Five Ways to Tackle the Labor Shortage

The HR landscape is changing. Here’s how to keep up.

February 14, 2022

Workplace Teamwork

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The labor shortage in the U.S. is still impacting businesses, with January’s unemployment rate at 3.9%, changing little from December’s 4.2%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A recent survey by The Conference Board found 1 in 10 surveyed intend to leave their organizations in the next six months, citing better pay (45%), career advancement (39%) and the ability to work from anywhere (28%) as top reasons for leaving. Plus, quitting is contagious in the workplace.

According to the New York Times, “The problems are daunting. There’s the existential angst felt by some employees stuck at home toiling on tasks they see as being of little value. Burned-out workers are seeking healthier work-life balance, demanding companies provide more flexible arrangements. Managers are struggling to adapt their styles after a sudden and unexpected experiment in remote work. On top of that, the sluggish pace of demographic growth in the U.S. means that the pool of working-age labor is shrinking, compounding worker shortages.”

To navigate the shifting world of human resources, the Times interviewed five management experts for advice on how companies can reinvent ways they compensate and manage workers to stay competitive in a post-pandemic world.

More proactive manager: Dorie Clark, marketing-strategy consultant and author of “The Long Game,” says that much of the time, the only thing standing between an employee staying and leaving is a really good manager.

“There needs to be a disproportionate emphasis placed on identifying managers who actually prioritize company culture and excel in making people feel part of a team,” Clark said. “Emotionally aware managers will be rewarded and promoted, and transactional managers who may have coasted by in the past will now need to learn new skills or else risk their people leaving in droves.”

Teams decide compensation: There is a shift moving from the hub-and-spoke [paradigm] to team competencies, where the team owns each other’s success and failures, leading to shared compensations and rewards around common goals, according to Keith Ferrazzi, founder and chairman of Ferrazzi Greenlight, a global consulting firm, and co-author of “Competing in the New World of Work.”

“The reason we don’t do that today is that the leader wants a single accountable party for each component. But compensation could be rewarded against a shared mission that we’ve achieved, not around the maximization of our individual goals within that mission,” Ferrazzi said. “Why would compensation only be predicated on someone’s ability to manage their bosses’ expectations when that person’s being a jackass to their peers?”

A gray-collar strategy: Training money goes mostly to the 25-to-35 age bracket, but now people are living longer, and highly-skilled mature workers are left untapped, says Laurie Ruettimann, HR consultant and author of “Betting on You.”

“Leading organizations are not just looking at Gen Z and Millennials—they’re also adding more skills to the older workers’ palette through either reverse mentoring or through formal educational reimbursement,” said Ruettimann. “They’re also looking at taking someone who has worked maybe 25 years in finance and giving them opportunities … to go work in human resources or logistics.”

Better time off: Laszlo Bock, chief executive and co-founder of human-resources startup Humu and former HR chief at Google, says that structured time off, where companies collectively take time off is an up-and-coming benefit because workers won’t feel the need to look at email or check in on their teams because everyone is off.

“There’s something powerful about giving everyone time off at the same time, during the workweek. That allows people to do things like go to the grocery store when nobody else is there, or not have to wait in line at the post office or take their car in for service. When you make time off predictable and structured and make it on a workday, it actually has a disproportionate benefit,” said Bock.

More than just a holiday party: In a remote work environment, companies may want to use scarce days when people are in the office to build community and have serendipitous encounters, says Donald Sull, senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

“Companies that do a good job of organizing these events have lower attrition during the first six months, and that’s been true during the Great Resignation as well. … If you only have your employees in the office for two or three days a week, how in a time-efficient manner, to build that sense of camaraderie?” said Sull.

Are you looking to hire? NACS has conducted extensive research on what people want in jobs to help retailers communicate the context of jobs by showcasing how they tie into what applicants care about most and what they treasure from previous jobs. Additionally, NACS Magazine dived into how to hire the Gen Z workforce—by understanding what this generation wants from an employer.

The pandemic has increased anxiety and tension for everyone, especially those on the frontlines. NACS Magazine discusses into this serious topic in “Mental Health in the Workplace” in the September 2021 issue.