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Dealing with staffing issues? Go back to the fundamentals

A few months back, my family was coming back from vacation at the beach. On the way back, we stopped at a seafood restaurant right along the water. 

It was an ideal and beautiful location for a restaurant. You could see some people outside on jetskis on the water, the food was great, and of course the view was beautiful. 

But what I remember most was the sign on the door: “We are dealing with staffing shortages. Please be kind to the staff who did actually show up.”

The staffing shortage and high turnover rate is a problem all over the country.

Since February 2020, right before Covid-19 hit the United States, we have about 6-7 million fewer Americans working. In July almost 1 million jobs were added, but there were about 9.4 million job openings. 

We’ve regained about 11 million jobs since the height of the pandemic, but there’s a lot to get done. 

We can have a debate about what needs to happen as a whole for the economy to get back to work safely. 

To add to the difficulty of reopening following a pandemic, we are facing a wave of retirements unlike we’ve ever seen before in the developed world. Baby Boomers are starting to retire, and many more plan to retire in the next few years.

This poses a great opportunity for my industry in staffing and recruiting, but it also poses a great challenge and burden on business owners, hiring managers, and HR managers.

However, what should a small business or a manager do? 

Anytime you are facing a great challenge, you want to focus on the fundamentals of what you do. 

Always be networking. 

Ask current employees for referrals. Some jobs are not always posted. Likewise, some of your best candidates may not be looking for opportunities now. 

Unless you are in a small town, there are probably multiple networking opportunities: Chamber of Commerce groups, BNI groups, civic organizations, and so on. Be sure that not everything you do is in front of a computer. 

Social media and email has taught us that we need more human interaction than ever before. 

Focus on retention more than recruiting.

Sometimes we focus so hard on recruiting that we neglect to take care of our current employees. Be sure you are rewarding them, praising them, giving them projects or deadlines to meet to make their positions more engaging. 

I recently had an employee whose spouse passed away. I was busy with several other tasks, but I made sure to stop and go get a card. Our office signed the card and sent it to her to make sure that she knew we were thinking and praying about her. 

Be attentive to what’s going on in your employees’ lives. Ultimately we need to be doing this as human beings who care for others and are focused first on service anyway. 

Employees realize and understand when they work for a business that understands their needs. 

I recently had a former employee reach out to me. He was working for one of the largest companies in the world. If I mentioned the name of the company, you would recognize it. It’s known for paying its employees handsomely. However, everyone I’ve talked to who works there is overworked and exhausted. 

He contacted us back, and we found another position for him. He had to talk a small pay cut, but he was much happier with the new position.

In April, the U.S. economy added a total of about 266,000 jobs. This was a very disappointing report. Hidden within the report was the high number of employees who had quit: almost 4 million. Imagine if employers had been able to hold onto about just half of those employees. Imagine if they had focused more on retention than on recruiting. The economy could have added a net 2 million or more positions.

We can discuss and debate the ways to retain employees through promotions, higher pay, bonuses, promotions, and other means. 

But retention starts with paying attention to individual employees, training and nurturing people, and constantly working with them. 

To put it simply, retention starts with kindness. 

Market the business and promote it.

One of my colleagues recently discovered a promotional video of a client of ours. The client is a distributor of groceries and has been a great success story in our region. 

As with many success stories, especially nowadays, they have felt some growing pains and have had challenges with staffing. 

Their video spoke about their business and was predominantly targeting potential employees. 

They had no problem gaining and attracting clients. 

So they focused on promoting themselves and setting themselves apart for potential employees. 

Those of us who took marketing in college learned about the “Unique Selling Proposition,” which is focused on informing customers about how your product or service is superior to your competitors. 

If your business is very busy now and you are backed up, you still need to focus on promoting your Unique Selling Proposition. You’re just targeting potential employees, not potential customers. 

Listen to podcasts and rejuvenate

In my first job as a sales manager, I worked constantly. I felt as though my front office was a revolving door, and I barely had time to tackle my next project. My goals were high, and my corporate office was constantly requesting new projects or promotions. 

One evening, as I was washing the dishes, I had a great idea for a promotion. It would take less time and generate more revenue. It was almost too good to be true. During my next meeting with my regional director and CEO, I brought it up. They were intrigued.

Over the years, I found that many of my best ideas came at home while I was working, or when I was reading a book. 

Sometimes at work good ideas come when I meet in a separate room with other colleagues as we hash out challenges. 

I can’t recall having a great idea while staring at emails all day. Emails are for handling day-to-day or urgent transactions, not for tackling broader issues. 

Our bodies and minds were meant to be used and to work, but they weren’t meant be overworked. 

Be sure to take time to rest and to separate yourself from your business.

If you are very busy at work and dealing with staffing challenges, we all understand the vicious cycle. You’re so busy because you have staffing shortages, and you can’t do your regular job because … well, you are short staffed. 

It’s understandable that you’ll need to work longer hours than usual.

But you still need to take time to rest and rejuvenate. During those times, listen to some webinars or podcasts in your industry. Or listen to something about staffing and recruiting. 

I’m in the recruiting industry, but I still need to listen to webinars. 

Often I learn something new, and often I am reminded of something I should have been doing but neglected.

I will certainly add that if you are trying to do a good job, don’t beat yourself up if you keep having challenges. 

When my family and I went into that restaurant at the beach, we had a great experience. It was very relaxing to look outside at the people on the beach. Our meals were excellent. Our waiter was very helpful and made sure we had enough coffee for the rest of our ride home. 

It was a good reminder that despite the staffing shortages, there are still a lot of hard workers, pleasantly and faithfully doing their job.

I hope that the restaurant owners or managers recognized him.

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