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The great resignation: 8 ways small businesses can cope

Ring Central Blog

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By now, we’ve all heard about the Great Resignation. Droves of workers lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and the necessary shutdowns, but when businesses started to open up again, a lot of people didn’t go back to work. 

Small business owners are struggling to keep operations running smoothly in the midst of this unprecedented hiring crisis. According to the most recent National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) monthly jobs report, 51% of small business owners had job openings they couldn’t fill in the last month. That’s a record high for the second consecutive month.

Perhaps even more troubling is the fact that 92% of employers trying to hire had few or no qualified candidates to apply.

What’s going on in the labor market? Why is it so hard to find employees right now? Let’s dive in:


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Understanding the great resignation: What’s causing the hiring crisis?

There’s a lot of debate about what is contributing to the current American labor shortage. Everything from expanded unemployment benefits to a great migration among working-aged adults have all been thrown into the pot as possible causes for the hiring crisis.

Here’s a look at some of the more popular theories: 

Early retirement played a huge role

According to a recent investigation of the numbers, around 60% of the people who left the workforce actually retired. Around 1 million of them were on pace to retire anyway during the pandemic… and another 1.5 million retired early.

This impact can’t be ignored, but there’s not much employers can do to recoup this loss. Luckily, there’s a huge new generation entering work over the next few years: Gen Z.

How to hire Gen Z: 11 strategies for small businesses

Expanded unemployment benefits from the pandemic targeted as a potential contributor 

When employers first began to feel the crunch of having too many jobs and too few workers to fill them, many analysts pointed to expanded unemployment benefits stemming from the pandemic as the cause. 

However, as states have opened back up and expanded unemployment benefits have come to an end, the great migration of workers expected to return to the workforce simply has not materialized. 

Richard Wahlquist, president of the American Staffing Association, the country’s largest recruitment-industry group, told Bloomberg: “People who have been on the sidelines have by and large stayed on the sidelines. Nothing has changed in regard to the benefits that have fallen off and the need for people continues to grow.”

So… why is that? 

An increased focus on quality of life for current and future employees

According to our hybrid work research, 55% of employees today expect at least a hybrid work week, if not an entirely remote working experience:  

The state of hybrid work in a post-pandemic world

67%

of businesses don't plan to return to five days a week in the office

55%

of employees expect a hybrid work environment going forward

60%

of businesses report steady productivity in their switch to hybrid work

The pandemic shutdowns, working from home, and tragic personal illnesses and losses have made a lot of people rethink every aspect of their lives: their personal relationships, their psychological health, even their careers. 

Many workers saw how their companies, which were strictly in-office before 2020, adapted successfully to a 100% remote environment, thanks to helpful cloud communications tools. As a result, a staggering number of employees have no interest in going back to the office every day. 

Who can blame them when that often means precious personal time lost to long commutes? In a market that heavily favors employees, they can afford to pick and choose the jobs that offer what they need to maintain their improved quality of life. 

Americans’ saving spree a possible reason for fewer job seekers

In addition to unemployment benefits, stimulus checks and social safety nets have helped many Americans not only weather the storm of the pandemic but thrive financially. Reduced spending and increased saving behaviors have put some workers on a trajectory for greater financial freedom to be a bit more picky about their choice of jobs as shutdowns end and reopenings occur.

The great migration

According to continuing surveys from the Pew Research Center, Americans have been on the move since the pandemic began. Though originally most moves were motivated by the pandemic itself, more recent Pew surveys revealed that many are moving now in response to financial conditions in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Regardless of the reason for the great migration, the fact remains that it has left many businesses with unexpected job openings and little way to fill them.

Concerns about the Delta variant add pressure to a worker-leaning labor market

For potential job seekers, job searching is taking a back seat to health concerns in the wake of the Delta variant. Many would-be workers are hesitant to return to work, especially those in service industries such as retailers and restaurant workers who will arguably be more exposed to potential health risks than workers in non-service industries.

Added to that are personal matters such as childcare obligations, elder care for parents who may have been displaced by the pandemic, and other family factors.

8 ways to attract and retain employees during the hiring crisis

The causes for the labor shortage are varied and complex, but small businesses can still find workers for their open positions by following some strategic hiring tips.

1. Offer hybrid or fully remote work options whenever possible 

In a worker-driven market, employees have the power to choose a work environment that gives them what they want and need. And today, the numbers show that hybrid or remote work is what the people want.

The good news: you’ve probably done some level of hybrid work for the last year and a half! And there are lots of cloud communications tools that can help you make it permanent. 

Communication and teamwork are key when working with hybrid teams. That’s why it’s important to invest in a powerful tool that’s easy to use and keeps everyone in the loop. RingCentral, for example, combines team messaging, video conferencing, and your business phone all in one app that you can access from any desktop or mobile device: 

remote tools are a must to combat the hiring crisis

2. Rethink your hiring process

If the coronavirus pandemic has a silver lining, it was that many businesses learned just how agile they could be in times of uncertainty. Use your newfound agility and resilience superpower for good by innovating your hiring processes. Here’s how:

How to recruit & hire remote employees

3. Institute a robust referral program

Do you have employees that have stayed with your company for years? Build and promote a strong employee referral program to incentivize current employees to become advocates for your brand in their own social networks. Who better than a loyal employee to draw new workers to your business? 

Make sure that the employee gets a referral bonus and the new hire gets a signing bonus to seal the deal. A well-designed referral program will more than pay for itself in terms of the quality of new hires you may find among friends of your current valued employees.

4. Consider paid internships

It is a strange time for high school students, college students, business school graduates, and recent graduates. They are entering a working world where the old rules no longer seem to apply. With many more seasoned workers also leaving jobs and looking for new job opportunities, these newbie workers may find themselves at a disadvantage. 

Providing a paid internship to new graduates can help you in several ways. First, you will benefit from being able to fill a position with an actual worker—no small thing in the current worker shortage.

Second, a paid internship can be like a dress rehearsal for a new worker—one that will help you evaluate the cultural fit and skill levels of the applicant. You may find your next employee of the month with a paid intern program.

5. Get creative with employee benefits

Many small businesses consider staffing and labor expenses to be their largest concern. If you fall into that category, you may find it difficult to compete in the wage arena. But that doesn’t mean you need to throw in the towel. 

You can still find ways to offer benefits without seriously sacrificing the black in your bottom line. Think creatively about what employees really want and try to accommodate them. For example, perhaps a new hire would be more motivated by a Holiday Saving Program than an extra 40 cents per hour. Or perhaps candidates would be more attracted to your company if you offer home office perks or an extra PTO day here and there.

The key to developing creative benefits packages is to get to know your workers and discover the things that they value most. Although you do not have the advantage of knowing your potential new hires, your current employees can likely give you a good idea about what motivates them to work for you every day.

8 affordable strategies to improve customer retention

6. Offer a stellar training program

As workers reevaluated their career paths over the past year, many decided that a change was in order. This needn’t be a bad thing for your business. Offer a strong training program to motivate new employees to reach their full potential with your company.

Training need not take place in a specific physical location. With a communication and collaboration platform that includes video conferencing and messaging, you can develop a training program that can be consumed from anywhere at any time.

7. Communicate with transparency for a strong distributed team

The massive changes in both personal and professional life have left many workers feeling isolated and unsteady in their careers. Look for ways to reassure potential candidates that your business is on solid ground and in growth mode. 

Open and honest communication can go a long way toward attracting workers that are genuinely looking for a way to make a difference. Where better to do that than with your company as you continue to grow? 

Don’t hesitate to point out everything you do to invest in your workforce. You may not be able to compete at an enterprise level on wages, but you can make an honest argument that working with a smaller business can afford new hires with more opportunities for growth in the long run. 

8. Address health, safety, and personal concerns upfront

Understandably, some job seekers may be hesitant about coming back into the workforce when the pandemic is not yet fully contained. You can alleviate many of the health and safety concerns job seekers may have by providing clear, direct communication regarding any steps you are taking to ensure the safety of your workers.

If you work in an industry that requires a worker’s physical presence in a set location, be sure you have policies and signage in place to address cleanliness and health in the workplace. If you are able to offer a certain amount of schedule flexibility, consider staggering working hours to allow for appropriate social distancing. 

Ditch in-person conferences for video conferences where possible. Set up an internal communications channel to help employees collaborate without congregating at the proverbial water cooler. Model appropriate health choices yourself, and be sure your managers and frontline employees do the same.

The hiring crisis: Where should you start? 

As we’ve shared, there are lots of ways you can pivot to a more welcoming employee environment for better retention. It’s also possible your workforce is really unique, and you’re already thinking of other changes you can make to improve their experience. Wherever you decide to start, be sure to share your ideas and plans with your team so they know you have their wellbeing in mind moving forward. 

And if a more flexible workplace and better communication are what you need, you know where to find us!

Originally published Nov 04, 2021, updated Nov 30, 2021

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