Having trouble keeping or hiring staff?

Increasing wages works to some extent. But retraining and being a better boss will do more

Roslyn KuninThere are many challenges to running a business, including getting capital, getting customers and meeting the competition. Add staffing to the list.

Hiring workers used to be less difficult. Any vacancy announcement attracted many more applicants than employers were able to consider.

But now, there are multiple vacancies for every able, willing and available worker. Staff shortages are impacting businesses of all kinds.

Introducing automation is one way to deal with a lack of workers and certainly works in the longer term. In the short term, however, it’s costly, and we don’t yet have technological replacements for many functions.

A less desirable way to deal with the lack of staff is to cut back on hours of operation, products, services or regions covered. This downsizes the business and could ultimately lead to its closure.

A better way to attract workers is to ensure existing employees don’t leave. This isn’t easy when plenty of vacant jobs can tempt your staff, but it’s still possible to be the employer of choice.

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One way to keep staff is to put another ‘r’ in retain to make it retrain. This not only increases the skills of your workforce but also helps retain the kind of workers who appreciate a boss who keeps their skills on the cutting edge.

Increasing wages works if business financials allow. But retraining and being a better boss will do more to keep people who might otherwise leave any time a slightly higher paycheque is offered.

Being a better boss means following up words with action. Many businesses claim their employees are their most important resource. Now is the time to demonstrate this by being polite, courteous and friendly to all staff, and letting them know that the company can’t exist without them.

A good rule of thumb, especially in the service sector, is to treat all employees at least as well as employees are expected to treat customers. Customers and staff are both needed if a business is to continue, but for now, it’s easier to attract customers than workers.

With the old expression “the customer is king” becoming “the employee is king,” workers’ wishes and preferences must be top of mind. Most workers don’t like to be bossed. Supervisors can no longer tell workers what to do, and when and where to do it, in a way that wouldn’t be repeatable in polite society. But work still needs to be done. Will workers do it if bosses aren’t bossy?

During the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns, many workers learned that it’s possible to earn a living working from home or elsewhere, often setting their hours and priorities. They realize that most needed work will still get done, even if they’re given much more freedom than in a traditional nine-to-five workplace bracketed by a stifling commute. To get them back to former work patterns is like trying to unscramble an egg.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who has achieved admirable business success in many dimensions, may well be learning this. He has said that any employees who don’t come into the office for work every day will lose their jobs. I predict he’ll lose many workers to more flexible employers.

Schedules that bring people to the office just a few days a week are becoming the norm.

So bosses can no longer be bossy. A much more effective way to run a company, and keep or attract staff, is to become a coach. First, the firm must document what needs to be done and when, usually in a strategic plan that’s broken down into operations and tactics.

Then follow the pattern that has long been used with commission salespeople. Tell staff what’s expected of them and the deadlines. Let workers decide when and how the work gets down, as long as it’s completed correctly and on time. Be there as a coach should the workers have questions or need assistance in meeting the goals.

Workers who are given the freedom reflected in this coaching model may not physically be in the office, but they will use their brains to the benefit of their employers and reward the respect they’ve been shown with loyalty.

Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker. For interview requests, click here.


The opinions expressed by our columnists and contributors are theirs alone and do not inherently or expressly reflect the views of our publication.

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Troy Media is an editorial content provider to media outlets and its own hosted community news outlets across Canada.

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