Three Ways to Win the Workers Back

Traditional Employment is in Trouble

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that 4.3 million Americans, or 2.9% of the entire workforce, quit their jobs in August. From the U.K. to France and other EU countries, to China and elsewhere, this trend continues globally, with very few countries escaping the loss of creative and productive employees. 

Even though the economy is doing well and there are thousands of unfilled jobs, restaurants, museums, service industries, manufacturing companies, and professional offices are having a hard time finding employees. Incentives don’t seem to make much impact, nor has the elimination of government handouts. Everywhere I go, I see posters and signs advertising open positions and increased hourly pay.

Economists, academics, psychologists, and government officials are all trying to understand why this is happening. Are people quitting to change careers or earn more money?  Are they so unhappy that they will forego a paycheck? I suspect numerous drivers are pushing people to quit, including years of pent-up frustration, the inability of organizations to adapt to the technologies and innovations that have made it possible for people to work in very different ways, and the savings they have built up during the pandemic.

Disrupted Job Market

Most do not understand how deeply the job market is changing. We are in the midst of a global redefinition of what a job is and how it should be performed. Artificial intelligence, robotics, and the virtual world it have made possible, combined with video technologies and virtual presence capabilities, mean that thousands of traditional jobs will disappear permanently.

The pandemic is a game-changer and has influenced how people think about their own lives, careers, and families.  The Baby Boomer generation and the older Gen Xers, closer to retirement, are now more willing to try something that allows them freedom of choice and time to focus on their families.

For younger people, the age of the entrepreneur has dawned.  They see low barriers to entry based more on being creative than on having money or high levels of education. They are confident and optimistic about working for themselves or about joining the gig workforce and offering their services or skills for a fee. Many find this a better way to feel fulfilled than the daily grind of going to work for an employer and being forced into systems and rigidity they do not like.

These younger workers are skilled, agile, flexible, independent. They are not worried about security which they see embedded in their skills and ability to learn.  They find work or projects through their social and professional networks and are always ready for a new experience.

But many corporations and recruiters are in denial.  They will not agree that a significant number of people feel this way and are confident that over time most people will return to the traditional office and working style, albeit perhaps slightly modified.  

But forward-looking, realistic organizations and recruiters will recognize the trends, and there is a lot they can do to continue to get the skills they need without hiring back everyone who has left.

Three Ways to Win Workers Back

Focus on developing and embracing a more complex workforce model

The traditional workforce, primarily composed of permanent workers on forty-hour workweeks and eight-hour workdays, is fading rapidly.  It is being replaced with a far more diverse and, in many ways, more complex workforce made up of a variety of people depending on skills, needs, and timing.  Recruiters will need to recruit gig workers, temporary ones, as well as consultants and project contractors with ease.  They will need flexible compensation schemes and far less stringent policies than exist in most organizations today. A modern workforce might look like the one illustrated below.

Offer Even the Permanent Workforce Choices

People want to be empowered to make decisions, to be free from bureaucracy and administrivia.  They want choices on when and where they work. They know they have a lot to contribute and are frustrated when seemingly meaningless rules and schedules are put into place with no consultation or discussion.

One of the benefits of working remotely has been the ability to more or less choose when you work. Employees can spend time in the day with kids or their spouses and work in the evening or early morning. They are not interrupted by meetings. The key is feeling in control of your own schedule and not being forced to march to someone else’s drummer.

Firms like Brazil’s Semco are run as democracies, and employees have the power to decide almost everything.  For the past few decades, this, along with Gortex in the U.S., have been storybook examples of how organizations may look as we move into this century. The hallmarks for success include participation in decision-making, freedom over schedules and work assignments, and fair, transparent, and equitable pay based on contribution.

Create and foster a culture of innovation, excitement, and growth

The list of organizations that have little to no trouble hiring great people includes a few innovative larger firms, many start-ups, and smaller firms developing products that focus on health care, helping the elderly, improving the environment, or breaking conventional models like Tesla.

Talented people with highly needed skills seek out firms like these, and that is why the employment market is skewing toward firms that combine what is seen as an exciting or socially positive service or product with policies that allow people to use their creativity with minimal oversight and work wherever they want and whenever it makes sense.

We have lost workers because of our inability to adapt to the Internet, artificial intelligence, and the ease of connecting globally. As we move to a far more dispersed, technically connected, global workforce, many of our usual tools, incentives, and work styles will need to be discarded and new ones put into play.

Recruiters can begin this process by embracing the huge variety and scope of tools that now exist to make your life and the lives of candidates better. These, combined with new HR practices and a willingness to offer people choices in how they work, will end the worker and skills shortages.

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