In June 2021, the unemployment rate in the US grew to 5.9% while the economy added a staggering 850,000 jobs. That gap between job openings and hires is the largest since the data became available in 2000. Across industries, businesses are struggling to find workers to fill jobs created en masse as the economy reopens.

In our conversations with employers, we’re hearing that they can’t recruit workers, or that they can’t get employees to show up. They worry that stimulus payments and unemployment benefits disincentivize work, or sometimes feel that people simply don’t want to work. But most employers don’t have visibility into what employee absences or turnover look like from the other side. When they strategize about how to increase recruitment or retention, they’re often solving the wrong problems.

Because WorkLife Navigators support employees with the challenges that affect them at work, we hear from workers daily about the circumstances that really keep them from finding or keeping a job. Employees don’t come to us looking to avoid work or get out of their jobs. They want to find a reliable way to get to work or to manage stressful schedules. They need support getting their bills paid when their hours are cut. They strive to be independent and financially secure, to take care of themselves and their families.

And while the economy opens and businesses are anxious to return to normal, many people are still struggling with its effects. Those who aren’t yet fully vaccinated may be hesitant to start working in a restaurant or grocery store where masks are not required. As school lets out, the child care squeeze continues to keep parents, especially women, out of the workforce.

The tighter employment market and knock-on effects of the pandemic will push smart employers to plan for how they can compete to attract employees from a smaller pool of workers with more options. The most effective strategies will support their employees to solve the real barriers that otherwise keep them from work.

1. Prioritize health and safety over customer preference

Millions of Americans have yet to be vaccinated, and new COVID cases are growing in many communities. Continuing to require masks for customers and employees may alleviate anxiety that would dissuade those looking for work but not comfortable with that level of risk.

2. Promote part-time workers to full-time

If you’re searching for new workers while many of your current employees work part-time, the solution may be to reconfigure those jobs. Of course there are costs to consider with creating full-time positions, but there are also returns to be had in employee satisfaction and dependability. Existing employees may be grateful to be offered more hours, and they can jump in without training or time to learn.

3. Provide predictable schedules

Another downside of hiring people part-time is that they’ll likely need to accommodate a second job (or more). If the hours you need conflict with those other jobs, you could lose that employee. Whether part-time or full-time, predictable schedules are of critical value to employees. Unpredictable schedules mean unpredictable income. It’s common practice in the restaurant and retail industries that if it’s slow, you’ll be sent home early, or if it’s busier, you may be asked to stay late. That makes it near impossible to arrange childcare, rely on transportation options like carpooling, or show up dependably at your second job.

4. Offer (affordable) health insurance

You have probably known someone who couldn’t choose to leave a job because it was their only option to access the health insurance they needed. If you don’t offer health insurance at a cost that’s in line with what your employees make, potential hires may not have the freedom to choose to work for you.

5. Consider open hiring or skipping background checks

Many companies have policies that write off the millions of hard working Americans with criminal records, but pioneering companies like Greyston Bakery have proven that rewriting the rules can have huge benefits. Greyston reports that “Open Hiring shifts investment and human resources into training, learning and development, benefits, and employee support. When people say they want to work, we give them a chance – no questions asked, no resumes, no interviews, no background checks.”

6. Offer a sign on bonus

Sign-on bonuses are becoming increasingly common, with major employers like Amazon announcing new cash incentives for hires. These bonuses are especially valuable to frontline workers who may not have large savings because they can help them cover gaps while they wait on a first paycheck. They may need the bonus to afford upfront costs for a new job like appropriate work clothes or tools, a childcare deposit, or a bus pass or a reliable car. This approach is especially advantageous if you can provide the bonus before or as soon as the employee starts, while they are waiting for their first paycheck to arrive.

7. Provide meaningful employee support

83% of employees supported by WorkLife Resource Navigators say they’re more likely to stay at their current employer because a Navigator is available. Businesses who work with us find that when they give their employees access to the kind of compassionate human support and invaluable resources that WorkLife provides, employees see their employer as caring and feel good about where they work. And because we help employees solve exactly the kinds of challenges—with health coverage, childcare, transportation, housing, financial health, mental health, and much more—that can be barriers to work, WorkLife Navigators reduce turnover so you can hire less.


To hear how WorkLife Resource Navigators can support your employees, schedule a conversation with us.