We need to talk about hiring.

There’s a lot I’m hearing, seeing, and reading about the issues business owners have with their staffing levels right now, and why they think that’s happening. I tell business owners they have to run their business as they see fit, but I do have some suggestions that I urge you to consider.

Let’s start here — this is a 400-word post I put on my personal Facebook page on April 27 that received a lot of positive reactions and the most shares of any post I’ve ever written:

There has been a narrative created that people who aren’t working right now are lazy. That they are “freeloaders” or “fraudulent.”
Just so we’re clear:
– If I had a spouse, child or parent who was immuno-comprised living in my house, and I was asked to go to work during a pandemic and risk bringing home a disease that could kill them, I don’t know if I could take the job.
– If I couldn’t find a rental property at a reasonable travel distance to the job, I couldn’t take the job
– If I didn’t have a vehicle to get to the job that’s 20 miles away, and there was no public transportation to get there, I couldn’t take that job
– If my childcare costs were going to be more expensive then the wages I make doing the work, I wouldn’t take the job
– If my child needed medicine through MaineCare so they can live, and the job doesn’t offer the same type of benefits, I wouldn’t take the job
– If our area doesn’t have the broadband infrastructure for me to work remotely, I couldn’t do the job.
There are a whole bunch of reasons why people may be out of the workforce and not jumping back in right now. I know you’re frustrated that you can’t find people right now, but to paint them all with a broad brush of laziness, or fraud, is unbelievably unkind.
Are there people taking advantage of the system right now? Sure, of course there are. There isn’t a system that has been created that someone hasn’t tried to corrupt or take advantage of. Period.
Read that again.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have systems that help those that use them properly because a few people manipulate the system. People take advantage of the stock market every day, should we not have a stock market then? People take advantage of return policies at retail stores, so should we not have refunds anymore? Some people manipulate college scholarship programs, so no more scholarships?
Be more kind. Empathize with others.
Let’s try to solve some of these barrier issues so that we can get more employees out of that group of unemployed people that want to work. And let’s not be too busy to solve these barrier issues, because ignoring them is what’s made them get worse.

Enhanced unemployment isn’t the only thing to blame — nor is laziness — but they are the easiest to blame. We have structural issues that have caused these barriers, and legislators and business groups are working on solutions, but these solutions will take time. These issues have compounded over time, and to solve them will take more than just a snap of the fingers.

Until then, be aware of how you present yourself to potential employees. When you blame enhanced unemployment or laziness on your personal Facebook page or with a sign at your business- the world sees it. Now, you don’t only have a hiring problem, you also have a marketing problem.

Ask yourself, how does blaming people that “don’t want to work” help you recruit new employees? What person looking for a job says, “That person called me a freeloader because I couldn’t afford the childcare to work until recently, so let me jump to go work for them.” You’re not helping your business when you do that.

If you want to put a sign up in your business, may I suggest something like this: “Thanks for your patience as we’re a bit understaffed right now. Our incredible team is working hard to keep up with everything, but sometimes the service takes a little longer. If you’d be interested in joining our team, you can get an application at the counter. Some of our best employees are our beloved patrons. Thanks for coming back, always good to see you.”

Lastly, let’s not pretend there’s a single reason why people aren’t taking your job right now. There are aspects we haven’t even examined that are culprits. Some people who were in industries that were affected by COVID-19 shutdowns have opted for industries that are “pandemic-proof,” or less prone to being shut down. It’s not unreasonable for someone to think, “I never want to be in a position again where if people don’t come to my service job, I can’t make money, or even get hours.”

What about parents who have childcare issues, or have school children still going to school remotely from home, so they gravitate towards jobs that can be done remotely? Our latest survey showed that 1 in 4 employers will be continuing with remote work spaces, which is 2-3 times more than the number of companies that were even considering remote work prior to the pandemic. That’s a dramatic shift that we’re hardly discussing right now, because it’s easier to just blame other things.

Finally, we have to look at vaccinations. If you’re a business owner complaining about people not wanting to leave their house and work, but you also refuse to get the vaccine so people can feel safe working outside their house, you must recognize the hypocrisy of that. I’m not saying you must get the vaccine — after all, it’s your choice — but potential
employees also have the choice to not work for you if they don’t feel safe, regardless if it’s COVID-related or not.

Cory King is the executive director of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber.

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