SRU professors identify ways companies can retain employees


Sign in a business door

With millions of Americans voluntarily leaving their jobs each month, two Slippery Rock University professors are identifying ways employers can better retain workers by improving their cultures and increasing diversity and inclusiveness.

Sept. 16, 2021

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Employers across America are struggling to retain workers. "Help Wanted" and "Now Hiring" aren't just signs in the windows and bold text on job postings, they are indications that employers must improve their organizational cultures to attract and keep talent. According to two Slippery Rock University professors, employers need to transform their workplaces into places that are empowering, inclusive and positive for their employees.

"It's about culture," said Rhonda Clark, an SRU associate professor of marketing and management. "Culture comes from many different sources that drive the workplace, and it's usually from the top down. Culture is the environment that people are working in, whether it is positive or negative, and a lot of people will quit because they don't want to be in a negative environment."

Nearly 4 million Americans are quitting their jobs each month, and the "quits rate," the percentage of people who voluntarily left their job as a percentage of total employment, was at an all-time high of 2.7% earlier this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Also, surveys have shown that a third of U.S. workers under the age of 40 have thought about quitting their jobs since the pandemic began.



Known as "The Great Resignation," this phenomenon of the pandemic has many reasons, including stress, fewer childcare options, low wages and the fear of contracting COVID-19, but toxic workplaces have come under greater scrutiny as employers attempt to retain workers.

"If an employer has a bad culture, they are going to have higher turnover, absenteeism and people who are dissatisfied with their jobs and not putting in much effort," said Clark, who teaches courses at SRU about organizational behavior and human resource management. "Culture is an important driver for motivation, job satisfaction and many other things."

People also define culture in different ways. According to Clark, there are explicit indicators of culture, such as a company's stated mission, vision and values, as well as policies outlined in an employee handbook.

"You also have the implicit (indicators); you have norms of what's acceptable and what's not acceptable behavior that make up a culture," Clark said. "Sometimes they can only be observed by how people act or behave in certain situations."

Often employers don't have time, resources or even awareness to improve their workplace cultures. That's why Clark joined a group of consultants to create a firm called Transforming Culture Consultants to help company's gauge their culture and offer training to create workplaces where employees feel happy, respected, valued and safe. Clark is TCC's chief empowerment officer, while Cindy LaCom, SRU professor of nonprofit management, empowerment and diversity studies, is TCC's chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer.

Cindy LaCom


Diversity and inclusion are also important drivers of positive cultures, especially if companies avoid hiring people of the same backgrounds and experiences, a phenomenon known as "groupthink," which can stunt creativity and innovation. LaCom said there are other positive effects of having diverse and inclusive workplaces.

"Data show that organizations that lead in diversity and inclusion have higher retention rates and higher rates of employee happiness and well-being," LaCom said. "Employees also do better work and feel a greater sense of belonging when they feel accepted and respected. Beyond that, employers should be working to build inclusive, empowered workplaces to diminish a culture of toxic meanness and foster workplaces where every employee feels welcomed and leveraged."

LaCom, Clark and Sharon Wilson, TCC's chief mindset and growth officer, are hosting a series of professional development workshops for SRU faculty, staff and students as part of programming organized through University's Leadership Development Center. The workshops are:

  • "What is an Empowered Culture? Understanding the Elements and Recognizing the Benefits," 11 a.m. to noon, Sept. 29, in the Smith Student Center, Room 322.
  • "Creating an Inclusive Culture," 11 a.m. to noon, Oct. 13, in SSC, Room 322.
  • "Positive Organizational Behavior," 11 a.m. to noon, Oct. 27, in SSC, Room 322.
  • "The Power of Mindset Management to Transform Your Life and Your Organization," 11 a.m. to noon, Nov. 10, in SSC, Room 322.
  • "Understanding, Recognizing, and Responding More Effectively to Workplace Violence," 11 a.m. to noon, Dec. 1, in SSC, Room 322.

People who attend all five workshops are eligible to receive a certificate in Transforming Workplace Culture. SRU community members can learn more and register for these workshops by viewing  the 2021 Fall Professional Development Catalog and finding the links to register on the  Leadership Development webpage under the Workshop Registration tab.

More information about SRU's marketing and management and gender and diversity studies academic programs are available on the University website.

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854  |