WSU Study: Workplace culture can hurt, or help, with staffing issues

A gaming lounge at Columbia Center is closed with a handwritten note in the window: Closed because of staffing issues.

It’s one small sign that the Great Resignation is in full force in the Tri-Cities, disproportionately affecting the hospitality and visitor sector. As Michael Novakovich, CEO of Visit Tri-Cities reports, local hotels have struggled to hire staff as tourism revives, leaving them to get by with leaner crews.

Chip Hunter

The Great Resignation is no passing fad. How businesses adapt will guide future success, said Chip Hunter, dean of Washington State University’s Carson College of Business

The school completed its 2022 Business in the Northwest report, a deep dive into the challenges and opportunities ahead. The survey of 1,000 Northwest business leaders, employees and Gen Z employees about the state of the economy was conducted in late 2021, before the omicron variant took hold.

But Hunter said it offers a telling view into the mindset of business leaders in what seem to be the pandemic’s waning days. Key takeaways include the new challenge of finding employees.

The latest incarnation is the fifth annual report, and after two years of uncertainty, the 2022 version identified the challenges posed on competing for talent, of working from home and the impact that changing work environments is having on the youngest professionals, the Gen-Zers.

“We saw a lot of consistency area by area. One of the things that’s interesting is the commonality across the Northwest: optimism, a shared sense of what the challenges are. Even by town and industry, there’s some very powerful common themes,” he said.

According to the survey, nearly 70% of business leaders want to create more jobs but aren’t confident there will be enough qualified employees to fill them.

Carson said employers will do well to listen to Gen-Z concerns. Four in five said diversity, equity and inclusion is a “must have” in the workplace and they will seek out employers whose values align with their own.

In a related finding, the survey identified a tension younger workers feel about remote working, feeling cut off from opportunities but appreciating the sustainability of working from home. Nearly 70% of younger workers said they feel they are “behind” coworkers and peers because they haven’t had a traditional in-office or onsite work experience.

He likened the tension to university students who ask for in-person classes, then look for the option to attend by Zoom.

The survey found that three in four workers feel safe returning to work in person.

That could have implications for industries that don’t lend themselves to remote work, including hotels and restaurants.

“If you’re looking for a driver of the Great Resignation, a large share of folks aren’t comfortable coming back to those types of jobs,” he said. Employers can compete for talent by developing value systems that draw in prospective workers.

“Don’t miss this boat,” he said.

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