Talking to Employers about Job Quality

Why It Matters

A combination of globalization, automation, public policy and declining investment in education and worker training has resulted in an economic climate where simply being employed is inadequate as a proxy for economic well-being – for the individual or the nation. In order to understand the value of employment, we need to clearly understand and evaluate job quality, not just quantity. The US economy, once recognized as an engine of unparalleled opportunity, is failing many individuals and communities. Nearly 1 in 3 employed people in the US are unable to make ends meet, and, at the same time, many employers are struggling to attract and retain talent.

By providing quality jobs that offer family sustaining wages, safe and inclusive environments, robust benefits, predictable scheduling, professional development and opportunities to advance, employers can address their hiring, retention, and productivity gaps. They can also accelerate their company’s diversity, equity and inclusion goals, connect with new potential markets, position themselves to attract impact capital and encourage value-aligned loyalty from customers.

Workers benefit from quality jobs as they provide family sustaining pay, benefits, fair schedules, training and career pathways, enabling them to save and build wealth, balance health and family commitments as well as invest in their personal and professional development. In turn, this encourages a greater level of productivity, commitment and creativity in their work.

How to Engage Your Employer Partners

Many employers, including government agencies, recognize the negative impacts that low job quality can have on their workers, the local economy and the company's bottom line. However, making job quality changes can often feel overwhelming, impractical, or incompatible with business goals. A well-designed and executed job quality strategy that is centered on assessing and addressing the organization's key challenges can directly improve the organization's performance on the metrics that matter most to the employer.   

Pain points are workforce needs that can serve as a starting point for internal job quality initiatives. Examples include high vacancy rates, long time to hire, high turnover, burnout, lack of diversity (overall or in specific positions), or low productivity. Employers may struggle with one or more of these issues. 

The US Chamber Foundation's Talent Pipeline Management process is a great resource to assist an employer in thinking through their full business cycle and identifying key challenges.  The Workforce & Organizational Research Center's Job Maps can also be helpful in considering gaps in employer key performance indicators.

Internal data from the Human Resources Information System (HRIS), performance reporting and other tracking mechanisms - such as turnover, promotion rates, demographics - often demonstrate the severity of the pain point. 

Info such as whether a) earnings are self-sustaining b) benefits exist, individuals are eligible for them and the benefits are affordable c) growth is supported  and d) whether advancement comes from within or is largely external can provide more information on the cause of pain points. 

An understanding of localized Labor Market Information (LMI), participation in sector partnerships with other employers, educators and workforce development professionals, and assessment tools such as Working Metrics (which enables employers to benchmark to the industry) or the Good Jobs Scorecard can be useful to inform the prioritization of steps to address an employer's pain points.

Workers are a valuable source of information when seeking to understand or address pain points.  Consider whether employees and candidates would agree with the current assessment of pain points.  Successful employer-led job quality initiatives generally require the entire organization to be involved and committed, from HR to executives to hiring managers and frontline employees. 

Worker engagement often takes the form of gathering information on employee perspectives through pulse surveys, stay interviews, and focus groups. (Check out RFA's case study on an employee engagement survey in MI). Employee Resource Groups and other voluntary, employee-led groups whose aim is to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace can also be another source of information. Such groups are usually organized around a shared characteristic, whether it's gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, lifestyle, or interest.

  • Focus groups: Small group conversations around a specific topic that are intended to create understanding, surface insights and foster connection. Generally focused on dialogue rather than specific data points.

  • Surveys: Common types include a) opinion and satisfaction surveys which measure employee views, attitudes and perceptions of their organization (also known as "climate surveys"). B) culture survey measures the point of view of employees and is designed to assess whether it aligns with that of the organization or its departments. c) engagement surveys measure employees' commitment, motivation, sense of purpose and passion for their work and organization.

  • Stay Interviews: Generally a structured discussion a leader conducts with an individual employee to learn specific actions the leader can take to strengthen the employee's engagement and retention with the organization. Usually focused on learning what motivates employees to stay engaged. Often highlights what is going right with the intent of further supporting or expanding what is working.

  • Employee Resource Groups: Voluntary, employee-led groups whose aim is to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with the organizations they serve. Usually organized around a shared characteristic, whether it's gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, lifestyle, or interest. In a more formalized format, ERGs might support a worker board or council which brings together particular sets of worker representatives(e.g. LGBTQIA+ representatives) and their employers in an official capacity to help set and enforce workplace standards for a particular industry and geography - as discussed in the Empowerment lever section.

  • 3rd party tools: Insights available through sources such as Glassdoor, LinkedIn, or like tools. Trends identified through these tools might directly inform communication campaigns, training and workshops to build job quality through direct worker engagement.

Engagement techniques such as the above can be used to be understand questions such as:

  • Are the organization's/project’s purpose, goals and strategic plan clearly defined?

  • Do individuals feel that their skills are valued and applied? Is skill development encouraged and rewarded?

  • Do individuals feel they have autonomy over their work and how it is performed?

  • Does leadership foster an inclusive, collaborative culture?

  • What inequities are present, both current and over time (trends)?

Job design is the process of creating a job that enables the organization to achieve its business goals while motivating and rewarding employees. This includes the work tasks, knowledge, skills and competencies, job qualifications, total rewards, and other job quality principles that matter most to employees. 

Understanding how current job quality offerings stack up relative to competitors, company values and aspirations, and employee expectations and priorities is critical when identifying where job design or redesign efforts may need to start. Consider the following questions:

  • How do our offerings compare with employee needs and expectations, industry standards, and other career tracks or work experiences that employees choose to pursue?

  • Are employees experiencing job quality features differently based on race, gender, age, education level, classification, occupation, team, department, or other factors? If so, what might be the root causes of these differences?

  • What level of control do we have in affecting change in job design for critical positions and how might that impact where we spend time and energy on internal job quality?

Informed by their pain points and promising practices from the field, employers can map the design of their jobs in ways that address the specific pain points they are experiencing and address challenges that may have surfaced through the use of worker engagement techniques. 

Workforce and economic development agencies can assist employers in this process, where needed, using a variety of different services, resources and funding approaches.  

Employers of choice are highly sought-after organizations where employees are excited to come to work. These employers proactively create a positive work environment, have an outstanding brand, provide industry leading job quality offerings, and reinforce a safe, positive, and productive culture. The aspects of the job that make the employer stand out usually map back to one or more of the eight job quality principles. 

Consider how implementing aspects of the job quality principles might address the cause of one or more pain points and set the organization apart as a highly desirable place to work. Click on the lefthand navigation to learn more about each job quality principle.

Workforce and economic development agencies can support companies on this journey by providing training, technical assistance, funding as well as recognition

Addressing Common Employer Pain Points

Common Employer Pain Points
Common Job Design Goals

• Lengthy time to hire
• Lack of diversity in candidate pool and workforce

Goal 1: Increase the number of qualified candidates that compete for open jobs

• Low productivity and engagement
• High rates of turnover
• High cost of turnover

Goal 2: Employees from different backgrounds can be successful on the job

• Low rates of internal promotions
• High rates of turnover
• High cost of turnover

Goal 3: Employees are sufficiently rewarded with financial and non-financial incentives based on their goals and needs

• Low rates of internal promotions
• Low productivity and engagement
• High rates of turnover
• High cost of turnover

Goal 4: Increase the number of employees that report high job satisfaction and stay long term

• Lack of diversity in more senior roles
• Low rates of internal promotions

Goal 5: Higher rates of internal promotion from employees of different backgrounds

• Does the current design of our jobs maximize the skills and talents of our employees?

Goal 6: Maximizing the value of existing talent

Supporting Employers

Want to support employers to improve job quality? We have more information on how to provide services, resources, recognition and funding to support the work.