training, hiring – sometimes the work around retention falls by the wayside. But to help solve the chip industry’s workforce challenges, we need to start by retaining the excellent employees we already have.
And if you believe your workplace is immune to this worker-centered movement, consider the 2021 study conducted by Joblist that showed that 73% of the 26,000 employees surveyed said they were actively thinking about quitting their jobs. It is worth looking around at our own companies and considering how many of our team members are actively looking to move on – and what the repercussions would be if they did.
So what can companies do to better retain employees? There are many standards in the human resources world around how to tackle this issue: Quantify the problem by calculating your retention rate and the impact of turnover; identify root causes, such as pay, promotions, pay increases, etc., and tailor retention programs to address those causes.
In a field as specialized as the microelectronics industry – one that already suffers from relative invisibility to potential workers when compared to adjacent tech industries, and one that has a significant diversity problem – it’s worth looking deeper to see how this industry can both attract and retain the best and brightest workers and thinkers from a wide diversity of backgrounds. When considering retention strategies, it is more important than ever to invest in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices.
One area of critically important focus should be employee well-being. Good pay, good benefits, and feeling welcome, valued, and safe – all components of DEI – can contribute to job satisfaction and employee retention. It is important to understand, however, who is making your employees feel welcome, valued, and safe. More often than not, it is women who are performing this role, above and beyond their typical work duties. And more often than not, that work is going unrecognized and unrewarded.
According to the 2021 Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org, companies are prioritizing employee well-being with DEI being an important area of focus. But this work is not spread evenly. “Compared to men at the same level, women managers are taking more action to support their teams… Senior-level women are twice as likely as senior-level men to spend more time than men on DEI work that falls outside their formal job responsibilities, such as recruiting employees from underrepresented groups… Compared to men in leadership, they are more likely to educate themselves about challenges women of color face at work, speak out against discrimination, and mentor or sponsor women of color.”
This work adds both hours to the workweek and significant emotional labor. And companies value that labor and understand how it contributes to employee retention. Indeed, 87% of companies reported that the work to create well-being is critical. But only 25% of companies reported that the well-being work was recognized. Women are being told that DEI work is not part of their formal jobs.
“We’re working on DEI after hours in the evenings, on weekends, and on vacations,” said one respondent to the McKinsey & Company survey. “And there’s no formal recognition of all the effort.”
This means that companies understand how valuable well-being and DEI work is; that women are doing the bulk of that work; and that the work is largely going unrecognized and uncompensated. This is not a good pathway toward retention of women in these companies. And if those women leave, there will be fewer people supporting well-being in the workplace, which can lead to further resignations across all genders.
This is an important area of focus when considering and re-crafting retention strategies. To address this challenge in your own company, consider implementing the following:
- Put supporting well-being and DEI in employee annual goals – particularly for management and leadership
- Track and encourage progress on those goals during performance reviews
- Rewrite current job descriptions to include DEI strategies while removing other responsibilities so employees have the time to dedicate to DEI within regular business hours
- Write DEI responsibilities into new job descriptions where and when appropriate
- Create a system that regularly and publicly celebrates and rewards individuals who go above and beyond in DEI
These strategies are a starting place to support the people who are doing important work to retain fellow employees. In future articles of this series, we will explore additional resources and recommendations focused on strengthening workplace culture around retention. We welcome your feedback and ideas at email@example.com.