HR Leaders: Labor Will Be the Biggest Challenge in 2022

Human resources professionals connect in person to help each other navigate the current landscape.

March 23, 2022

NACS HR Forum 2022

By Sara Counihan

ORLANDO—Employee retention and recruitment challenges have been at the forefront of the convenience retailing industry recently, and attendees at the NACS HR Forum overwhelmingly agree that hiring and retaining a quality workforce is the biggest HR challenge of 2022.

The NACS HR Forum is underway in Orlando, Florida, and human resource leaders are understanding now more than ever the importance of connections, with each other and with their employees.

“To say that our businesses have evolved, and that we are facing a talent shortage might be an understatement, and we need to continually reevaluate how we are going to connect with our employees,” said Joanne Loce, managing partner, Fortify Leadership Group, and the forum’s moderator. “How do we attract, engage, develop and retain our most valuable asset—our people?”

HR leaders create an integral part of creating those connections, said Loce. She likened HR professionals to artists who have been handed a bucket of materials (labor shortage, creating good jobs, complying with everchanging laws, among other challenges), and with that, they have to envision what is possible and create a masterpiece for their organization to differentiate itself against competitors.

“We have to get even more masterful with our artistry,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, has completely upended the industry, and Megan Janes, an attorney with Fisher Phillips, presented attendees with what the firm knows now about COVID-19. Janes polled the group, and while only 4% of those polled require their employees be vaccinated, 82% of attendees have a written COVID-19 safety plan.

Janes expects face mask guidance and laws to continue to change as other states and localities alter their requirements, and she also sees increased enforcement under U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidance. She also anticipates that workforce shortages will become an even bigger issue. According to Janes, infectious disease experts say that there could be a spike in COVID-19 cases this coming winter and that HR professionals should stay tuned for more legal changes in reaction to the anticipated uptick.

From a legal standpoint, the convenience industry is as complex as it has ever been, according to Steven Bernstein, an attorney with Fisher Phillips, who also presented at the forum.

A labor attorney for many years, Bernstein offered advice on how HR leaders can attract and retain a quality workforce. He asked attendees to think about what kind of workforce do they really want. Is it the same workforce that they wanted five years ago?

“You’re up against a declining workforce participation rate, but you’re also up against growing competition for your labor, and the worker of today understands that. They’re able to commoditize their labor in a way that workforces of yesterday never could.”

Bernstein says that workers don’t just request flexibility, they demand it in their schedules, and employers have to accommodate them to stay competitive.

The workforce has gotten so competitive that Bernstein has a client that sought legal advice on how to pay a bonus to applicants if they remove themselves from the labor pool long enough for their drug test results to clear. Bernstein is also seeing material handlers in warehouses earning $5,000 sign on bonuses.

“That’s the world we’re living in now,” he said. “That is your competition.”

Jayme Gough, NACS’ market research manager, said that U.S. job openings are at a 20-year high, and the national quit rate is at a record high of 2.9%. She also calculated that there are about 3.9 million people missing from the workforce since 2020.

“That’s more people than our entire industry employs,” said Gough.

Gough reported that total turnover for the convenience retailing industry was 150%, the highest it’s been since 2012. The full-time employee turnover rate is at 118.8%, and the part-time employee turnover rate is at 181.6%.

“We expected the turnover rate to be high in 2021, but still 181.6%, that is a huge number,” said Gough.

Are you looking to hire? NACS has conducted extensive research on what people want in jobs to help retailers communicate the context of jobs by showcasing how they tie into what applicants care about most and what they treasure from previous jobs.

Sara Counihan is contributing editor of NACS Daily and NACS Magazine. She can be reached at