Lending Leaders
Employee Retention and Attracting Talent with Marcia O’Connor

Marcia Zaruba-O’Connor visited with us at LLL recently. She’s a fellow Philadelphia 100 honoree and the CEO and founder of the O’Connor Group, a talent acquisition and human resources provider.

Building a business

Marcia herself started her business 14 years ago as a basic recruiting firm. Over time, she built it to include helping other firms with small or no HR infrastructure to build out those resources. Today, her focus is on manufacturing companies, life science businesses, technology and professional services. The O’Connor Group now has employees in multiple states and even other countries, which is, in and of itself, a learning experience for her—especially as rules, regulations and laws on employment begin to vary more and more widely.

Entrepreneurial Lessons

Like most entrepreneurs, Marcia told us there was a time when she, as the CEO of her firm, was really doing multiple jobs at the same time—until her business coach and mentor approached her. “Do you want to run a company,” he asked, “or be in the weeds of that company?” Marcia today agrees that an entrepreneur by her very nature wants to do multiple jobs. Enjoys doing multiple jobs. But for that company to grow, one needs to hire and delegate.

The impact of COVID on the workforce

Of course, the ongoing COVID pandemic and talk of “The Great Resignation” is the big news in the HR world. Marcia pointed out that, as of September, 2021 (the time this was recorded), in America, five jobs existed for every person. She explained that many left the workforce during the pandemic and had yet to return—especially women. The impact of the COVID fatalities themselves, of course, cannot be overstated as well.  Marcia warned that, if employees aren’t proactive and attentive, “The Great Recession” could still become reality, leaving employers already scrambling to fill positions working even harder to replace valuable talent. 

Keeping employees happy

Employers right now cannot afford to ignore the importance of mental health policies and benefits, according to Marcia. Especially for the younger element of the workforce, the pandemic and its aftermath have wreaked havoc on the collective health of America. Employers seeking to attract and retain younger talent would be wise to take note and act.  Plus, as Jim pointed out, very often, the right thing to do is also the right business thing to do. The return on showing respect and treating employees is usually incredibly high.

Best practices

So how does a business retain its talent? Marcia suggested “Stay Interviews,” reaching out to existing employees before they resign. Typically, her operations manager checks in with current employees, asking questions like “What skills do you believe you have that we’re not making the most of?” or, simply, “How are you doing?” While this might seem a tedious task—especially for a small, growing business—Marcia pointed out that doing a stay interview is far easier than doing an exit interview. 

On attracting new talent

In addition to the above ideas, Marcia stressed patience to current employers seeking to hire. As she observed, many people take their vacations at the end of August or early September (or late December/early January at the holidays) to eek out the last few days of summer. Marcia suggested making hiring pushes after September 15 or January 15, and to expect a tsunami of applications compared to the results of a hiring push started prematurely. 

Working with conservative industries

Marcia stressed that, whether yours is a conservative industry or not, showing respect for employees and taking the time to express appreciation, even with “thank you card”-type gestures, can make all the difference. She also noted that generational differences are very real and that the older generations need to make adjustments to their expectations if they hope to build businesses attractive to new talent.


Jim and Marcia also briefly talked podcasting. Marcia has her own podcast, “Top Three,” which explores the journeys of various successful entrepreneurs. She advised that running a podcast is a continuous learning process, and reminded novice podcasters to focus on “people and product first.”

An entrepreneur’s top mistake?

For Marcia, hoping for perfect conditions to start a business is a recipe for disaster. She suggested to that new entrepreneurs not allow fear to hold them back. It may be a bit messy at times, but with effort and ingenuity, a young business leader’s goals can be reached. “If you’re a hard worker, you’ll make it work.”