Want to hire more people? You aren't alone. Unemployment is low, and some industries' bottom lines are suffering from a worker shortage.
Worker shortages can be extreme in some cases. For instance, the trucking industry's trade group American Trucking Association reported a "driver shortfall" that's projected to reach 174,000 in 2028 compared to 2017's record high of 50,000. For years, there's been a nursing shortage. And, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are at least 232,000 open jobs in the construction industry at the time of this article.
In fact, a 2018 study by the global organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry, which was based on several different types of economic modeling, concluded that the United States faces a critical shortage of skilled workers that could cost the country $1.748 trillion in lost revenue by 2030, equivalent to 6 percent of the country's economy.
—Lisa Guida, CEO, Why Leap Alliance
So if you're facing a worker shortage and are looking for ideas to deal with it efficiently, you may want to try these approaches.
1. Take a look at how you're recruiting.
When you tell people about a job opening, do you give the facts or do you offer a little excitement?
“One immediate action companies can take to attract talent is to take a look at their job descriptions. My research shows that most are awful, so they don't attract the top folks," says Lisa Guida, a Branford, Connecticut-based leadership coach and CEO of Why Leap Alliance, which focuses on executive development.
Guida cites an example of a company that posted a job ad for a “Master of First Impressions."
“It was such an exciting description of the importance of this title that it set the tone for applicants coming to their office," Guida says. “Halfway through reading the ad, I hollered down to my husband, 'Fred, we are moving to Arizona!'"
Ultimately Guida didn't apply for the job—she eventually realized the position was for a part-time receptionist.
The ad didn't lie—a receptionist does indeed offer a first impression to anyone coming into the office—and obviously a job posting should never offer false information or impressions. But Guida's point is that you may be discouraging employees from applying if your company doesn't display some character and personality at the outset.
“Companies have to first have a great story for what and why they are doing what they're doing—and then enthusiastically bring it to life. People will then be seeking it out as a place to work," she says.
2. Remove the non-essential tasks—it may help with your worker shortage.
Do you have staff spending time doing important but administrative tasks that anyone else could be doing? You could hire people (either temporarily or full-time) to do that work, freeing up your vital staffers to do the work that your company depends on.
Laurie Kahn, the CEO of Media Staffing Network in Scottsdale, Arizona, makes a good case for bringing in new people to handle these tasks for your star employees.
“One of the areas that is so hard to find qualified talent today is sales," Kahn says. "In many cases, the role of sales has grown so that any one person is responsible for handling all aspects of the order."
That's an awful lot of work for one person.
But Kahn says that a company's core staff might flourish if you can bring someone in to handle the internal administrative work that supports salespeople but doesn't actually involve sales.
“Adding in this type of person versus another seller, which is almost impossible to find, costs much less and allows the sellers to focus on closing business," she says.
Kahn points out another bonus of this tactic that may help with a worker shortage. Bringing in junior hires to do less essential duties can serve as a training program. Hopefully these junior hires will be ready to move into the more skilled work when the time comes.
3. Schedule kindly—and remember your employees are people, not slots to fill.
If you have a certain vision of how you want your employees to work, you may have to rethink your ideas. For instance, maybe you really want everyone working from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., just because. Or maybe you'd prefer your employees not to take a lot of breaks because you're money-conscious, and it just seems wrong for people to be relaxing when you're paying them.
Nobody's saying that you should be offering your employees a four-hour break every day—and no employee expects that. But if you're flexible about when and how work is done, you may find that it's easier to attract and retain employees, says Jeff Porten, a Philadelphia-based IT consultant and author of the book Take Control of Your Productivity.
“The problem with many management styles is that they end up having counter-productive productivity effects," Porten says. “If you insist on workers punching clocks and timing their lunches and breaks to the minute, you're not allowing for natural ebb and flow of their individual peak periods. If someone works poorly in the morning and best during optional late hours, strict scheduling will ensure [that you're] getting 20 percent of their best efforts."
And he adds that working late should be optional, if you really want to get what you're paying for and not make your worker shortage worse.
“People reach flow states only when they are actively interested in their work," Porten says. “Making long hours mandatory means that even interesting tasks are under the gun, and anyone who resents the loss of their personal time will lose interest and performance capability."
What if you have to ask your employees to work late hours or over some weekends, because you can't find new people to add to your staff?
“It must be compensated in some way or the worker won't do their best work," Porten says. “What's gained from quantity is less than what's lost from quality."
4. Offer a work environment that puts your employees first.
To counter a worker shortage, you need to be thinking of everything that your employees might like and try to offer it—within reason.
Can you automate the worst tasks, freeing up time for your employees to do more essential and interesting work? If your employees value training to keep their skills sharp, could you look into getting them access and paying for it? (Having a better trained staff member only helps you.)
You may not be able to raise everyone's wages, but you should try to raise everyone's spirits by making your business a fun or interesting place to work, where people feel that they have a future and aren't stuck in a dead-end job.
Granted, offering a dynamic, positive and upbeat work environment doesn't mean you'll have people lining up at your doors to work for you. (When you're in a true shortage, job applicants don't materialize out of thin air.) But at least you won't give your existing employees a reason to leave. And if you're working people into the ground for little reward, your employees likely won't want to stick around.
After all, as Porten says, “There's no such thing as giving 110 percent…Everyone gets occasional bursts of 100 percent, but not sustained 100 percent, any more than a weight lifter can do sets eight hours a day."
Read more articles on hiring & HR.