If you’ve talked to business operators recently, you probably heard some version of the same complaint. They can’t get workers back.It doesn’t matter if they run a retail / hospitality business or a white-collar operation. Many businesses are having trouble luring workers back, albeit for different reasons.Those who operate a retail-type business seem to be the most annoyed. In fact, “angered” may be a more accurate description.
One owner of a housekeeping franchise in the San Fernando Valley told me that demand has never been greater; his phone rings like never before. But when he picks up that phone to call in workers, he can’t get an answer.
As he talked on, his tone turned darker. He feels he’s missing a rare opportunity to expand his business. If only he could get workers, he could overcome some of the losses he suffered during the pandemic. But he can’t get employees because “the government’s working against us,” as he put it.To be sure, the expanded unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic have helped many workers keep it together. But they now are curtailing the comeback of business and our broader economy. We’ve all heard stories about how fast food restaurants are offering $50 just for an interview and how others are offering starting positions at $20 an hour plus a bonus and they still can’t staff up.
There are other reasons for workers staying home, of course. Schools have not been open and child care is difficult to get. Some are scared of the Delta variant.
And I can’t help but wonder if many workers in the retail and hospitality trade are reluctant to return to a workplace that is understaffed. If a business is completely open but only 75 percent or so staffed, as one Valley hotel operator said recently, that means the workers who do show up and punch a timeclock may walk into a workplace that’s overwhelming. And they may have to face customers grumpy from lack of attention.
All that considered, it is obviously tempting for many workers to stay home and collect an unemployment check. And that has employers angry and feeling betrayed by the government.Having said all that, however, the situation for retail and hospitality businesses appears – let’s hope – to be one that will end fairly soon. Schools are reopening, if haltingly, and the end is coming for pandemic-boosted unemployment checks. Many retail and hospitality workers will filter back and fill the jobs. Eventually.But for operators of office-based businesses, the prospect of getting workers to return is trickier. Various surveys say white collar workers are reluctant to return to the workplace, at least full time. Many say they are more productive working from home. And they know their bosses know that. Yet managers want them back. A survey put out a couple of week ago from the Robert Half staffing firm said that once the COVID-19-related restrictions completely lift, 69 percent of Los Angeles area managers expect to require their teams to work fully in office. Only 23 percent expect to have a hybrid system.
Now that doesn’t bode well. There’s a conflict looming. After the pandemic clears, it appears about 7 out of 10 bosses will insist that their office workers must return to work. But their employees are reluctant to do so. One recent survey from Digital.com, a small business website, said 14 percent of workers will quit if ordered back.The good news: There is common ground here. Managers of office workers will pretty much have to adopt at least some remote work, like it or not. And the employees will have to accept some time in the office, like that or not.
That not only seems like a rational compromise, it appears to be borne out in some surveys. According to that Digital.com poll, 55 percent of those surveyed said they would be more willing to go back to the office if employers would meet them part way by providing such benefits as pet days in the office or relaxing the dress codes.Employees and business operators alike are going to have to practice some flexibility in the post-COVID workplace. Like it or not.Charles Crumpley is editor and publisher of the Business Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.