With generous unemployment benefits and other factors at play, a new pandemic workforce issue is emerging: convincing unemployed workers to return to work. As an employer, how do you overcome this obstacle?
First, let’s look at the reasons many workers are choosing the unemployed life right now. The most controversial reason is that some workers are making more in unemployment benefits than they made while on the job. About 40% of workers—primarily blue-collar—fall into this category. Texas workers don’t have as much to gain as workers in most other states, but many have still received more than 100% of their former hourly wages over the past few months. These higher benefits are expiring, though. Texas is opting to end a weekly $300 federal unemployment supplement and additional pandemic-related compensation starting June 26, 2021.
There are safety and logistical concerns, too. Some workers are hesitant to receive a COVID-19 vaccine or are prohibited by their religion or health status. Others who have had the vaccine may remain immunocompromised, including up to a possible 80% of individuals with certain health conditions, including specific blood cancers or who have had organ transplants.
And hurdles for caregivers are still high. As of March 2021, nearly 4 in 10 U.S. students were still learning remotely at home. Many daycares have shut their doors for good, so even families wanting daycare options struggle to find them. Texas has also seen the most dramatic drop in nursing home admissions during the pandemic than any other state, with nursing home occupancy hitting only 55.7% by the beginning of 2021. The strain this has caused on the careers of caregivers disproportionately affects women. Nearly half of the 12.1 million women who lost jobs this past spring haven’t returned.
You can win these workers back, but you might need to consider doing things a little differently. Consider how your organization can address these areas:
Even when extra unemployment benefits expire, workers aren’t willing to work for low wages anymore. Houston Chronicle’s Chris Tomlinson uses the restaurant industry as an example of how things are changing:
“Bars and restaurants across the state are posting thousands of help-wanted signs, but managers struggle to fully staff kitchen and front-of-house shifts. Hundreds of thousands of people who worked for some of the lowest wages in the country apparently spent the pandemic rethinking their career plans,” he writes. “More than half of restaurant workers say they are considering leaving the industry, and 76% said they want out because they are tired of relying on tips and low wages.”
While Texas manufacturers report that revenues remain down from pre-pandemic levels, the worker shortage has prompted a relatively sharp wage boost. The average increase of 4.7% is higher than average wage increases reported by Texas manufacturers over the past four years, says Emily Kerr, Dallas Fed senior business economist.
The story is playing out the same way in other industries as well, with both blue-collar and white-collar jobs. Wages for Austin jobs have increased 21.4% since 2006. With the cost of living in Austin rising even more rapidly, Austin employers realize that compensation matters more than ever.
“Austin isn’t the same city it was even one year ago. While the need for higher compensation has been written on the walls for a while, it’s become critical now,” explains The HT Group Vice President of Sales Claire Reece. “From drivers to software developers, you simply will not attract the talent you need in Austin without competitive compensation.”
With the CDC recently loosening the reigns on masks and social distancing for vaccinated Americans, a return to the office as it used to be is within reach. But there are still workers who feel unsafe at the office or who can’t return because they’re still caring for children or parents at home.
An all-or-nothing approach to returning to work will backfire. Instead:
- Address vaccine fears and reduce barriers to receiving a vaccine so that most of your workforce (and potential workforce) can be vaccinated. Research shows that at least 13% will refuse the vaccine for various reasons, but others may be waiting for the opportunity. Consider these tips to help make that happen.
- For office workers, think about an incremental return to the office. McKinsey & Co. found only37% of workers prefer a full-time return to onsite work. Pre-Covid-19, 62% of workers preferred an onsite model. That’s a massive change in attitude. Even more, 30% of employees surveyed would change jobs if required to return to the office permanently. The lesson? Ease into it. Consider hybrid work schedules for now. Plus, for caregivers who have no choice but to remain at home, your flexibility and compassion are imperative.
“Above all, take employee and job candidate concerns and constraints seriously,” says The HT Group President Chad Macy. “The job market is remarkably competitive right now. Imagine being able to attract long-term talent simply because you’re an employer who hears its workforce’s remaining COVID challenges and responds to them.”
A Supportive Culture
What these tips amount to, really, are ways to show employees you care. Focusing on the wellbeing and needs of employees will help them transition back to work more successfully. It will also set your company apart in the race to rehire. According to Accenture, just 35% of C-level leaders embraced supporting people’s holistic needs before the pandemic.
“Within six months, this number shot up to 50%. But leaders still have catching up to do, given that a huge majority of workers, 78%, believe their employer has a responsibility towards ensuring their holistic wellbeing,” says Tamara Fields, Austin office managing director for Accenture. “Most organizations tend to over-index on limited aspects like financial rewards and employee perks, while often falling short in the emotional, relational and purposeful dimensions…The Austin community is on its path of recovery, and how we lead—with purpose and empathy—will shape our future.”