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Business as unusual

Tips to address current workforce challenges

By Larry Morgan, MAIR, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, GPHR

A perfect economic and employment storm has been brewing. Employers were faced with COVID-19 shutdowns. Parents found themselves without child care (or unaffordable child care), while also managing their children’s distance learning. Employees began reevaluating careers and quitting or changing jobs at unprecedented rates. More baby boomers decided to take early retirement, while there are fewer entrants into the workforce based on population demographics. Finally, there are supply chain issues — including lack of labor to handle cargo and fewer long-haul truckers — combined with record low unemployment, resulting in help wanted signs everywhere.

So, what’s an employer to do?

Recruiting and retention issues are front and center of current workforce challenges. Clearly, there is not a simple solution. Employers are faced with changing traditional ways of addressing employment issues and short-term solutions are not likely to help. Here are some tips:
  1. Provide choices to employees, including work schedules, hybrid work environment, part-time work, full-time remote work and flexibility with child care arrangements.
  2. Understand different concerns regarding COVID and variant protections, including protocols to address cleaning, mask wearing, vaccination status, and notification and isolation policies when an employee has been diagnosed with COVID. Provide employees with a “scalable plan” in the event of future pandemics and escalation of contagion. Provide emergency child care support options for employees.
  3. Have a clear employee value proposition regarding how you differentiate your organization from others. What makes you different in the marketplace? Great benefits, top wages, terrific training programs, social good, location, organization mission? Consider “employee resource groups” or “affiliation groups” based on cultural and lifestyle issues to help promote workforce diversity, equity and inclusion programs. Why should a talented employee want to join and remain with your organization?
  4. Use a variety of recruitment platforms. Promote the organization using several sources, including the organization’s website, LinkedIn, Facebook, job fairs, community event sponsorships and being present at community fairs. Monitor what employees are saying about you and identify and correct issues. Use employee referral programs in which existing employees may recommend others to the organization and receive payment. Look at nontraditional sources of employees, including school-to-work, partnerships with educational institutions, internships, immigrant populations, ex-convicts, homemakers seeking part-time employment, students, retirees and others.
  5. Allow for more time in the hiring process. Involve more employees with the hiring decision and be truthful regarding the “good, bad and ugly” parts of the job. Realistic job previewing allows employees to self-select before more time and money is spent on the selection process. Instead of hiring for existing culture, think about cultural enhancement and if the employee can build a future culture to allow for greater diversity and inclusion issues.
  6. Take more time with onboarding employees. Best practice is to have onboarding extended into several months or even a year. Conduct informal review sessions at a 30-, 60- and 90-day periods to address any issues. Assign a “buddy” for the first six months to help the new employee assimilate into the organization.
  7. Watch for pay compression. Given the marketplace, you may have to offer a new hire more money than the existing staff in the same role. Employees discuss money. Be sure to consider pay equity issues with existing staff, including “upward pay compression” with other positions at or just above the level. We are seeing starting wages for unskilled labor at $15 per hour and more. Increasing inflation rates may create issues with hiring rates and annual increases. Annual increases are trending at 3.1–3.2%.
  8. Ask retirees to come back to work, at least on a part-time basis. Ensure knowledge transfer occurs on a regular basis, including formal and informal methods such as knowledge databases to capture projects, templates, etc. Hold brown-bag sessions to discuss past projects and lessons learned.
  9. Understand the competitive marketplace with changing values and work expectations, including ongoing training, formal career pathing and competitive wages in a rapidly changing environment. Today’s employees want to feel good about making a difference in the world. This may include workplace affiliation, addressing community or international issues in health care, climate change, social good, sustainability and environmental issues, or corporate social responsibility.
  10. Engage with and invest in existing employees. Conduct focus groups or employee engagement surveys to determine issues and concerns, and hold “stay interviews” with top employees. Consider ongoing market analysis to be proactive and keep employees from leaving just for additional compensation — note that counteroffers do not work once the employee has decided to leave the organization. Build retention bonus programs for top talent, provide ongoing feedback programs to provide recognition. Hold regular career progression conversations. Recruitment does not end after the employee shows up on the first day.
As always, the MNCPA HR Hotline is here to assist you.
 
You may use the HR Hotline for updated advice on dealing with employee requests for religious or medical accommodations as well as employer mandates. Connect with Larry Morgan through this MNCPA member benefit at hrhotline@mncpa.org or at 952-885-5539.
 
Larry Morgan runs the MNCPA HR Hotline and is president of Orion HR Group, LLC. He is a regular contributor to Footnote. You may reach him at larry.morgan@orionhr.com.