Business/Economy

Employees have changed since the pandemic. Have employers figured that out yet?

Question:

I always thought I was a good manager and a smart business owner. Not anymore. I feel outgunned by what’s happened with my employees. A third of them have left for “better” jobs. The ones who’ve stayed have made it clear they expect higher wages and to work from home when they want. The small business three of us started in 2016 may go belly-up this year.

The woman we hired to handle human resources and accounting tells us she’s doing her best, but she hires “the best of the worst” applicants just to fill vacancies, which reopen as soon as these employees find an employer willing to pay them more. One of my fellow managers says he doesn’t dare discipline an employee anymore, because if he does, they quit, and it takes weeks to hire a replacement. The three of us have moved from managing our business and seeking new customers to covering our employees’ shifts when they don’t show. This keeps our productivity stable, but just barely.

We can’t raise our prices enough to keep pace with our employees’ higher wages because we can’t afford to lose customers. Our profits this quarter have gone from slim to none. Do employees not care anymore?

Answer:

When the pandemic forced employees to work from home, many discovered they enjoyed working with heightened levels of flexibility and freedom. A large percentage of them don’t want to return to the workplace and give up their autonomy. Many didn’t and started their own businesses or transitioned into the gig economy, never to return as viable job candidates. The number of employees in the labor force is less than before the pandemic started. (HR Magazine, 2021)

Many of the employees who remained in the work force gained “COVID clarity” concerning their life priorities. They became less willing to sacrifice to “get ahead” with their employer, particularly after other employers desperate to fill vacancies wooed them with flexibility, higher wages, and greater benefits if they jumped ship. This altered the employer/employee relationship. You need to reset it.

As an employer, you can’t afford to think “employees.” You can best navigate your way back to a strong business one employee at a time. To engage and motivate each employee, you need to surface what matters to each one: their “sweet spot.” If you’ve not heard this term before, the sweet spot on a bat or racket is the area that makes most effective contact with a ball, resulting in the maximum response for a given amount of effort. To learn each employee’s sweet spot, you need to connect with the employee and learn what matters to them in terms of their work and career. Employers who partner with employees, and meet their expectations, build a thriving workplace in which employees reengage.

If this sounds like it might take considerable effort, compare it with what you now face: stuck in a revolving cycle of hiring employees and watching them leave, hamstrung when you want to discipline work performance problems, and scrambling to cover shifts for disengaged employees.

Stop falling into the “I give up” trap, which occurs when you hire the “best of the worst.” Take more time screening applicants by asking questions such as “If you had to choose between two jobs, what would lead you to choose one over the other?” and listen to the answers. Entice more applicants to apply using strategies outlined in my April 19th ADN column to establish you as an employer of choice.

The bottom line: You can’t manage post-pandemic employees with pre-pandemic management strategies.

Lynne Curry | Alaska Workplace

Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Managing for Accountability”; “Solutions” and “Beating the Workplace Bully” and workplacecoachblog.com. Curry is President of Communication Works Inc. Send your questions to her at workplacecoachblog.com/ask-a-coach or follow her on Twitter @lynnecurry10.

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