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Davis Journal

Employers are often to blame for lack of staffing

Jul 08, 2021 03:00PM ● By Bryan Gray

Remember all the reports of how employees would become scarce due to robots performing human tasks? Many employers searching behind every bush and tree for breathing bodies wish those reports had come to pass!

  But not today. “Now Hiring” signs are more plentiful than strip mall check-cashing services or radio commercials for E.D. treatment. With some 11 million Americans claiming to be unemployed, there seems to be a disconnect in the economy.

As I’ve written before, there are a handful of possible reasons we are not in a post-pandemic full-employment: government-enhanced unemployment checks, the expense of childcare for working parents, the disinclination to take on a part-time “second job,” the disappearance of companies unable to weather the COVID shutdowns – and in some cases, pure laziness!

However, employers are not all blameless. In a competitive market, companies respond with incentives to lure customers; now in most industries they must do the same to attract employees.

A restaurant advertising a $9.75 starting wage for cooks won’t cut it. A warehouse offering a “generous” one-week vacation package may not be a magnet for willing workers.  Western governors just learned that firefighters battling deadly wildfires earned as low as $13 an hour. It’s hard to feel sorry for a company losing workers in lieu of a 50-cent an hour raise if the CEO is earning a $50,000 bonus.

Too many companies don’t fully understand the high cost of hiring and training new employees. In many cases, it would have been less expensive to give a former employee a $2 hourly increase rather than replacing him with one (and maybe several others who start and quit) not having the company knowledge and efficiency. 

Technology firms have been at the forefront of providing “perks” to keep a stable and effective workforce: complimentary beverages and lunch to low-cost med insurance to employee-convenient work schedules. A friend of mine tells his employees, “I don’t care how long you put in at the office. Just get the job done and take off.” Oh, and he also gave each staff member a $5,000 holiday bonus. He hasn’t lost an employee in six years!

Not every company could be so generous or flexible. But without staff, businesses won’t survive. An owner of a retail firm in Nevada recently wrote of her experience retaining and attracting valuable staff. The woman, Monica Pappas, said, “Employer-provided health coverage must be a cornerstone. Our staff was polled and they rejected the idea of Medicare for All. They said they preferred having an employer plan, allowing them to visit good doctors with low co-pays and deductibles. In January, we began covering 100% of their health care premiums.”

I’m sure it wasn’t cheap. She might have even had to increase prices to help offset the cost. But a 50-cent increase on a greeting card or a quarter nudge on a burrito or an ice cream cone is not noticeable to the bulk of customers who appreciate good service.  

Technology has changed the workforce.When was the last time you met an elevator operator, a TV repairman, or a payphone maintenance supervisor? But in most industries, employees are still the determinant of how a company functions, and smart employers must find a way to meet their needs.