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Institutions Turn to New Workforce Strategies To Counter Effects of Great Resignation

Research institutions, struggling with pandemic-induced employee retention and recruitment challenges, are turning to strategies designed to keep adequate staff levels, including remote and hybrid work and methods of developing a pipeline of talent, according to research administrators.

The administrators, speaking at a recent meeting of the Federal Demonstration Partnership,[1] noted the rapid changes that have taken place in the workforce since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and explained that adjusting to the post-pandemic landscape will take plenty of trial and error.

Economists and analysts are tracking what has become known as the “great resignation,” said Michele Masucci, co-chair of the Federal Demonstration Partnership and vice president for research and director of the Information Technology and Society Research Group at Temple University. “I sometimes refer to it as ‘the four Rs,’ which are: retirement, renegotiation of job terms, remote work and resignation,” she said. “I think there’s still a lot of adjustment to take place in the economy.”

There are “a couple of trends happening at the same time” driving what Masucci termed an “exodus” from offices, including a generational shift within the workforce.

“Research administration has not been immune from the high turnover, rising salaries, calls for greater flexibility and telework that followed full telework during the pandemic and shortages of skilled applicants,” said Lisa Nichols, senior director of sponsored research programs at the University of Pennsylvania.

These trends have had a significant impact on research and operations, along with personnel who support research, particularly where demand and funding for research continue to increase, Nichols said. Since the start of the pandemic, she said, university research administrations—both centrally and in schools and departments—are experiencing challenges with retention, recruitment and understaffing in what is often an already lean environment.

With this, she said, comes a loss of institutional knowledge; delays and backlogs; and increased costs for recruiting, retention and consultants. The situation also leads to possible challenges addressing functions outside of day-to-day necessities, such as implementing new systems and processes.

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