Here’s how to get Black employees to stay, despite The Great Resignation

Black workers are burning out. Here’s how you can keep them from quitting.

Worker at a computer

The Great Resignation has shown us how widely distributed “burnout” is — and how narrowly distributed opportunity is for so many American workers.

Photo: GaudiLab via Getty Images

La Toya Haynes is the director of Racial Equity at Intuit.

Call it the Great Resignation, call it the “I-quit” movement, call it post-pandemic burnout — whatever we label it, employees are leaving their jobs. In November 2021 alone, 4.5 million workers quit.

The Great Resignation has created an employee’s market, and no doubt companies must work harder to retain them. We surveyed over 2,000 Intuit QuickBooks customers and found 46% are planning to increase pay for existing employees and 36% are offering larger bonuses.

On paper, it sounds great for all employees, right? Yet when we examine the data more closely, what we actually see is a different story for many Black workers. Data from the U.S. Department of Labor shows that food services and health care, both considered essential throughout the pandemic, have two of the highest quit rates. Turns out these overlap perfectly with the industries employing a large majority of Black private-sector workers, many of whom are paid under the threshold of a liveable wage. Simply put, a large percentage of Black workers are underpaid and overworked, a recipe for burnout.

In my role at Intuit, I’ve shared with our team that it’s not just our job to hire Black employees. It’s our job to keep them. This couldn’t be more poignant amidst the Great Resignation. Black employees in high-wage-earning jobs might be receiving better offers elsewhere, sought out by recruiters who are looking for already employed, talented Black workers. At the same time, Black employees with low-wage-earning jobs find themselves stuck in a perpetuated cycle of low income.

The Great Resignation has shown us, so far, how widely distributed “burnout” is — and how narrowly distributed opportunity is for so many American workers.

Experts are telling employees to negotiate their salary, ask for help if they need it — or better yet, take a vacation. But with a perpetuated wage gap — Black women are paid 63 cents for every dollar paid to a non-Hispanic, white man — these suggestions aren’t going to work for many Black employees.

Now is not the time for workers to have to fall back on their safety net or switch jobs. It’s the time when corporate America should rise to the occasion and present opportunities that make it worth staying. For some companies, this means equal pay for equal work, full stop. For all companies, it’s time to make sure that workplace benefits and ample opportunities show a true investment in employees who lack equity.

In high-wage-earning jobs, there’s very little top talent that’s not already employed, and recruiters are proactively calling these workers, offering lucrative benefits, fancy titles and attractive salaries. There’s a newfound willingness of employers to embrace these talented workers and reward them well. On the other end of the spectrum, there exist low-wage-earning individuals who lack opportunities, but are willing to put in the work. What might happen if Black employees found themselves with new opportunities? Maybe it’d lead to Black people sticking around, contributing more and burning out less.

At Intuit, we’ve had below-average job attrition throughout the pandemic — and below-average attrition rates for underrepresented minorities, including our Black employees. Our investment in employees is helping us turn the tides on a great resignation toward a great retention, and here’s the path we’re encouraging others to join us on.

Invest in relationships. I grew up in a middle-class, two-parent household where both my parents worked. Time and time again I was told, “hard work gets rewarded.” I was encouraged to develop my skills, grow my knowledge through education and trust that if I put in the effort, somebody would see the goodness and give me the opportunity.

Unfortunately, this isn’t how corporate America is structured. Performance is the price of admission, but relationships are often what allow you to advance. If you want opportunity, advancement and development, people have to know your value and talk about it in the rooms you’re not sitting in. Unfortunately, where Black employees don’t have relationships, we tend to over-index on working hard, leading to burnout. Earlier in my career, I was turned down for promotion three separate times and each time I thought my next step was taking on more work, juggle more projects. Turns out, it was that nobody knew who I was, or the value I added. It was only when I focused on building relationships that I was able to make my next career move.

Create opportunities. Put Black people into jobs. I’ll say it again: Black people can’t give you what they don’t have the opportunity to give you.

What does this look like in practice? Create opportunities for six-month job-shadowing, or for employees that might want to take on more responsibility to do so. Instead of seeking skills from outside your organization, look to see if they already exist within the company. If you’re a leader, there are impactful steps you can take to make sure employees are ready to step into bigger roles when the opportunities present themselves.

If you’re a manager, invest in Black employees by having extensive conversations about their experience and career goals, then give them the safety net to take risks and build new skills. Translate feedback for employees so they can put it to use. I had an executive sponsor who served as my go-to for translating feedback. This resource helped me understand what the feedback meant, how to apply it and how to communicate its impact on my ability to deliver better business results.

As part of succession planning and growth, corporations often have a list of open roles and are privy to what's coming down the pipeline. Are there opportunities, parsed from these organizational needs, that your Black employees might be eager and willing to take on today, if only given the opportunity?

Extend relationship capital. Underrepresented minorities need sponsors and mentors. But what should these sponsors, who already have a seat at the decision-making table, actually do? We need them to extend their relationship capital and advocate for opportunities. Earlier in my career, I had a sponsor who worked hard to build a relationship with me, which included getting to know my skills and previous work experience and understanding my career aspirations. He used his position and relationship capital to advocate for me to receive a promotion during our organization’s talent planning. Without his efforts, there is a high probability that I would have been an attrition risk.

If you are reading this, and you already have a seat at the table, what can you do? Sponsor Black talented employees. Sponsor someone who doesn’t look like you. Look at your succession plan and ask yourself, “Are there people who don’t look like me who have the skills and experience but don’t have advocates?” Create opportunities for your top talent to take internal mobility opportunities or rotational assignments to gain the skills they need. If you have a seat at the table, you have power that many Black employees don’t have yet — are you distributing it in a way that helps them rise?

There’s a lot of chatter about “Black Health and Wellness,” this year’s theme of Black History Month — but in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic and the coinciding Great Resignation lie systems and structures that are not promoting Black well-being. Black wellness means having a job that pays fairly, opportunities to grow and benefits to support your mental and physical health. When employees know you’re investing in them, they are valued and they have opportunities for growth, they won’t answer recruiters’ calls, even if it’s an employee’s job market. If corporations pay fair wages and offer equal opportunities — development roles, rotations, paths to promotions, mentors and career sponsors — to Black workers, they can change the tide on a resignation and retain their greatest resource — high-performing talent.

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