March 1, 2022

Dierschow: Understand employee needs to attract, retain workers

Many businesses are struggling to build their teams right now. This is a recurring topic, of course, but magnified by the pandemic and recent social unrest.

The media and politicians like to focus on minimum wage, which is often a source of unfairness and discrimination. But that’s nowhere near the whole story.

Minimum wage attempts to provide a baseline. But it doesn’t apply to many situations, and certainly doesn’t provide a living wage in Northern Colorado.

There are more important factors in peoples’ employment decisions than the take-home pay and benefits. Common ones include:

• Is it important to be home with my kids?

• How am I treated when I need time off for illness, errands and mental breaks?

• Am I motivated by the work I do?

• How am I treated by my boss and co-workers?

• Does this help me on my career path?

• Do I feel physically safe to return to a workplace?

Of course, a couple of new ones have been added lately. For many jobs, flexibility for working from home has become important. And a surprising number of people have decided to leave the dual-income family model.

For employers, the end result is that we have an abundance of unfilled jobs. Entire industries are severely impacted, resulting in supply chain disruptions, outrageous wait times, and lower levels of service. In many cases the customers have returned but employees have not.

But you’re probably not worried about fixing an entire industry. You just want your business to survive and grow toward a successful future. You might envision a “return to normal,” or are perhaps working toward a new structure that will be sustainable for years to come.

All of us are craving stability.

And if you think about it, that’s much of what people want from their employers as well. Good jobs represent stability of income upon which you can build a good life and satisfying career.

How can you provide stability, when your own world is still so unpredictable?

It comes down to the “people factors” I listed above. Sure, certain parts of the job may be unpredictable — you might still be waiting on products that are stuck on a ship somewhere. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help your folks to develop valuable skills. You can provide better performance feedback for each person and develop your management team into better leaders.

You can spend some time truly understanding where each person’s mind is at, and whether you can help them get “unstuck” from difficult decisions they’re dealing with.

You can deeply examine the assumptions you’ve made about working from home and flexible hours. Many companies have successfully shifted to rewarding for results rather than counting work hours or time in the office. For many office-based jobs this can yield significant benefits, but it requires a different way of thinking about managing.

Thoughtful studies have shown that the primary factor for people leaving their jobs is the relationships they have with their immediate supervisors or managers. Before you completely dismiss that as irrelevant because of the pandemic, I’ve found this to be even more true in challenging conditions.

Workers often stayed with companies during previous recessions because they felt their immediate bosses were being fair, honest, and watching out for their long term interests — despite sometimes brutal layoffs and workloads.

The same is happening now, but with different conditions. The health care workers I talk to who are staying put despite incredible challenges aren’t doing that because they’re paid extremely well. It’s often because they’re doing important, soul-filling work, and they are connected to the people they work with.

Much the same is true for teachers, first responders, and food workers. The “soft” factors are just as important as pay and benefits when you’re talking about individual decisions.

What do we learn from this as employers? First, work hard to keep your best people. Understand what each person’s unique needs are and do the best you can to help get there. Second, adapt your culture and management style to attract the kind of people who will build the future you’re looking for.

Yes, you might have to change. And that just might be the best thing to come out of the pandemic and current economic turmoil.

Carl Dierschow is a Small Fish business coach based in Fort Collins, specializing in companies committed to improving society and the world. His website is www.smallfish.us. 

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