April was set to bring about a wave of new and returning workers to the workforce, signaling a much-anticipated end to the instability brought to the workforce by COVID-19. With April come and gone, there were some surprising and disappointing findings. The droves of new and returning employees we expected simply did not turn out. Of the estimated 8.6 million jobs that must be recovered in COVID’s wake only 266,000 jobs were recovered, a steep turn from the over 700,000 in March.
As 2021 continues, small businesses will surely have to face these realities, as the Manifest study noted that a projected 51% of small businesses will need to hire new employees this year. What can these small businesses be aware of to help them bypass the seeming “worker shortage” that is affecting our nation? Considering the complications surrounding wages, family obligations, and worker satisfaction are paramount to creating and maintaining a workplace that attracts great employees.
WAGES AND BENEFITS As always, offering a competitive wage is necessary in securing highly competent and dedicated employees. This new hiring lull may be in part due to the COVID-19 unemployment payments, offering an additional $300 in unemployment weekly aid during the height the pandemic. This rise in unemployment allowed recipients to earn around $15 an hour when accounting in the average state benefits ($318/week according to the Labor Department). This is a huge leap for many entry level workers, encouraging many of them to use those funds to gain some financial stability during the stress of COVID-19.
We understand that many small businesses don’t have flexibility with their employee pay rates. As you position your business for hiring, identify what non-monetary benefits your business offers. The need for a strong insurance package is a huge motivator for many seeking a job. Your workplace can offer strong benefits in that area. Consider the following questions: Does your business insurance package appeal to various types of employees? What is the leave policy like in your office? Do you promote added incentives for employee success? Are you highly flexible with time off? What makes your company stand out as a special environment for employees? These differences signify other areas of value that can act as an addition to the compensation you offer, making your workplace more attractive to potential employees.
Family obligations can be one of the biggest stressors for potential employees to address in the hiring process. Not only do these needs affect what wages an employee will consider, but it comes with additional complications around the issues of childcare and time off. These responsibilities are largely falling on working woman, as April’s job gains went largely to men, as the number of women looking for work or employed fell by 64,000. Could this be due to the household responsibilities as daily childcare through school is wrapping up for the summer? Similarly, many parents, men and woman alike, are uncomfortable working in person as vaccines numbers rising but not close to the projected 80% needed to reach herd immunity.
Many small businesses are champions of flexibility with these kinds of workers. As an employer, do you have offerings that can help these kinds of employees navigate these challenges? Does your workplace have remote positions? When hiring employees, it is important to highlight the ways you plan to aid a potential employee with these needs.
Lastly, we can learn much through the lens of the psychological impact of COVID-19. The risk of burnout has risen swiftly in the last year, affecting not only frontline workers, but those who must deal with the public in entry level positions. A 2020 Flexjob survey noted that 40% of respondents had experience burnout during the pandemic. This coupled with the additional money offered from unemployment during the pandemic has given many people the space to take stock of their current position and what they hope to do in the future. Still, we know that employees that feel valued and satisfied in their workplace tend to stay at higher rates and bring greater gains for their companies.
The small business community is not immune to these challenges, particularly as they may tend to overwork the smaller employee pool they have. How can your workplace make sure that the psychological impact of COVID-19 isn’t too much for your employees to manage? Are you taking regular stock of employee wellbeing, and offering flexibility when it comes to managing their individual and professional needs?
Overall, small businesses are going to be hit with some challenges as they reopen and find they need to hire more employees. As you consider the three above findings, make sure that you are taking stock of areas of improvement for your business, and how you can keep your current employees engaged and satisfied with their workplace so your business can ultimately thrive.