Where Are The Workers? Nine Innovative Strategies for Recruiting and Retaining Good Employees

We went to Branson, Missouri, to celebrate our 32nd anniversary. When we checked into our beautiful resort and arrived at our luxurious room, my wife opened the refrigerator and found a pizza box left-over from another guest. The resort apologized profusely and implied that they had been having trouble finding reliable people for their housekeeping staff. Sadly, there is an employee shortage all over.  This shortage has been particularly difficult in the tourist industry. Just as sadly. we as customers have lowered our expectations for customer service.  We have come to understand that waits will be longer and service will be subpar in some cases.  But this problem hit me closer to home on our Branson trip. 

My wife planned a couple of outings in the local area. At one show we went to, the venue was packed with an excited crowd. The show featured five male and one female entertainers, all showcasing Motown acts. The show opened with a Temptations act, but with only two male entertainers instead of five Temptations. The two guys apologized that the other three entertainers did not show up for work. They did not want to cancel the show. The audience applauded and the show went on.  Later in the show, a 70-year-old retired female entertainer was brought out as a fill-in.  The experience was interesting, to say the least.  It showed the impacts of a labor shortage and how sympathetic customers can be to an employer’s plight, given the pandemic.  The situation is no laughing matter.

With COVID-19 continuing to impact businesses globally, today’s small businesses must consider new strategies during what has become a severe employment shortage.  In 2020, many businesses were forced to either furlough or lay-off workers, especially in the tourist and food industries. As we move ahead with reopening the economy, businesses are now unable to operate effectively without quality workers. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the number of job openings rose to a record level (9.29 million in May, from 9.19 million in April). There is clearly a shortage of workers, which means that employers feel they are forced to pay more to attract those fewer people still in the job market.  However, jobs are still going unfilled. This article examines several innovative strategies that small businesses can utilize to attract and retain employees in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

Right now, there is a huge demand for talented workers. In fact, some businesses, especially in the tourism industry, are suffering from the lack of essential workers. Many unemployed people have opted not to come back to work for various reasons (i.e. low pay, safety). Management experts Jason Furman and Wilson Powell note, “The main reason for the lack of much faster job growth has been the unusually low number of people transitioning from unemployment to employment—a flow that should be at or near record levels given the overall labor market.”  Thus, record job openings and increased hourly earnings (about 4.5 % on an annual basis) still have not been enough to convince workers to return.

At the same time, workers are quitting their jobs at a record rate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 4 million Americans left their jobs in April, creating a quitting rate 24% higher than before the pandemic. This phenomenon may be due to burn-out of  ”doing more with less,“ COVID fatigue, and/or the search for a more purposeful kind of employment.  

Regardless of the factors that are driving this situation, most small businesses will need to retool if they are to survive in the wake of this employee shortage. Small businesses have to adopt new strategies in order to attract quality employees post-pandemic. Sadly, many small businesses are not equipped to infuse innovative thinking into their organizations because of the competing priorities of having to maintain their daily operations. Furthermore, companies often end up in a bidding war with other businesses in order to get the best workers during the shortage. Contrary to popular belief, money is not the only motivator for employees. In fact, money is not the only incentive that attracts prospective employees.  Given this reality, small businesses should consider the following creative ways to recruit and retain quality employees:

  • Develop a human capital strategy that complements the emerging hiring trends. 
  • Build an employee loyalty program with incentives to keep good employees. Small businesses need to protect their most valuable asset—quality employees.
  • Implement some aspects of artifical intelligence and automation into their operation for efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Develop an online recruitment program using Indeed, Glassdoor, and other recruitment websites.
  • Create or enhance a presence on LinkedIn for recruitment if applicable.
  • Connect with Generation Z employees by providing practical training, such as micro internships with local universities. Programs like those in place at Oklahoma Baptist University provide business students with practical experience, while also providing businesses with marketing assistance. 
  • Utilize flexibile employee hours and remote working options. 
  • Incorporate a meaningful, frequent reward system.
  • Allow employees to create and innovate in their working environment.

In today’s changing landscape, successful small businesses have to implement effective recruitment and retention strategies. Unfortunately, some companies will stick to traditional recruitment tactics by simply offering more money. 

With the shortage of workers, some businesses, especially small businesses, find themselves in this competitive hiring climate. This article discusses how today’s small businesses can implement innovative strategies to attract and retain employees in the aftermath of the pandemic.  Pray that it is not too late.

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