One of the hardest things for a business owner to do is be proactive. To even begin to think about being proactive, one would need to be at least caught up and not stretched thin by their required multitasking and covering day-to-day operations when short-staffed. With school ending and vacations beginning, businesses presumably will get even busier, which leaves little time for thinking about tomorrow’s problems today.

However, there is a great need to be proactive for any business owner, in order to plan for what’s ahead. By looking at what we know currently, and where trends are heading we can make some pretty reasonable assumptions to what may come next and plan for those possible eventualities.

I see this so clearly with our current hiring crisis. I’ve written before about the root causes of the hiring crisis, but rather than focusing on the cause of the problem, today let’s focus on the effects a shallow hiring pool will have on us, and think about what may come next.

Businesses are struggling to hire new employees because there aren’t enough unemployed people either wanting to get into the workforce as a whole or wanting to work in a particular industry specifically. One thing this could lead to is industries building a pipeline of employees through skills training and recruiting new graduates, but that takes time.

In the short-term, this could lead to businesses expanding their applicant pool. Instead of looking at only unemployed candidates, they could look at candidates working elsewhere. We could begin to see employee poaching where those employees with the best skills in the industry will become in high demand. Businesses will create recruitment packages to convince them to switch companies. In some high-income niche industries, this is already happening through headhunters, however where owners are desperate it’s happening for lower wage workers too. In one Maine tourism community in 2019, dishwashers were making $19 and $20 per hour because owners were taking them from each other’s restaurants for a buck more per hour.

It’s scary to think we may get to this point, but when facing a binary choice of either closing a business or recruiting employees from a competitor, some businesses will choose the latter. So proactively, what can your business do now to prevent that?

The first thing I would suggest is to do stay interviews with your current employees. This is not an employee review, actually it’s more of an employer review. A stay interview is a meeting with each employee for the express purpose of asking them what their ideas are on what they would like to see the company to do. It’s basically, “What can we do to make this job better or easier for you?”

When employers ask this question, sometimes the answer is a chance for advancement, or a flexible schedule, or a way to do a business procedure differently than they do it now. Sometimes it’s more flex time, or to get a few paid hours to volunteer at a non-profit, sponsoring a project or working from home. Sometimes, just asking this question and letting them know that their voice counts, makes a difference even before any changes can even be implemented.

It’s pretty simple, people want to know they are valued, they want to feel safe, appreciated and listened to. Isn’t that what we all want? Don’t we all want to know that our work matters, and not just to the bottom line, but to the world. Sometimes in these stay interviews, employees will ask for a raise, but one thing we’re noticing with many workers now is it isn’t the wage that makes them stay, it’s often something else.

Let me give you a good example.

I’ve run the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber for five years now, and until one month ago, I was the lone staff person. My wife and I are pregnant, and I knew paternity leave would be tough. I’m the only one who knows how the chamber has done all that we have accomplished over the last half-decade. Half of the procedures for what we do, aren’t on paper, they are in my head.

I went to my board of directors and asked for 2-3 weeks for paternity leave. They said, “We insist on at least four weeks.”

This fall, we’re launching a massive workforce program that I conceived over the last four years, and they have not only approved it but have enthusiastically endorsed it.

At our golf tournament in mid-May, my team surprised me with presents and recognition in front of 80 or so members saying how they appreciate what I do.

What they don’t know is over the last five years, about every six months, I’ve received a phone call from someone asking me to look into a position with their organization that would pay me more, give me a bigger staff and better benefits. I’ve thanked them for asking, and then suggested other people they could contact.

That’s the power of making your employees feel safe, valued and heard. I have a position where I make enough money to fit my needs, my leadership team listens to me and supports my programming ideas. They trust me to pursue what I think is best for the organization and recognize my good work in front of my peers. When I ask for a little time off, they offer more than I ask for because they want me to be happy. Why would I ever leave that?

So ask yourself this: What can you be doing right now for your employees to make them feel valued, appreciated, listened to and safe? Start by asking them their thoughts. Be open to their suggestions. Make the changes you can. Invite loyalty. Recognize their worth. That way, if they get a phone call, they can use my line, “I couldn’t be happier where I am.”

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

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