Chief Executive Insights

Dear Santa: All I want for Christmas is a few extra Elves

It’s the single most frequent request heard around the world. Thousands of CEOs and business owners penning their deepest hopes to the big man, with the white beard, in the red suit. ‘Dear Santa, can I have more workers this year – please?‘

Living and working in a Covid pandemic world certainly has its challenges, some foreseen, others not. Highlighted this Holiday Season is the difficulty most employers are having attracting and hiring new employees. Surprising many economic experts for a variety of reasons workers coast to coast are simply not returning to work at pre-pandemic 2019 levels, despite the record number of help-wanted signs we wave at them.

Some call this The Great Resignation. In fact the “quit-rates” as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are at all-time highs in leisure and hospitality, trade, transportation, and utilities since 2000 when quit-rates were first recorded. The reasons — A combination of government pandemic handouts, a changing demographic workforce from older to younger, burnout & lack of work-life balance, and a large cohort of staff with child-care issues or still afraid of catching Covid at work. A recent Harvard Business Review study identifies mid-career workers, especially in technology and healthcare, hitting the exit doors most.

Nevertheless, regardless of the causes the current state of affairs leaves prospective employers in the lurch this season despite their keen Elf-assisted efforts to find and hire new staffers for the Holiday and beyond. So, is this the end of the line for thousands of businesses who can’t find employees? Just how difficult is it to replace these stubborn non-workers?

It depends on how narrowly you look at the problem. Some industries absolutely require a human on site, others not so much anymore. According to a recent BLS labor report – in the USA there are 7.7 million unemployed workers and 10.4 million job openings at the same time. Clearly, despite the imbalance – the jobs are waiting. For now, able workers however are simply too unmotivated to jump back in or to re-train. And the ball’s in their court. In response, employers are forced to quickly step up their game to retain – or be left behind. It’s being called The Great Retention. Here’s a quick look at the current approach.

  • Make it personal – The Great Retention is on. Time to re-engage your crew on a personal level, see what it takes to keep them happy, ask them, add surveys and online suggestion boxes.
  • Be Covid Free – Announce your Covid vaccination policies and practices – how and why. Be a pop-up Vac-Site if possible. ‘Test and track’ is a best practice. Let them feel safer at work than at home.
  • Raise wages – Employers hate hearing this but it’s the new reality at the moment. Re-calculate your margins and pricing power to see what you can manage. Expect all costs/inflation to increase in the first half of 2022.
  • Introduce new benefits – More can be done here. Give every job and every worker a bright future. Add free job training, free education (eg: Target Stores announces paid college tuition) and free child-care benefits as incentives. Many parents can’t return to work because of child-care issues.
  • Be super work flexible – hybrid office hours/flex schedules/added time off – ask your crew what they want most. It’s not always just about the money, time away is key to most staffers. Just ask.

And that’s about it.

However, while these measures are driving fundamental changes to help preserve the ranks, they do little to urgently help expand them.

Perhaps the real answer to finding more Elves asap is thinking outside the Christmas box this time, way outside. In other words what would your new-hire job search look like if distance didn’t really matter?

Going “Really Remote– Some are calling it the “metaverse,” and it’s about as far out as the North Pole. But it’s also the latest thing in enterprise software technology designed to create virtual office environments for remote workers to work and socialize together online. The concept replaces physical office interaction with a similar virtual one using a 3-D headset. Sounds a little advanced? Yes. But it’s the near future. And it makes perfect sense to recapture the office water-cooler experience from anywhere.

Will it solve the trucker shortage at U.S ports, or reluctant restaurant wait staff, or front-line healthcare absenteeism? No.

But. At present more than 75% of the US Economy as measured by GDP is in the Services sector, and if of the roughly 165 million U.S. workforce roughly one-third can work a hybrid remote job, then why not “really remote?” Well, they can. And the obstacles are falling fast.

As Covid creates demand for more remote workers, more remote workers and their technology are likely to follow. Moreover, in a surprising result according to a recent survey by HR firm Mercer, of the 800 employers asked, 94% reported worker productivity was the same or higher than an on-site worker! Who was expecting that? This clearly opens the door to a much wider coast to coast search for remote talent.

In fact, like never before job listing agencies such as Indeed.com are finding high quality really remote out-of-state staffers that can live anywhere, including a beach house in Florida or a man cave in Montana. Indeed.com has more than 100,000 jobs available remotely in the U.S. And, if you can’t find an American-based really remote worker and you must look offshore, ask the staff at We Work Remote (WWR), a company that helps find really remote workers. WWR says there are a host of un-discovered really remote worker benefits:

“You may be able to find top talent for a fraction of the cost… And if you hire remote workers in different time zones, you’ll boost your company’s productive hours and support…”

Nonetheless, if Covid has any remote worker upside it’s in the creation and deployment of these new technologies and services to help attract and retain them. For those companies that embrace the model the benefits may well outweigh the costs. And it gets better.

According to research from Global Workplace Analytics a typical U.S. employer can save on average $11,000 per half-time remote worker. The savings come from reduced real estate costs, increased worker efficiency, less sick time off, less stress and lower turnover-rates. Workers on the flip side report saving on average up to $6,000 per year on transport/commuter costs (carpool, fuel, maintenance, insurance, etc), lunches, dry cleaning, and wasted time on the trip to and from. They also reported being happier. Wow. What a surprise, not to mention less traffic and lower carbon footprint for everyone!

So, what are you waiting for?

SHMR the HR management company has a host of procedures and policy guidelines, toolkits and standardized remote worker forms for accommodating and facilitating remote and really remote workers. It’s not for every company to use remote workers, of course. That debate is still happening across the country right now. But the decision to invest in and go fully remote for some staff positions gets much easier when you need to hire asap and the locals are skipping the milk and cookies this time.

Take a closer look at every job and ask yourself; Can this be done really remote? Think healthcare online – it sounded crazy just a few years ago, right? It’s common practice now.

So, bottom line. As letters to Santa roll in and Elf labor and reindeer services grow scarce it’s likely a good time to take your new-hire search to the next level and really consider really remote workers this season. Let’s face it, Covid has permanently changed the employer/employee landscape. Be it across the country or across the world, it’s now a more remote workforce than ever. And the way I see it is given the tools are there with ribbons and bows, let’s unwrap them, and who knows… They could be the most welcomed gift under the tree this Christmas.

Makes sense? Go Elves!


Written by Rick Andrade.

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Rick Andrade
Rick Andrade is an investment banker at Janas Associates in Pasadena, CA, where he helps CEOs and business owners buy, sell, and finance middle-market companies.

Rick earned his BA and MBA from UCLA, along with his Series 7, 63, & 79 FINRA securities licenses. He is also a CA Real Estate Broker, a volunteer SBA/SCORE instructor, and blogs at RickAndrade.com on issues important to business owners. Please note this article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered in any way an offer to buy or sell a security. Securities are offered through JCC Capital Markets LLC, Member FINRA/SIPC.

Rick Andrade is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn.