Whether it's the “Great Resignation” or the “Great Reallocation,” here's what you need to know about the pandemic's lasting effects on the workforce. Photo via Getty Images

The pandemic has altered many aspects of American life, but perhaps none as much as the way Americans work – or, if they work at all. One startling phenomenon resulting from the pandemic is a massive exodus of people leaving the workforce. On average, around 4 million employees quit their jobs each month in 2021, with resignations accelerating toward the end of last year and hitting a record 4.5 million in November.

These mass departures have created an imbalance in the labor market. As of December 2021, there were 10.9 million job openings in the United States, but only 6.3 million unemployed workers. This imbalance has contributed to the supply chain issues that have plagued many industries, as well as to some of the wage and price inflation we are seeing. Inflation has been rising while our labor force participation rate has plummeted to 61.9 percent, back to around where we were in the mid-1970s. In other words, only about 3 out of 5 working-age adults are actually working.

Embedded in the resignation data are really two types of people: those who are leaving the workforce permanently, and those who are leaving their current jobs for better, or more flexible, work. If the former group refers to a trend dubbed the “Great Resignation,” the latter is more aptly described as the “Great Reallocation.” Although fundamentally different, both trends tell us something important about the ways in which American work life has changed in the wake of the pandemic.

Workers permanently leaving the workforce may be doing so for a variety of reasons. Pre-pandemic, America was already in the Baby Boomer retirement cycle. So, for many people who might have been a year or two away from retirement before the pandemic, the fear and uncertainty resulting from COVID-19 simply delayed those plans. But with 2021’s stock market gains, and retirement accounts flush with cash, many people felt secure enough to pursue the retirement they put off during 2020’s uncertainty.

Another subset of people leaving the workforce likely did so out of a legitimate fear of COVID-19 or, on the flip side, because of burgeoning vaccine mandates. As Americans learn to live with COVID-19, and with many vaccine mandates being struck down or withdrawn, some of these workers will return to the workforce, while others will opt for retirement to avoid these issues. Additionally, with the advent of virtual school across much of the United States, many parents felt pressure to either quit working and stay home with their kids or quit an in-person job to find a work-from-home job.

Still another subset of workers—primarily those in lower-wage jobs—chose to stay home because government subsidies stemming from the pandemic equaled or, in some cases, exceeded their expected earnings from work. Since those subsidies largely ended, many of these workers have been looking to reenter the workforce. However, with the rise of artificial intelligence algorithms pruning resumes for “fit” with certain jobs, a significant employment gap on a worker’s resume could create problems for many who are now seeking work. In any event, many workers looking to get back in the game could benefit from having an expert optimize their resumes so they are attractive to the gatekeeper’s new electronic eye.

Another group of workers resigned to start their own businesses. From January to November 2021, nearly 5 million new businesses were created in the United States. This represents a 55 percent increase over the same period in 2019, which was a boom year right before the pandemic.

The workforce gap stemming from the “Great Resignation” has substantially increased employee bargaining power. In an effort to bridge that gap, employers have been engaged in a war for talent that will continue or, absent a market disruption, even intensify in 2022. In this tight labor market, employers have been realizing that there is a competitive advantage to recruiting talent away from competitors. Wages are up, with no downturn in sight. In November of 2021 alone, pay was up 3.2 percent for employees remaining in their existing jobs. But, for those employees who switched jobs, pay increased 4.3 percent, revealing an advantage to employees looking to “upgrade” their positions. To attract employees, employers are not only offering higher wages, but also, other enticements like signing bonuses, retention bonuses, private offices, and hybrid or fully remote working arrangements.

The pandemic also changed employees’ perspective on work. People became introspective and reevaluated their wants and needs. With so many forced to work from home at the onset of the pandemic, and the overall success of working from home, the flexibility that accompanies working from home has now become ingrained in people’s psyches. Many now prefer or demand jobs with greater flexibility. The success of the work from home phenomenon has also caused several employers to embrace nationwide recruiting of remote workers. These employers greatly benefit from mining a nationwide talent pool and their employees love being able to live where they want, work from home, and still receive great pay. Now, if you want to live in a cabin in Montana or a beach house in Florida, you can do that and still get Silicon Valley pay.

Given the pandemic-driven new market realities, a few things have become clear. First, work from home, to a greater or lesser extent, is here to stay. Second, whether employees work from home or at a business, if we hope to solve supply chain problems, get products back on shelves, and stem the tide of inflation, we need to get Americans back in the workforce. Third, for those considering going back to work, there is no better time than now.

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Scott Nelson is a Houston-based partner at Hunton Andrews Kurth focused on labor and employment.

Allie Danziger, co-founder and CEO of Ampersand Professionals, is bridging the gap between the next generation — and their future employers. Photo courtesy of Ampersand

How this Houston entrepreneur is preparing the workforce for Gen Z employees

Houston innovators podcast episode 126

For decades, workplaces have had to deal with a generational divide among the employees. Businesses have to navigating the needs of a few generations simultaneously — from Baby Boomers to Generation X and Millennials.

Now, Gen Z is entering the workforce in droves, and Allie Danziger, founder and CEO of Ampersand, is helping companies get ready for them.

"By 2026, 25 percent of the workforce will be Gen Z in these entry-level positions," Danziger says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "By investing in an internship program or entry-level talent now, it's helping the rest of your workforce and the company adjust now to the new ways of working Gen Z is looking for."

Ampersand is a professional development tech platform that onboards interns, upskills them on how to be successful in the workplace, and then matches them with paid internships based on their interests and aspirations.

Originally founded in 2020, the startup has been buoyed by needs resulting from The Great Resignation.

"What's happening now is all these people who have been in a job for about two to five years are leaving. They are re-evaluating what they are looking for in a company, and they are either moving on to other companies, or they are taking time off," Danziger says. "Interns can really support that, as can entry-level employees."

Companies of every size are experiencing this sensation — and there's no quick fix. Onboarding and hiring replacements takes time and money, but bringing in already trained interns can be a solution.

"When someone leaves, other people take on that work. If you don't hire proper support for the people still there, you see the trickle. You see more and more people leave, because they are just burnt out," Danziger says. "By hiring interns or entry-level support, it shows the employees still there that you've got them."

The Houston community has bet on the impact of Ampersand. Earlier this year, the city of Houston the startup as a partner for the Hire Houston Youth initiative. All of the initiative's new hires will go through the Ampersand curriculum before they are matched with jobs. And, as Danziger explains on the podcast, they will then have access to opportunities via the platform too.

"It's awesome for us because it's giving us a ton of people on the platform. If they don't get hired for a Hire Houston's Youth job with the city, they still are on the Ampersand platform and can be eligible for one of our paid internship opportunities," Danziger says. "The city expects 5,000 applicants for those jobs from now until April 6."

The Ion has also brought on Ampersand, which raised $1.75 million in a pre-seed round last fall, as a part of its workforce development program.

Ultimately, this next incoming generation is just different, Danziger says, and employers need to be ready for it. Gen Z employees want to know their impact in the workplace, and they want to work from home and be supported. All they know is the heavily tech-enabled, post 9/11 world.

"They come with a really different mindset and different needs. It can be a challenge, if you're not prepared for it, to address that," she says. "We see businesses get frustrated with it, but it is what it is. Again, 25 percent of your workforce is going to be this demographic very soon here."

Danziger shares more on Ampersand's future and navigating the Gen Z workforce on the podcast. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Hiring an executive at a pivotal time — specifically amid The Great Resignation — can be overwhelming. This Houstonian has tips from her decades in the business. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Houston expert weighs in on how to identify the right transformational leader

guest column

In my 20 years of working in executive search, I’m not sure there has ever been a tougher time to be a leader, whether that’s running a big company or being in charge of a small team. I don’t have to tell you that chronic stressors are impacting employee engagement and wellbeing, and have been for a few years.

Transformational Leadership is not just about leading high-growth companies; it’s about leading through change, and driving change when it’s needed. Right now, the Transformational Leadership that’s needed is directly tied to the pandemic, returning to work, and now “The Great Resignation and Reckoning.” Transformational Leaders must foster a culture where workers WANT to be loyal and want to help the company succeed.

How do you identify leaders who will create the conditions for which employees are rightfully asking, and who will encourage resilience, both personally and professionally?

Here are some of the attributes Sudduth Search seeks when hiring Transformational Leaders:

Collaboration in the conversation. Even in an interview, if the person is not listening as much as they are talking, or is even talking over the interviewer, it’s a red flag. Possessing enough social awareness to know when it’s time to talk is critical for effective leaders.

Leaders who display openness and humility. Leaders who convey that they are “all knowing” no matter how obvious it is that no one has all the answers is a risky hire. Be on the lookout for candidates who admit when they don’t know things and talk about how they solved the situation regardless.

Courageous leaders who prioritize ethics and principles. Good leaders are trusted and respected for the decisions they make when they prioritize ethics. Ask them about difficult situations they’ve been in, and how they prioritized their beliefs.

Transformational Leaders are healthy and happy. I’m not going to tell you that every leader is healthy and happy 100% of the time, but strong leaders have high emotional intelligence and self-awareness, and an ability to step outside of themselves and self-regulate.

Intellectual bravery. Transformational Leaders disagree or challenge the status quo in a proactive way. They might challenge something that has been said in a setting where everyone just accepts the statement as a given or they might state something that isn’t popular. Transformational Leaders spur this kind of communication, they encourage employees to think outside of the box, and they dare to be wrong. Bureaucracy hinders creativity. Transformational Leaders set the tone and decide the norms.

They encourage difficult, but important conversations. Transformational Leaders encourage people to think beyond their roles, and think about the company as a whole. These kinds of leaders include employees in important conversations, they admit when they don’t know something, and they are not afraid to ask for feedback.

Authenticity. As mental health experts warned it would, the pandemic is triggering a loneliness epidemic. But even though most everyone is online, working more than they are maintaining active social lives, they feel equally isolated in their professional lives. Employees miss the camaraderie of the office. Celebrations, light hearted get togethers, spontaneous lunches with the whole team. What’s more, they miss feeling connected and having colleagues know where they’re at. Transformational Leaders haven’t been shy to implement alternatives, and they won’t forget to bring back team outings and office lore when it’s safe to do so.

Perhaps the most important factor to consider when hiring leaders is cultural fit, which means you can work with them, you feel comfortable communicating with them, and you are aligned on ethics and values. Dig into any question marks or topic where you might be misaligned.

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Jen Sudduth is the founder and managing partner of Houston-based executive hiring firm Sudduth Search LLC.

Employers across industries need to step up their game when it comes to retention and recruitment. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: How to thrive as an employer amid The Great Resignation

guest column

With Baby Boomers and older generations exiting the workforce in droves and COVID-19 variants still straining hospitals and doctors’ offices, the health-care industry is experiencing its own “Great Resignation” at a time when health-care occupations are projected to add more jobs than any other occupational group.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that “Employment in health-care occupations is projected to grow 16 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations, adding about 2.6 million new jobs … mainly due to an aging population, leading to greater demand for health-care services.”

This greater demand might run into a supply issue if employers don’t act swiftly to find creative ways to retain and recruit their staffs. Today’s workforce knows its value and is no longer so easily enticed or satisfied with basic benefits packages. It’s an employee market and employers across all industries are having to step up and bring their A-game when it comes to retention and recruitment.

What you can do to up your ‘A-game’ in 2022

COVID has taught employers that they must change to survive. Spend the time now to develop a strategic plan that will allow you to adapt and improve throughout the year. Be sure to give yourself a cushion in your budget that will allow you to meet new employee demands as they arise and to be generous with relocation and sign-on incentives when you compete for top talent. You can later list these incentives in your job advertisements and highlight any other benefits that might capture interest and bring talent into your organization.

Start your recruitment and retention efforts with a survey of your staff. Find out what they really need and want from you, then try to find ways to meet their demands. Some simple ways for you to take care of your employees right now include:

Bring employees meals to their floor.

Hospitals are becoming filled up once again with sick patients and most are understaffed as employees are contracting COVID from patients. Treat your staff to healthy food—not cookies and cakes—allow them to really stop and take 15 minutes to breathe and fuel their body. This can be done twice or three times a week for each shift. Talk to them about food options or restrictions so that everyone feels like they can participate.

Bring in a counselor on a monthly basis that employees may access during their shift.

Providing this accessible, valuable resource will give your staff the opportunity to address their mental health and wellness and can help you reduce burnout among your ranks.

Allow at least one meeting a week to be focused solely on your employees.

Often the shift start-up meetings are rushed due to the day’s demands. Spend at least one of these meetings a week asking your team things like, “Where do you feel you impacted someone this week?” or ask everyone to share a personal achievement that has helped them personally keep going. This will help you build unity with your team and develop a more positive, empathetic relationship.

Provide bonus incentives to take on extra shifts.

There’s a lot of work to be done and often too few people to do it, so make it worth their while by offering a bonus for taking on more work than normal. You can also provide an option for them to earn overtime on a rotation so they can plan accordingly and still have opportunities for rest and a life balance.

Help relieve the stress of being in a high-risk environment by offering additional paid sick leave for a COVID-related absence.

The paid leave should be for the employee to quarantine at home and convalesce or care for an immediate family member who has the disease, and it should not take away from their accrued unused time off. Consult your HR advisor or attorney to find out whether paid sick leave is legally required in your jurisdiction.

Say “thank you.”

It may sound overly simple but just having the executive leadership go in and say thank you, shake hands, or even show up to a shift meeting can show the staff that their leadership cares about their hard work and recognizes the excellent care they are providing to their clients and patients. People in health care or associated service industries just want to know that they are making a difference, so share positive feedback from patients when you can. It matters.

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Denise Macik is the manager of strategic HR advisory services for G&A Partners, a leading professional employer organization that has been helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses for more than 25 years.

The ongoing trend of businesses struggling to onboard new employees is likely going to continue through the new year. Here's what you need to know. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: 4 tips on managing employees amid 'The Great Resignation'

guest column

As 2021 comes to an end, businesses continue to struggle to fill open positions caused by "The Great Resignation," and this trend is likely to continue well into the New Year.

It has been particularly difficult to hire and retain Gen Z employees, the newest generation in the workforce, as we navigate the expectations of these employees, as compared to past generations.

Fortunately, businesses can bounce back from "The Great Resignation" or protect themselves before they experience a similar mass exodus by taking the time to understand employees' preferences and motivations, and make a few small changes accordingly.

Prioritize DEI&B, mental health and provide purpose:

Today's world is much different than the world many CEOs and hiring managers grew up in, and a shift is required to successfully recruit, retain, challenge and excite the newest generation. Gen Z is one of the most diverse populations to enter the workforce, and not only do they seek out companies that value diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in the workplace, they want to see that their diverse ideas, backgrounds and creative approaches are recognized and celebrated.

Additionally, Gen Z places a major focus on being purposeful in their actions. This generation, especially after living through COVID-19, has begun prioritizing their mental health and overall well-being in their job positions. It's important for these young professionals to make sure that they have a good work/life balance, and that they work in an environment that is healthy for their mental stability.

New professionals ask two main questions when it comes to accepting a job: "What tasks am I doing?" and "How do they relate to my overall life and career goals?" Today's blossoming workforce will readily decline a higher paying role for one where they feel they're positively contributing to society and fulfilling their own purpose. According to NACE's 2021 Student Survey Report, 75 percent of recent college graduates rated finding a job where the "organization helps improve my community/country/world" as being a higher attribute while on the job hunt, in comparison to a higher starting pay.

Explore and offer non-traditional benefits:

As COVID-19 transformed the workplace, Gen Z'ers entered the workforce with the ability to work from home. The benefits of saving time commuting to and from work and constant flexibility are all they know in their careers up to this point. As these professionals grow into managers, executives at all levels will be forced to shift their mindset about working from home (or working from anywhere, for that matter!) as the younger generation has already adapted and grown accustomed to this benefit.

While giving up this level of control feels daunting to many business owners, myself included, it is no different than millennials' demands 10+ years ago for working on teams versus in silos, digital communications and expectations for transparency from employers, which we all became accustomed to and are now norms in the workplace.

Other non-traditional benefits, such as paid volunteer hours, continuing education stipends, DEI&B committees, paid mental health days and donation matching can go a long way with younger talent. This generation equally values professional development, self-care and the community at-large, so these work perks are of high interest to them.

Competitive pay is still a top priority:

At Ampersand, we shifted our business model to provide interns with paid internship opportunities in the companies we match them with for many reasons (mostly it was the right thing to do), and the shift dramatically increased the interns' commitment to the work, the accountability and the ability to recruit higher quality talent. By offering a paid internship to aspiring young professionals, we are appreciating their worth while concurrently closing the equity gap created by unpaid internships.

Simultaneously, our business partners are able to keep professionals engaged in day-to-day work, and allow them to earn a living with a fair wage. While most internships force young professionals to choose between getting the experience and getting paid, we provide young professionals with both!

Don’t overlook the power of interns:

Interns can be a powerful tool to propel a business forward. Many young professionals are brimming with new ideas and can make a significant impact within a business. Furthermore, National Association of Colleges and Employers' research shows that 32 percent of interns initially hired by a company for an internship are likely to stay more than a year in an entry level role than new hires. Additionally, hiring interns could be the perfect solution to offset employee turnover during "The Great Resignation," since they are able to take the load off of other employees who may be feeling burnt out or overwhelmed.

While interns can be valuable additions to help reduce the workload of full-time employees, we also understand the work and time commitment it takes to train interns, which is why Ampersand was created. Ampersand's curriculum teaches young professionals solid work practices, such as how to actively participate in a business meeting, presentation skills, communicating with managers and managing their workload. Overall, Ampersand's curriculum increases a young professional's contribution to businesses while providing a solid foundation for the young professional to launch their career.

Ampersand has had over 250 young professionals graduate the program, and their experience with us has only propelled them further to thrive in their places of work. We encourage our professional alumni to show up to the workplace with their own unique personalities and requests, but we have taught them to do so in a respectful and professional manner. With that, we hope that employers will see the benefits to bringing on skilled interns who can contribute in a meaningful way to the organization, regardless of background or previous experience. And in doing so, we're confident employers can buffer the impacts of—or even avoid—this recent wave of mass turnovers.

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Allie Danziger is the co-founder and CEO of Houston-based Ampersand Professionals.


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Houston startups raise funding, secure partnerships across space, health, and sports tech

short stories

It's been a new month and a few Houston startup wrapped up November with news you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, three Houston startups across health care, space, and sports tech have some news they announced recently.

Houston digital health company launches new collaboration

Koda Health has a new partner. Image via kodahealthcare.com

Houston-based Koda Health announced a new partnership with data analytics company, CareJourney.

"This collaboration will aim to develop benchmarking data for advance care planning and end-of-life metrics," the company wrote on LinkedIn. "Koda will provide clinical and practice-based expertise to guide the construction of toolkits, dashboards, and benchmarks that improve ACP programs and end-of-life outcomes."

Koda Health announced the partnership in November..

“Beyond the checkbox of a billing code or completed advance directive, it’s important to build and measure a process that promotes thoughtful planning among patients, their care team, and their loved ones,” says Desh Mohan, MD, Koda's chief medical officer, in the post.

CareJourney was founded in 2014 in Arlington, Virginia.

"I'm hopeful next-generation quality measures will honor the patient’s voice in defining what it means to deliver high quality care, and our commitment is to measure progress on that important endeavor," noted Aneesh Chopra, CareJourney's co-founder and president.

Sports tech startup raises $500,000 pre-seed investment

BeONE Sports has created a technology to enhance athletic training. Photo via beonesports.com

Houston-founded BeONE Sports, an athlete training technology company, announced last month that it closed an oversubscribed round of pre-seed funding. The company announced the raise on its social media pages that the round included $500,000 invested.

Earlier in November, BeONE Sports completed its participation in CodeLaunch DFW 2022. The company was one of six finalists in the program, which concluded with a pitch event on November 16.

Space tech company snags government contracts

Graphic via cognitive space.com

The U.S. Air Force has extended Houston-based Cognitive Space’s contract under a new TACFI, Tactical Funding Increase, award. According to the release, the contract "builds on Cognitive Space’s work to develop a tailored version of CNTIENT for AFRL to achieve ultimate responsiveness and optimized dynamic satellite scheduling via a cloud-based API.

The $1.2 million award follows a $1.5 million U.S. Air Force Small Business Innovation Research award that the company won in 2020 to integrate CNTIENT with commercial ground station providers in support of AFRL’s Hybrid Architecture Demonstration program.

“The TACFI award allows Cognitive Space to continue supporting AFRL’s vitally important HAD program to help deliver commercial space data to the warfighter,” says Guy de Carufel, the company’s founder and CEO, in the releasee. “CNTIENT’s tailored analytics platform will enable HAD and the GLUE platform to integrate modern statistical approaches to optimize mission planning, data collection, and latency estimation.”

Houston airport powers up new gaming lounge for bored and weary travelers

game on and wheels down

Local gamers now have a new option to while away those flight delays and passenger pickup waits at Hobby Airport.

Houston's William P. Hobby Airport is now one the first airports in the country to offer what's dubbed as the "ultimate gaming experience for travelers." The airport has launched a premium video game lounge inside the international terminal called Gameway.

That means weary, bored, or early travelers can chill in the lounge and plug into15 top-of-the-line, luxury gaming stations: six Xbox stations, five Playstation stations, four PC stations, all with the newest games on each platform. Aficionados will surely appreciate the Razer's Iskur Gaming Chairs and Kraken Headsets, along with dedicated high speed internet at each PC station.

The Gameway lounge pays homage to gaming characters, with wall accents that hark to motherboard circuits Crucial for any real gamer: plenty of sweet and savory snacks are available for purchase to fuel up on those fantasy, battle, or sporting endeavors. As for the gaming console stations, players can expect high definition screens, comfortable seating, and plenty of space for belongings.

Make video games a part of your pre-flight ritual. Photo courtesy of Gameway

This gaming addition comes just in time for the holiday rush, when travelers can expect long lines, delays, and are already planning for extended time for trips. As CultureMap previously reported, Hobby will see a big boost in travelers this season — the largest since 2019. Now, those on a long journey can plug in, decompress, and venture on virtual journeys of their own.

Texan travelers may be familiar with Gameway; the company opened its first two locations at Dallas Fort-Worth Airport. The buzzy lounge an industry wave of acclaim: Gameway was awarded Best Traveler Amenity in 2019 at the ACI-NA Awards and in 2020, voted “Most Innovative Customer Experience” at the Airport Experience Traveler Awards, per press materials.

Two new locations followed in 2021: LAX Terminal 6 and Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The first of Gameway's Ultra lounge brand opened in September at Delta's Terminal 3 in LAX.

Gaming culture is a way of life in the Bayou City , which hosts Comicpalooza, the largest pop culture festival in Texas, and is home to several e-sports teams, including the pro esports squad, the Houston Outlaws.

A delayed flight never seemed so ideal for gamers flying out of Hobby. Photo courtesy of Gameway

“Gameway is the real reason to get to the airport early,” said Co-Founder Jordan Walbridge in a statement. “Our mission is to upgrade the typical wait-at-the-gate experience with a new stimulating, entertaining option for travelers of all ages.”

Here's guessing Hobby might just see an increase in missed or late flight arrivals — as travelers simply must beat those big bosses, solve puzzles, or win sports matches in the lounge.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.