Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Leon Kaye headshot

American Workers Are Frustrated, so HR Needs to Pivot

By Leon Kaye
American Workers

You’d have to be in the deepest of sleep to not miss the headlines about American workers leaving their jobs in droves. Warehouse workers, once seen as the future of retail, are quitting no matter how sweet the pay and bonus incentives may first appear. Childcare workers aren’t finding joy in running around chasing kids for $12 an hour, so they are leaving their jobs. The same goes for restaurant employees, who deal with all the rage and drama seen on cable TV reality cooking and baking shows, without any of the glamour, celebrity, attention or the tiniest chance of a payoff. And in many states including Florida, teachers are leaving the classroom at a rapid pace.

We were told the cuts in unemployment insurance, combined with the rush to enjoy the summer after months in lockdown, would cause a hiring spree once again. So, what’s going on? The Delta variant is definitely part of this crisis, but dysfunction in the workplace has causes that go beyond the virus.

“Workers, especially low-wage workers, are revolting against years of poor pay and stressful conditions,” wrote Heather Long for the Washington Post. “Now, people are still hesitant to take the first jobs available to them, if they don’t believe they’re good jobs. And they are not reluctant to quit a situation they don’t like.”

It's clear: Fewer service workers means it's difficult for others to get things done. But let’s not forget another problem that is adding stress to both workers and their companies’ customers.

Editor's note: Be sure to subscribe to our Brands Taking Stands newsletter, which comes out every Wednesday.

Add the ongoing supply chain disruptions and shortage of just about everything from Gatorade to tires, the added worries felt by your employees are factors that your HR staff cannot ignore – even if your company is within an industry that is not necessarily affected by all this volatility.

More Americans are balancing work with caregiving, whether they are coping with children or elderly parents. Errands are taking longer as finding products from school supplies to even pasta are reported time and again.

So, what virtue are HR staffers and managers going to need in spades in the coming months? It should be obvious: patience.

That patience needs to come in the form of not only compassion and empathy, but in benefits. In fairness, many companies have already gotten on the enhanced benefits train – in fact, one survey suggested 98 percent of all U.S. companies expanded at least one of their employee benefits during the pandemic.

“Work-life ‘balance’ has always been a lie. Work and life are not independent entities fighting for 50/50 equilibrium,” Tim Allen, the CEO of Care.com, wrote earlier this year as he discussed that same survey’s findings. “They’re interconnected, and one affects the other. But people — especially women — have been conditioned to design life around the demands of work, and rarely to design work around the demands of life.”

Those demands of life aren’t easing anytime soon for your employees; if anything, they keep increasing.

What’s the response, then? It’s not enough to lean on your health plan’s mental health benefits (which should have been boosted long ago), but one idea is providing pediatric behavioral health care for employees moonlighting as caregivers.

A transportation subsidy should be on the table to mitigate any difficulties employees could have showing up to the office. The ongoing automotive chip shortage is among the reasons why the prices of both new and used cars have surged, making reliable transportation a struggle for employees required to work onsite if their vehicle peters out on them.

Financial wellness plans are another added benefit to consider, as rising prices have nudged many families to rethink their household budgets and curb their contributions to retirement plans – along with the fact that many companies decided to end any contributions to 401(k) plans during the pandemic.

The new normal for companies is not only about deciding to raise prices or take the financial hit due to all these global disruptions and cost increases. Employees’ lives are still being disrupted, and it is up to companies to do what they can to keep them at ease; after all, taking care of your employees is a far more affordable option than the costs and time involved in finding replacements for them.

Image credit: Brian Lundquist via Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye