The U.S. economy continues to demonstrate the paradox of the pandemic fallout -- millions of open jobs, low labor force participation and millions of unemployed Americans.
More than 2.5 million women have dropped out of the workforce in the past year alone, with female workforce participation dipping to 57%, the lowest it’s been in more than 30 years. Job openings for manufacturing and warehousing continue to grow, and talent shortages are particularly impacting the entry level ($20 per hour) rate.
The resistance to join or rejoin the manufacturing workforce has several layers. There are still challenges like childcare or at-home schooling that preclude workers from committing to full-time roles. Unemployment benefits have disencentivized others from going back to work. For those that want to re-enter the workforce though, rigid work schedules, lack of safe and healthy working conditions and outdated company policies are often huge deterrents, causing employees to either remain on the sidelines or continue to seek work elsewhere.
Employers must offer flexibility to entice that talent to take those shifts again and overcome the fear factor. Companies that are thinking progressively about how to secure and retain a flexible workforce despite these hurdles are in fact winning the war for talent.
Why manufacturers have no choice but to be flexible
Flexibility helps with the full cycle of talent management -- attracting, securing and retaining talent. Being flexible means creating scheduling options and work scenarios that fit the talent’s needs and lifestyle; it creates a happier, more satisfied workforce. In a recent survey of more than 4,000 Integrity Staffing associates, 60% of job seekers said they were looking for flexibility in their next job. That’s up 15% from 45% who said the same last year.
Whether full-time employees or temporary workers, it’s more difficult than ever before to balance a 40-hour work week with other responsibilities. The traditional eight-hour workday, five days a week has become outdated. Yes, the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has increased the need to be flexible, but the need has truly pre-dated the pandemic. Today many of the challenges remain the same as before; the pandemic just intensified them.
Identify and understand the barriers workers are facing
Companies have to listen first. Unfortunately, many challenges workers face go unnoticed by employers. It’s critical to identify the barriers your workers are experiencing, then work to remove them.
When was the last time you sat down and listened to your workforce? I mean, really listened? It’s critical to ask what’s most important to them right now and what their challenges are. Those answers have likely changed several times over the last year. Keep a constant pulse on how your workers are feeling.
You can do this a variety of ways; through one-on-one phone calls, online surveys, texts and town hall meetings, to name a few. If some of your talent is being provided by a staffing firm, ask that they collect this critical feedback and update you on a weekly basis. Your staffing firm is a strategic partner and wants you, and their talent, to be as successful as possible. As that partner, they should be sharing any roadblocks they see.
So, what are those barriers holding your workers back? Among the most common are childcare, housing, transportation, health and wellness, financial wellness and pay flexibility. Both HR and managers should be responsible for identifying these barriers. Floor managers and operators hear things that HR doesn’t. Operators should be trained on having the conversation about WHY they are not making it into work. Workers want to feel heard and respected. You could uncover that the WHY could be a transportation issue, or maybe it’s the timing of when their shift starts that is problematic. It’s amazing what you’ll learn once you start talking with your workers.
In addition to barriers, what benefits are most important to your workforce? The pandemic has changed what’s most important to employees. Additional health and wellness initiatives jumped to the top of the list over the last 1.5 years. Companies added things like telehealth, telemedicine and prescription drug benefits to help associates better manage the pressures of the lockdown. Smart employers will continue to offer these benefits well into the future, and not just implement them short-term.
Implement flexible schedules
Workers often need variable shifts to accommodate for multiple jobs, juggling children’s at-home learning or to care for family members. Each worker is in a different scenario; one may be able to work 5-9 p.m. one day and 9 p.m.-5 a.m. the next. Another may only be able to come in twice a week. Employers need to be open to all requests.
Be willing to accept part time over full-time arrangements. Traditional employment (the 40-hour work week) has been declining for the last several years and that trend will only continue.
Days should be interchangeable, and shift swapping and shift sharing should not only be allowed but encouraged. Rather than have your workforce fit into predetermined shifts and a required number of hours, it’s instead about finding out the number of hours and days/times that work for each team member. If some workers can only work a minimum of 10 hours a week and you allow for that, you’ve captured that portion of the workforce that would otherwise not be working at all or working for a competitor.
Technology can be your biggest ally when transitioning to a more variable scheduling system. The tech behind real-time scheduling can help with these scheduling challenges. Included in these platforms should be the opportunity for workers to pick up extra shifts as needed. These solutions manage shifts seamlessly so it doesn’t become an administrative burden, and the associates have direct access to the technology as well. Less than 20% of companies take advantage of these solutions. The 20% that do are capturing a greater portion of the workforce.
Help through pay flexibility
The average warehouse worker pays an incredible $280 a month in late fees. This is largely due to the fact that most workers are paid every two weeks. Paying weekly instead of bi-weekly helps offer access to earned wages.
This benefit can be life-changing for our associates. It not only saves them hundreds and thousands of dollars in financial penalties, but also gives many a chance to re-enter the mainstream financial world. Clients benefit, too. Employees are more committed and focused when they are not distracted by financial worries. Companies will also experience improved attendance and a decrease in attrition. It even helps to keep associates from falling into homelessness.
Whether it’s helping with schedules, cash flow or anything in between, the goal is to meet the candidate where they are and remove as many barriers as possible. This increases candidate satisfaction, worker retention and company productivity.