The pandemic has allowed people to reevaluate what they want from work. This “Great Reevaluation” has led to the “Great Resignation” which has left the US with a great big labor shortage and a supply chain crisis. What can we do to reverse this trend? What can be done to attract great talent to companies looking to hire? What must companies do to retain their great talent? If not just a paycheck, what else are employees looking for? In this interview series called “The Labor Shortage & The 5 Things We Must Do To Attract & Retain Great Talent” we are talking to successful business leaders who can share stories and ideas from their experiences that can address these questions.
As a part of this interview series, we had the pleasure to interview Anne Jordan.
Anne Jordan is Director of Human Resources at Anderson Center for Autism, an organization in Staatsburg, New York whose mission is to optimize the quality of life for people with autism. In her leadership role, Jordan develops, coordinates, and leads all activities for the nonprofit organization’s Human Resources Department. Jordan obtained a Master of Library Science degree from Southern Connecticut State University (2013) and is a graduate of Empire State College (Bachelor of Science, Business Management and Economics, 2012; Advanced Certificate in Human Resource Management, 2015). A Certified Professional with the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), Anne also holds certification as a New York State Public Librarian and is a graduate of Dutchess County Chamber Foundation’s Executive Leadership Program. Perhaps most importantly, she is a proud mom to four children and has one daughter-in-law. Jordan loves people and believes that her upbringing as part of a large family has shaped every part of her life in positive ways. A beloved leader at Anderson Center for Autism, Anne clearly finds deep purpose in her work and inspires others to do the same.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
One of eight children, I grew up as part of a big Irish family in White Plains, New York. Our home was always full of activity; in fact, there were so many people coming and going all of the time that I don’t think my parents ever locked the door or even had keys to the house! My childhood was full of laughter and fun, and it has made me who I am today — someone who genuinely loves being around people.
After I married my husband, we explored options throughout the Hudson Valley before settling in beautiful Dutchess County, where we have now lived for 35 years. The area is not far from where I grew up, which is nice, and it has given me an opportunity to serve in roles that reflect my desire to connect with people. I served for 10 years as Library Director at the Staatsburg Library and later began working for Anderson Center for Autism, where I am now the Director of Human Resources.
In our free time, we enjoy being with our family; we have four children and one daughter-in-law — they all live in the Northeast, from New York City to Boston and in between — and I love spending time with them.
I think that growing up as part of a big family helped me learn to honor the individual needs of people, which has really helped me in both my personal and professional roles. Our mission at Anderson Center for Autism is to optimize the quality of life for people with autism, and I feel privileged to work in a field that allows me to serve humankind in this way. And running a Human Resources department is a similar experience to being part of a large family — there is always a focus on being mindful of the various needs of every person, and finding ways to keep the family connected and healthy as a whole. At Anderson, we have a large family too — which numbers close to 900 when we are fully staffed — and I love working with every person who is part of that family.
Let’s jump right in. Some experts have warned of the “Great Resignation” as early as the 1980s and yet so many companies seem to have been completely unprepared when it finally happened. What do you think caused this disconnect? Why do you think the business world was caught by surprise?
Since I am in the nonprofit sector and not in the traditional business world, I will speak in the context of my experience. I think that in the 1980s, though, regardless of the industry — or if you were to look at things from a for-profit versus nonprofit standpoint — we couldn’t begin to imagine what to expect with regard to technology and how it would transform the workplace. At that time, when you got out of college you got a job with benefits and you kept it. It was inconceivable to consider the kinds of possibilities that exist for people today, or in what ways the paradigm would shift.
Now we are living in a time driven by a focus on wellness and self-improvement, which leads to people wanting to explore many adventures throughout their lives, rather than just one. Couple that with the fact that we are able to work virtually given technological advances (and people have successfully put that into practice given the pandemic) — and now employees are looking for a variety of job experiences and the opportunity to have those experiences from wherever they most want to live, on their own time. It’s no surprise, really, that there is such a disconnect — it’s like this perfect storm of events that came to pass which completely changed the way people look at their lives. They want to feel like they are carving out their own paths, on their terms — and had it not been for technology, that may not have been possible. But it is! And who could have predicted with any confidence that we could literally have the world at our fingertips as we do? While there may have been some predictions to that end, most of us couldn’t imagine it until it happened. Now everything is completely within reach, which means countless options. Employees want to log in from wherever they wish, and want work lives that are fulfilling and healthy — and they can have all of that now, so they are very much in the driver’s seat.
I think it’s also important to point out that education has become more accessible with online degrees and training programs, which means that workers can continue to make the kind of progress that allows them to expand their career options even as time goes on. Unless you took night classes in person at a local college or trade school, it was very difficult to continue to develop in that way back in the 80s. Now anything is possible, which means more movement and a greater desire to find the right fit and even reinvent oneself over and over again as the years go on.
What do you think employers have to do to adapt to this new reality?
Employers need to understand, accept, and embrace what it is that their talent pool is seeking. Hiring is no longer simply an exercise in finding someone who fits a job description; employees need to feel that the role and organization likewise fit their needs and align with their vision for their lives. It is about forging a mutually beneficial relationship.
That said, I think that whenever possible, employers need to be prepared to offer flexible scheduling and opportunities for employees to embed their own passions and ideas into their work lives. Naturally, at agencies like ours, there are many jobs that require set hours and spending those hours on-site — but if and when there are situations that can include greater flexibility for employees, those should be highlighted and offered.
Additionally, if an organization or business is giving team members a chance to make an impact in some way, that should be communicated very clearly. For example, here at Anderson Center for Autism, employees are part of a cause. They are not just working a job — they have a vocation of sorts. Every person on our team is helping us achieve our mission of optimizing the quality of life for people with autism. We talk about that mission frequently and remind people of the “why” behind their work, and I think that makes a difference — in recruitment AND retention. Most people want to feel that they are part of something important and meaningful — so anytime an employer can extend that kind of opportunity, it makes a difference. Candidates these days want that kind of purpose in their work lives, and as employers, we need to be ready to offer it in some way, shape, or form.
And, of course, the workplace atmosphere is also key. When talking with candidates, I always reflect on our familial spirit here at Anderson; I want them to know that they will be part of a supportive, caring environment that promotes well-being for all. We even find ways to help them bring their personal passions to work. For example, if someone loves music or art, we encourage them to share those interests with our students and residents with autism. This makes them excited about coming to work, knowing that they can share pieces of themselves throughout the day. When you love your work, it makes you want to stay — so we are always finding ways to make sure our team members love what they do.
Based on your opinion and experience, what do you think were the main pain points that caused the great resignation? Why is so much of the workforce unhappy?
When you go back 40–50 years, there was more of an authoritarian hierarchy in the working world, and I think that anyone who continued to feel unseen or unheard determined that it was time to set out on a new path. People want to share ideas, be “at the table” with leaders, feel like they are part of a team, enjoy a healthy work/life alignment and feel fulfilled and healthy. Decades ago, it seemed that the employer determined the rules and created the structure and employees showed up and did their jobs. Today, there are so many companies promoting wellness programs and leadership development opportunities, and remote work; all of these wonderful options make employees realize that they can get so much more out of their work experiences. People are empowered in a way that they hadn’t previously been — they will wait for the right opportunity before they sign on because they are driven by a new set of guiding principles that maybe they didn’t feel they had the freedom to develop before when the workplace was so structured.
I think that ultimately, people want to feel heard. If they don’t feel that they are being acknowledged or that anyone cares about their ideas or their well-being, they will look elsewhere. Not only is the workplace wide open now that people can work virtually for companies from all over the world, but they can also engage in an unconventional setup given the new “gig economy”. This kind of independence did not necessarily exist before technology took off, but now it does — so if someone is unhappy, they will find another way to earn a living. Nobody wants to feel “stuck” and now that the world is wide open, people have the courage to take action to get “unstuck.” You even hear of people who were unhappy before who now say they are going to hop into an RV and work from wherever they wish while enjoying the adventures they most want to have. Employers MUST offer flexibility when they can; it is critical in this new era.
Many employers extoll the advantages of the entrepreneurial spirit and the possibilities of an expanded “gig economy”. But this does come with the cost of a lack of loyalty of gig workers. Is there a way to balance this? Can an employer look for single-use sources of services and expect long-term loyalty? Is there a way to hire a freelancer and expect dependability and loyalty? Can you please explain what you mean?
Absolutely — and it goes back to one thing I mentioned earlier. If people feel that they are part of something purposeful in this world, they will likely be loyal. Whether someone is a full-time employee or freelancer, it is important that an organization attract talent who are excited about the mission. At Anderson Center for Autism, we have many people who have freelanced with us for many years, and they all share a deep desire to do their part to help us carry out our mission of optimizing the quality of life for people with autism. Just as we do with our full- and part-time employees, we are constantly going back to the “why” behind what we do when we talk with those who are “gig workers”. We also engage in conversations with them to be sure that they are happy with their roles and feel that they are connected to that mission; I think the more that people can see that every individual has a significant role to play, the more reliable and loyal they are.
It has been said that “people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses”. How do you think this has been true during the Great Resignation? Can you explain what you mean?
It’s absolutely true, and I think that the Great Resignation has occurred in large part because someone might have felt unhappy with the leadership of their company or organization and now feels confident that they can chart a new course. Unless someone is in the wrong field, it’s not about quitting the job — it’s usually about a supervisor/manager/boss. Employees need to feel seen, heard, and valued — and it is the leader who creates that experience. I don’t think there was a focus on that until more recently. For years, people came to work, did their job, and maybe never even spoke to the people in charge or weighed in on anything because there was no option to do so nor did they expect to be heard.
If bosses could recognize that the most important part of their role is communication, perhaps they would see greater longevity among team members. Listen to people, find out what they need and what they envision for themselves, let them know you appreciate them, and say a simple “thank you” at the end of the day. Little things go a LONG way! Be clear about expectations, but keep the door open to ideas and concerns and be ready to pivot as needed to ensure that your employees are feeling satisfied overall. And make it FUN! You want people to feel excited to come into work, not full of dread. The leaders can set that stage — they can cultivate community spirit among their team by spreading a little joy. It’s infectious! If you have someone who is unhappy, negativity spreads — but if people are generally having a good time, that spreads too.
How do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
It’s pretty clear that negativity brings everything and everyone down. It slows productivity, which in turn impacts profitability, and of course, creates a culture that can quickly feel toxic and impede feelings of well-being. I was once told that it’s harder for a positive person to bring a negative person up than it is for a negative person to bring down a positive person. Negative people can bring everyone down; misery loves company. But things cannot move forward where there is negativity and unhappiness, so it is up to the leadership of an organization to ensure that people are generally pleased with their work lives. And that goes back to offering advancement opportunities, flexibility, an open door policy, etc. If the employees are happy, the organization can likewise thrive.
What are a few things that employers, managers, and executives can do to ensure that workers enjoy their jobs?
You listen to them and you extend opportunities that show that you want them to realize their potential. At Anderson Center for Autism, our CEO/Executive Director Patrick Paul conducts focus group sessions annually. They are open to everyone and he offers them at various times and days to ensure that no matter what your shift is, there is an opportunity to participate. Anyone in the agency can come in for the focus session and discuss things face-to-face with the CEO. It makes all of us feel that we are seen, heard, and valued (along with our robust benefits package!) Patrick also does a State of Anderson Address to help everyone get a sense of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going. So open communication makes us all feel we are on the same page and gives us a chance to think about what our roles are in the big picture. And all of the supervisors have open-door policies. Anyone can ask questions at any time. This is probably the most important thing that employers can do to ensure that people enjoy being at work — making it clear that they are part of the ongoing conversations.
Can you share a few things that employers, managers, and executives should be doing to improve their companies’ work cultures?
Don’t let things get stagnant — always listen to ideas and be open to innovation! And keep up on the latest trends — if people are leaving, take advantage of the exit interview to inform the future. Always be ready to ask yourself: what can we do differently?
I think it’s also important to promote ongoing professional and personal development. For example, at Anderson, we offer some scholarship programs to help offset the costs of college tuition, which reminds people that we value their education and help make it feasible for them. We even offer some training and educational opportunities right on our beautiful campus so that team members can pursue certifications that are relevant to our field. I think that it’s important for employers to always find ways to help employees move forward in their own lives. It helps keep them engaged and happy!
Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things employers should do to attract and retain top talent during the labor shortage?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
Be sure that prospective employees understand the “why” behind what they will do as part of your team. As noted, at Anderson Center for Autism, we make sure that every candidate knows that they can be part of something very meaningful right out of the gate; we communicate our mission to them and help them see the impact that our team makes as a whole on the lives of people with autism that we serve. Every organization needs to drive home why the work is meaningful; people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want to make a difference. Make sure that is part of the interview experience to attract the people who will share that value. And then, review with them orientation plans. For example, at Anderson Center for Autism, new team members go through a two-week orientation program which is absolutely fabulous. Everyone has a mentor who helps them along the way, and even after the orientation is over, there is ongoing support, and encouragement, and there are always new training and professional and personal development opportunities! Many of the friends made in orientation become people with whom our team members share lasting bonds; there is a diverse group of employees in each orientation who represent everything from our direct support professionals to our finance team, and it is a reminder that we truly operate as one big close-knit family. I think it is really important for candidates to understand that they buy into a meaningful mission, but also to a very connected, cohesive culture.
Show that you invest in your team members! From offering a robust benefits package, and generous compensation, to tuition reimbursements and perks like telemedicine and flexible spending plans, and an impressive retirement plan, be sure that you have a competitive advantage by making sure your candidates know that they will be well cared for. And make sure they understand what opportunities lie ahead of them as far as a career track goes — that helps draw candidates who are serious about building a long-term relationship with an employer and lets them know that you care about their future success.
Think outside the box as you recruit! For example, our employment coordinator from Anderson Center for Autism has placed ads in the food court at the mall that read: “Do you want to love your career as much as you love that pizza you’re eating?” It’s fun and catches attention. Also, our benefits coordinator is getting creative with social media posts — you can do so much with TikTok now like showcasing a minute in the life of a team member or something compelling that candidates will remember.
Show candidates that you have fun. At Anderson, we let people know that we have wellness initiatives, trivia nights (even during the pandemic these were held virtually!), and activities like “Cooking with the CEO” (Our CEO was on Zoom and anyone could join him; he gave everyone a list of ingredients ahead of time and we all cooked together). Our intramural volleyball has started up and is a big hit with our team members too.
Be clear about the many ways in which people are acknowledged — from focus group sessions to staff appreciation dinners and from press releases announcing good news to discounted tickets to the county fair, we have all sorts of ways that our team members are constantly feeling seen, heard, and valued. Prospective employees need to know all of that — it really helps us attract and retain great talent.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would like to meet Elon Musk; I find him very interesting. When I see how he thinks way outside the box and how successful he has been, I am really inspired. His confidence and courage have allowed him to truly use his mind in ways that have transformed our world — I would love to hear more about how he has tapped into all of that.
Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?
They can learn more on our website: andersoncenterforautism.org, or follow us on social media. Our Facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/AndersonCenterforAutism; Twitter: https://twitter.com/AndersonAutism; Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/andersoncenterforautism/; YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/AndersonCenterAutism/videos; and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/anderson-center-for-autism/.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.