Recruiting and Retention Are the Number One Issues Troubling Business Leaders Today

The number one issue troubling business leaders today is the increasing difficulty of recruiting and retaining qualified talent. There is a talent shortage at every level, in every industry. The talent wars are back on and more heated than ever.

We at RainmakerThinking have been tracking this trend since the mid-1990s, basing our findings on hundreds of thousands of interviews, survey responses, and consulting sessions with business leaders, managers, and rank-and-file employees from hundreds of companies. Hiring managers report – at every level, in every industry, in organizations small and mid-size and large-scale alike – that hiring and retaining top talent is more difficult today than at any time in recent memory.

Make no mistake, the talent wars are affecting organizations of every shape and size:

  • Average durations of employment are decreasing
  • Voluntary unplanned turnover rates are increasing
  • Departure demand (number of those employed but seeking other employment) is increasing
  • Open-position rates and time-to-hire rates are increasing
  • Early voluntary departure of new hires is increasing

And the talent wars are not going away any time soon:

Supply and Demand

The rising demand for effective workers promises to outpace supply for the foreseeable future in nearly every field. For jobs that require technical training and certification, whether through a professional degree or apprenticeship to a skilled tradesperson, the pipeline is not keeping up with market needs. For service jobs that do not require training and certification, there are shortages of candidates with the soft skills necessary for optimum performance. 


By 2020, individuals born 1990 and later will comprise greater than 28% of the US workforce, with similar figures for Western Europe and Japan and an even higher percentage in parts of South America, Africa, and Asia. On the other end of the age spectrum, organizations with significant “age bubbles” in their workforce will feel the greatest effects as the oldest, most experienced employees retire. Those retirees take with them the skill, knowledge, wisdom, institutional memory, and relationships developed with the organization over time. Organizations with a large contingent of young workers will face the challenges of an increasingly free-agent, transactional workforce. The most valuable young employees will not hesitate to request greater flexibility in their working arrangements, and they expect to be rewarded appropriately for the great work they do.

Shifting Mindset

High-talent young employees are not the only ones who have become more demanding. Today, employees on any end of the age range are much less likely to buy into or be motivated by promises of long-term rewards. After years of increasingly fast-paced change and uncertainty, employers can no longer guarantee long-term rewards for their employees. Sudden, unexpected loss of employment is part of the landscape for today’s workforce. Most employees try to get what they can from their employers, one day at a time. People are embracing the free-agent, transactional mindset because they have no other choice. But this also means that employees have more negotiating power: if employees no longer expect to pay their dues for years on end, then employers have to do more to retain them. The free agent, transactional mindset can appear high-maintenance, but it is actually the result of increased power to ask for more. And if employers get on board, the most valuable employees are the ones who will reap the most benefits in terms of flexible working arrangements and other rewards. This leaves business leaders asking how they can possibly square their business needs with widespread expectations for greater flexibility in work conditions and career paths.

The challenges of attraction and retention are clear. The question is, “What can you do about it?” At the highest level, the goal must be to build a winning culture. Corporate cultures are either cultures “by design” or cultures “by default.” Winning cultures are intentionally built, with a clear and compelling mission, reliable communication alignment, strong and supportive leadership, collaborative high-performance teams, real accountability, flexibility, and recognition for high performers.

If you want to win the talent wars, you need to build a winning culture. The latest white paper from Bruce Tulgan and RainmakerThinking can help: Winning the Talent Wars: Build a Culture of Attraction, High-Performance & Retention.