Upwards of 38 million American workers joined “The Great Resignation” in 2021, and surveys suggest that number might only grow in 2022.
What’s driving the numbers? Some fled burnout and toxic work settings. Many others were lured away by higher wages and a hot “employee market.”
Some people, like Jacqui Chew in Atlanta, took a detox from “Corporate America” before deciding to dive back into the startup scene with Liquid, a global payments platform designed to pay freelancers and vendors.
Drawn to the new opportunity by its mission to “power the future of work,” Chew’s story is one that suggests this Great Resignation might better be described as the Great Reassessment.
Companies of all sizes are taking notice. “People are reassessing where they are spending their most precious resource, which is time,” Addy Robinson, Verusen’s new Head of People, told Hypepotamus.
That has been a golden opportunity for many startups.
Startups that may have struggled to compete for talent based on salary now have a unique advantage: Employees are looking for more.
Amelia Schaffner, founding director at Emory University’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, believes employees are looking for a place that fills all “Five Cs” — compensation, culture, career, capacity, and celebration.
“We were coming to the end of the era of we’ll just put up a ping pong table and everybody will be happy,” said Schaffner. Startups are getting more sophisticated about incentives, outstanding shares, flexible work hours, individualized training, and career development programs to attract talent.
To get a sense of how the local startup ecosystem is handling hiring and retention efforts these days, we spoke with startups leaders to hear what tools they are using to build up teams right now.
LOCAL LEADERS REACT
After years of low turnover at digital product development and design company Azul Arc, CEO Zahir Palanpur said both Atlanta and India offices experienced a higher-than-average attrition rate recently. “While it has been challenging (and you sometimes take this personally), we’ve got to a point where we have to rise up to it and work at building back stronger.”
That has meant hiring a VP of Talent Management & Acquisition and shifting resources to strengthen hiring and retention efforts.
It is a similar story for other established tech startups in the area like LeaseQuery, Verusen, and Terminus.
“Employees, on a global scale, are making it clear that they’re willing to leave for greener pastures — but money isn’t what makes those pastures greener. The Great Resignation did not come about because of purely compensation, so it can’t be solved that way, either,” said Joe Schab, President and Chief Operating Officer at LeaseQuery. “To drive long-term retention, it’s crucial to inspire and delight employees.”
For LeaseQuery, that has meant building out a robust parental leave plan, adding work-from-home setup stipends, and other advancement opportunities. “This is especially important in high-growth environments,” Schab told Hypepotamus. “We’re doing our best to truly invest in our people—while giving them genuine, ongoing reasons to invest in us as a company, too.”
The LeaseQuery team added 200 Atlanta-based professionals over the course of 2021 and now has workers in 21 different states.
Verusen, a fast-growing supply chain startup in Atlanta, recently hired Addy Robinson as its new Head of People. She feels the fact that Verusen is building something in the ‘hot topic’ of supply chain has helped attract talent.
Her role, both on the hiring and retention side, is to make sure the workplace culture matches employee needs. “I think that the past two years has been incredibly painful in so many ways, but it’s also brought about amazing changes to the employer-employee relationship that aren’t going away. Employers are really recognizing that an employee is a whole person who has other parts of their life…and we want to create an environment where they can bring their best self to work,” she told Hypepotamus.
After closing its Series B round this year, Verusen is putting an increased focus on employee wellness based on what the individual needs. She also thinks implementing “stay interviews” are key for companies these days. “Don’t just connect with people on their way out the door…get at least a sample size of [employees] and ask: what keeps you here? What will keep you here? What keeps you from looking elsewhere? It’s about trying to facilitate really transparent conversations that are two-way.”
While Atlanta-based Terminus has more than doubled its headcount over the last year, Chief Administrative Officer Kasey Johnson said the team has also doubled down on creating a positive remote-work environment. “When fully virtual, it’s easy to pack up and move to the next company. However, our hiring is on fire right now across all areas of the company. Our goal is to be an incredible business where people want to work in the face of a competitive talent market.”
To combat Zoom fatigue, the team is rolling out its “Terminus Kick-Off” event at The Battery, an in-person event that is about providing the team with “the connectivity, engagement, and mojo necessary to knock 2022 out of the park.”
HOW CAN STARTUPS COMPETE?
The era of the Great Resignation has inherently changed how startups and large companies look at hiring, said Jeff Eisenberg, who previously led talent and recruitment efforts at Kabbage and REPAY. “The “find” element of talent has, like many other functions, become much more technical over the years. The progressive, successful Talent teams have taken a Growth Marketing approach, especially at the top of the funnel (aka sourcing). There are a number of incredible tools available from Gem to Fetcher that help teams be much more sophisticated in their outreach efforts. “Personalization at scale” — it’s a bit cliche but true.”
On the retention side, Emory University’s Schaffner added that employees are more likely to stay if they feel the company is investing in their career journey.
That has created opportunities for homegrown WorkTech/HRTech startup Cooleaf. As an employee experience SaaS tool, Cooleaf primarily helps mid-market companies “listen to employee sentiment, take action on that through recognition and rewards, and put in place more compelling programming for teams,” co-founder Prem Bhatia said.
The celebrations tracked in Cooleaf are “a really positive way to kind of reinforce culture and the core values.”
SalesLoft, Shipt, Synovus, and Freshly are counted as part of Cooleaf’s growing number of customers.
It’s harder for companies to differentiate themselves in a remote-first environment with an increasingly younger workforce. “[Companies] now have to talk to a generation that is looking for an employer that stands for more than just making money. They look for things like social impact, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and want to see health and wellness and mindfulness taken seriously.”
A startup’s ability to showcase those ideals upfront could continue to be an asset in the hiring and retention space.
Cooleaf is in a unique position to ‘practice what it preaches,’ if you will, as they look to scale internally while helping external teams do the same. Cooleaf itself is now at 32 employees and is actively hiring.
The Great Resignation & New Ventures
There are those, of course, who put in their two-week notice and won’t be joining another team’s Slack channel. But they may be creating their own.
Google searches for ‘how to set up a business’ skyrocketed 124% last year, and 5 million new businesses were created in 2021 alone. That’s a 55% year-over-year jump, according to The Census Bureau’s Business Formation Statistics.
The Great Recession in 2008 created a wave of new startup ventures that are now household names, like Airbnb, Dropbox, Rent The Runway, Square, Uber, and Whatsapp. The Great Resignation might be a good time to join a startup…and it is looking like a good time to start one as well.