Lots of people were betting that workers would return to the workforce the moment extended unemployment benefits ended. Although, I’m not much of a gambler, I recently went all in and made a bet that I knew I couldn’t lose.
A friend of mine, who is an executive, told me that the reason jobs were going unfilled was because of the additional unemployment checks doled out by the government.
I told him he was dead wrong. He responded with, “Want to make a bet?” I agreed and asked him, “What do you have in mind?” So, here’s what we settled on. If the ability of companies to staff their organizations dramatically improved, several months after the subsidies went away, I’d take him to dinner at a restaurant of his choice. If they did not, he owed me dinner.
To support my claim, I sent my friend a host of stories, including a recent article titled, “Unemployment benefits ended, but hiring did not surge in September.” In this piece, it was clear that out-of-work Americans did not rush back into the job market after beefed-up unemployment benefits ended nationwide in September. Other factors, including fears of contracting COVID-19, childcare issues, and people reevaluating the meaning of their lives seem to continue playing a major role in prompting people to remain at home.
States that stopped the pandemic unemployment programs early, thinking it would help solve staffing shortages and stem the tide of the Great Resignation, found that according to studies and government data, employment did not grow substantially faster in those states.
And as an update, last week, my friend finally admitted he was wrong; I’m now searching for the most expensive restaurant I can find!
How did we get here?
Organizations and leaders struggling to attract talent have been using the additional unemployment benefits provided during COVID-19 as a crutch. It’s much easier to blame another person for your problems than to look inward and look at the problem. Or in other words, it’s easier to lie to yourself.
Are there some people who would rather collect an unemployment check than punch the clock? Sure. This was true before the pandemic, during the pandemic, and will not change once this pandemic is behind us. However, many people can’t wait to get back to work, and the extra unemployment money, which supposedly they’ve been able to bankroll (another lie), isn’t what’s keeping them from doing so.
Why you can’t find talent
- Lack of empathy and humane treatment. Workers are still resentful that some companies never stayed in touch while they were on furlough. Are you guilty of this, as well? Consider if you would be eager return to an organization that treated you as if you no longer existed?
- You’re trying the wrong tactics to bait talent. A fleeting sign-on bonus for new hires is a short-term solution to more long-term problems (more on these below).
- Is your compensation competitive? For many workers, it’s considerably less expensive to stay home with your kids instead of paying for childcare (if you can even secure a coveted child care spot). Have you checked the market lately to ensure your wages are still viable? Can those workers, whom you’re trying to attract, afford to work for you? And are you willing to subsidize the high cost of childcare?
- Many people have experienced what it’s like to work from home and have been successfully doing so. They want the flexibility to do so in the future, yet many employers are saying, “It’s my way or the highway.” More and more workers are choosing the highway. Can you afford to stand your ground while positions go unstaffed? How much are you willing to lose in terms of revenue? How will these unfilled positions impact your reputation?
- Your online application process is tortuous. Most were built for applicants applying from their computers, which is a problem when you consider that 61% of all job applications were submitted last year using mobile devices. Now imagine what happens when a candidate is required to type in their entire résumé to be considered. If it takes more than 10 minutes to apply, many candidates won’t even bother.
- Qualified candidates can’t get through your applicant tracking systems. Their résumés seem to go into a dark hole, never to be found. Don’t believe me? Try applying for a position with your organization and see if you can get hired!
- Job seekers are looking for better benefits. Stories about awesome perks are in the headlines daily, making many people question why they should forego an opportunity to get in on the goods. They’re flocking to those organizations that are offering a pot of gold while your talent pipeline remains dry.
- Speaking of benefits, job seekers are looking for healthcare benefits—and reliable versions. The pandemic has shown people that we’re all vulnerable. Anyone can get sick at any time. While it may not have been traditional for organizations in your industry to offer such benefits, you soon may not have a choice; that is, if you need staff to produce your products or serve your customers.
- Money matters. The people who say it doesn’t have money. Job seekers want to be fairly compensated for the work they do. You may be able to snag some talent with lowball offers, but for how long? These people will be ripe for the plucking and will depart the moment they receive a better offer.
- Jobs with overinflated job requirements will remain unfilled or will continually turn over. Candidates who are well-suited for these jobs, yet don’t perfectly match your long list of qualifications, won’t give your job postings more than a glance. Think about it. Is it essential to have a college degree to fulfill the duties of a receptionist or a customer support rep? I think we both know the answer to this question.
- Many job applicants will remove themselves from consideration if the entire hiring process is long and drawn out. Some will be quickly snapped up by organizations that hire more swiftly, and others will refuse to work somewhere solely based on the applicant experience.
- Less “desirable” candidates can’t get a second look. I’m not talking about people who have served prison sentences for robbing a bank. I’m referring to mature workers, people with disabilities and military veterans. Consider looking for talent where others aren’t digging. Be willing to dig a little deeper, and you’ll find some real gems out there.
As we now know for sure, the challenge of attracting and keeping people isn’t going to go the way of the stimulus money. Now’s the time to take stock of the reality of your situation and take bold steps to attract the right talent for your organization. When you do, be sure you are doing everything humanly possible to keep these people as well.
Roberta Matuson is the president of Matuson Consulting. Over the last few decades, Roberta has helped leaders in highly regarded companies, including General Motors, New Balance, and Microsoft, and small- to medium-size businesses, achieve dramatic growth and market leadership through the maximization of talent. She’s the author of Can We Talk? Seven Principles for Managing Difficult Conversations at Work.