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I hear it all the time: eventually people have to come back to work, right?
Everywhere I go in the U.S. and other countries, as I talk to retailers, manufacturers, service providers, and wholesalers, managers are wondering when workers will actually start, well, working.
During the pandemic, millions of workers worldwide lost their jobs or were temporarily out of work. And government subsidies in most (but not all) countries internationally allowed many workers to stay home. And it seems many didn’t return – as of the end of July, there were 11.2 million unfilled job openings in the United States alone.
For those of us who have worked every day of our lives, often since we were teenagers, it boggles the mind to think of people just deciding to not work. How are they surviving? What are they doing to feed their families? How are they filling up airports and malls and luxury goods stores?
A lot of us thought that when the government subsidies ran out, workers would come back. But that hasn’t happened. And in countries with very little or no COVID subsidies, they have the same issues. From Australia to China to Canada, the global grocery industry is facing a massive labor shortage.
Which means hoping that these workers will magically come back is dangerous thinking. If you find yourself saying, “With inflation so high, these workers will have to come back,” is a good story but potentially false because it seems that many of the people who were in service and warehouse jobs are just not interested in coming back. Where did they go?
Where The Workers Are
For the ones who quit and haven’t come back to work, many were older workers who have figured out how to retire. These workers just aren’t coming back. Another large group were two income families with children. Many of them figured out how to live on one income, or how not having to pay for childcare improved their family economics. Chances are they aren’t coming back until their kids are much older.
But the majority who quit are employed – they simply took new jobs. And there is the message for those of us in the service industry. They fled retail, restaurant, manufacturing, and wholesaler jobs and improved their lives. According to a Pew Research study this year, “At least half of these workers say that compared with their last job, they are now earning more money (56%), have more opportunities for advancement (53%), have an easier time balancing work and family responsibilities (53%), and have more flexibility to choose when they put in their work hours (50%).”
How To Attract Workers To Your Business
The message here is clear: We have to stop hoping workers will come back. Hope isn’t a business plan; it isn’t a strategy, and it won’t change our fate.
Instead, we need to listen. COVID-19 taught millions of workers that they didn’t have to settle. And as a result, their quit jobs where they felt underappreciated. I have talked to dozens of IGA and non-IGA owners all over the world about this problem and there are some who are having better results attracting and retaining associates. Way better results: 95% filled positions versus the average of less than 80%.
Consider these tactics:
These tips come from retailers who are making it work. But beyond just these tips, you must change your mindset and stop waiting for workers to come back. We must up our game, market our jobs, and improve the offering. Do that and we are in control of our fate!
A version of this column ran in The Shelby Report on September 29, 2022. View it here.