Some people may read this title and bristle — it sounds a little too touchy-feely for some. Some employers think that paying a wage and offering any benefits should garner absolute loyalty. Some employers look at employment as purely transactional. I pay you a wage and benefits and you show up. That’s not wrong, in that, yes that is how it used to work. Some employees still adhere to that ethos. What I’m saying is this: if you’re not thinking about your employee’s safety and security you will struggle to recruit the help you need today, tomorrow and in the months and years ahead. Several recent reports revealed some numbers that bear this out.

For those that missed the August jobs report released earlier this month, it wasn’t good. In June, the U.S. added 962,000 jobs and then added another 1.05 million in July, driven in part by hospitality sector job growth. The August numbers were 235,000 new jobs, down 75% from the month prior. The hospitality industry showed zero net gain in August. More alarming to some analysts was the number of people currently not employed who want a job, which fell by 835,000 people.

This figure literally means, that over 800,000 unemployed people have decided to not even look for work. Some of those may be students going back to school. Some of those may be workers nearing retirement age who decided they will forgo jumping into one last job for the last 12-18 months and just retire now. Some of those are likely seasonal workers who may have been let go when their seasonal business closed earlier than expected and they don’t have time to start a new job that will just end in a few weeks anyway. However, many of these are assuredly not seasonal workers- they are regular year-round employees who decided to take a step back- but why?

Here’s another example: there is a national school bus driver shortage. According to report I saw in Axios, one expert says over half of all bus drivers are over the age of 65. A recent poll conducted by three national pupil transportation organizations found that the majority of the school districts (51%) said their need was “severe” or “desperate” while 78% agreed the problem is continually getting worse. To summarize, half of the respondents said their need is “severe/desperate” while the majority of those who didn’t answer that way, admitted it’s heading that way. This means only 22 out of every 100 school districts have an adequate number of bus drivers.

These are just two industry examples, used to illustrate a deeper point, as there are shortages in nearly every industry right now. However, in order to find what is happening to all employees, purely for the sake of this discussion, let’s dive into these two sub-groups further. One thing bus drivers and hospitality workers have in common is that they want to feel safe and secure- all employees want this.

“Safe” is shorthand these days for “COVID-safe,” and yes that is a concern. If half of the bus drivers are over 65, you would have to imagine that some of them are a bit hesitant to be around unvaccinated kids from unvaccinated homes- especially if the school district doesn’t have a mask mandate, or they are a driver in a state like Florida, which bans mask mandates. To that same end, servers can’t be blamed for being anxious to greet guests from around the country who may or may not agree with vaccinations. Chefs interact with the servers in close quarters and could catch whatever the servers catch and pass it around the kitchen. We can’t be surprised when people with serious medical concerns don’t want to put themselves at risk of possible exposure.

Now let’s look at “feeling secure,” which is shorthand for job security. What happened to the bus drivers when the country shifted to stay-at-home, online learning due to the pandemic? The buses didn’t run anymore. What do you think it did to those drivers?

What happened to servers and hospitality workers when we shifted to curbside to go? Restaurants still needed some cooks, but definitely not full serving and bartending staff. What happened to their hours? What about lodging employees once travel restrictions hit- how many hours were they getting at the front desk, for special events and even cleaning the rooms?

Many of these employees got displaced not by bad business practices, but by the worldwide health pandemic. Some went on unemployment, but (and this may be shocking to some) many people don’t want to only make unemployment. So, they jumped to other industries that are more “pandemic-proof” if you will. We can’t fault them for that. They didn’t feel safe in their work environment or secure that their job would be there if another pandemic hit.

Does that make these industries bad bets for employees? Absolutely not. Because as I said before this is happening in every industry, these are just two examples. Any industry not looking out for the safety and security of their employees is facing this. I just chose two industries people could relate to, but you’ll find the same concerns in construction, healthcare, retail and everywhere else.

What can you do about it? Start with communication. Go out of your way to check on employees to see how they’re doing. Ask them if the right safety protocols are in place. Ask them their opinion on how things could be better. Discuss what happens to them if state restrictions happen again. Make a plan with them so they know.

Do whatever you can to show them how much you appreciate them, whether that is with a wage increase, with schedule flexibility, shutting down for a week for them or any other support you can give. Keeping an employee is so much easier than finding a new one — make them the offer that no one else can touch.

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

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