Handling the ‘big quit’ – how small practices can play to their strengths

Written by: Adam Bernstein
Published on: 6 May 2022

Big quit image

Image: © Bro Vector / Adobe Stock

If there’s one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has done for society, it’s led – in some cases forced – a review of individual priorities when it comes to work. 

Some have chosen a new career, some have elected to work less, while some have given up work and retired early, in what has been termed the “big quit”.

Employer headaches

The result of the “big quit” has been a tight labour market. And this, as news headlines have illustrated, has caused headaches for employers in many sectors including veterinary medicine. 

This point was reinforced by the Financial Times in October 2021 with a story headlined: “Vets feel the strain as pet boom and labour shortages hit”.

But beyond the desire to work less comes the wish to work for employers that offer decent benefits. This perspective was backed in a survey from Unum, an employee benefits provider, of 500 SMEs back in November (2021). 

Extrapolated, it found that almost 12 million workers would consider changing employer to gain better or enhanced employee benefits.

The survey further found that SMEs were in the firing line as they had less “fat” to cope with employee shortages. That said, the survey found that 78 per cent of SMEs felt employee benefits were now central to finding and retaining staff. But worryingly, only 37 per cent of those surveyed had reviewed their benefits offer since COVID took hold.

This means that more than 20 per cent of employers didn’t consider benefits when recruiting and close to two-thirds hadn’t revisited the subject since the “big quit” began.

And of those surveyed, just 46 per cent would pay bonuses, increase salaries or put in place policies that promoted either home or hybrid working to retain staff. 

Additionally, just 16 per cent would consider putting in place any workplace benefits. 

Understandably, considering Unum’s business model, its research noted the high value that employees placed on good workplace benefits and support to keep them engaged. 

In fact, some 40 per cent of employees said that the biggest deciding influence on whether they stayed with or left their employer was the level and standard of the benefits they were offered.

In simple terms, the survey found that – especially in tight labour markets – those employers that fail to consider the value that employees place on benefits risk losing key and hard-to-replace staff.

Finding new recruits

The web has made the world of employment – from jobs, salaries and benefits – very transparent. It’s now so incredibly easy for employees to measure their current situation against that of other practices and workers.

So, with the scene set, what can a practice – especially the smaller organisation that cannot necessarily afford to pay the largest of salaries – do to compete and recruit staff?

The first thing to note is that small businesses can compete against the larger practice in both recruitment and retention. But they must be smart about how they do it.

Not everyone wants to work in a large business where life is very much defined and impersonal, and where employees feel they are just one cog in a large machine. Many – especially the young – want to feel that they are both known, recognised and a key part of an organisation. In other words, they want to believe they have a part to play and when they speak they are heard.

This is where the small practice can trump the larger concern – especially if they can show candidates that their business can be agile and flexible to employees needs, should the occasion arise.

Those practices wanting to compete against those with deeper pockets should play to this strength and use their flexibility to make the whole recruitment process simple, easy and fast (without compromising quality), so good candidates get to interview quickly and are hired without delay before rivals snap them up. 

Similarly, practices ought to think about offering employees as much flexibility as possible in the employment contract. This could involve offering flexitime, part-time or even a job share. Equally, if the role isn’t client-facing, practices should consider if the role could be done from home; with technology, this should be relatively easy for the small practice to organise.

Next, it’s important to consider the workplace culture. Recruiting practices should make themselves saleable to candidates. Employee well-being should be seen as high on the agenda and as a priority. 

Staff should be offered opportunities to learn and develop their careers. Similarly, employees should feel and see the potential for career advancement – that they’re not stuck in a dead-end job.

Of course, managers may think they know how staff feel, but the best way to truly understand sentiment is to ask staff for their views. The best practices will act on responses, especially where the feeling is negative.

It should be remembered that happy employees have no need to look for a job elsewhere. And it’s perfectly possible for happy employees to be the route to new recruits via their friends and contacts that have effectively been “pre-vetted”. This way of finding new staff is much less expensive and faster than advertising.

Naturally, pay and benefits are important to employees. So, while limits exist to what a practice can afford to pay, it’s nevertheless important to be competitive. This means knowing what the rivals are paying. 

But if the practice’s financial position doesn’t permit matching or beating of a rival’s pay structure then it must sell itself on the other benefits of working for it – contract flexibility, career development, career progression, a small friendly team and very competitive holiday allowance; anything that can sweeten the deal.

As for how to recruit, traditional advertising still works well and shouldn’t be ignored. 

But other and newer ways to market should be considered, too, including social media, links with local educational establishments, as well as word of mouth. But, as noted earlier, practices should see if current staff members can network for it, too.

In summary

Small practices need to recognise a labour shortage exists and the market is very competitive. But they needn’t lose out to those with deeper pockets.