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Making Workplaces that Work

Have you been on the interstate recently? I hadn’t.

Traveling the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a client site in Eastern Pennsylvania last week, I was shocked to see a sign at Burger King offering a $1,500 sign-on bonus.

My jaw dropped. Fast food has always looked at employees as interchangeable. How could this be?

When I got to the client site, I learned they were offering a $2,500 sign-on bonuses to drivers who would earn $16.25/hour.

All the way home, there were billboards along the highway advertising huge sign-on bonuses $5,000 for a driver, $2,000 for a warehouse worker. What is going on??

Like just about everyone else, I have heard about the turnover tsunami. I’ve been hearing from employers for months how hard it is to hire workers. “It’s the continued unemployment checks”, they say. County government administrators are exclaiming about how their region can’t seem to staff all their jobs. “It might be the housing deficit”, they ponder.

I have had the opportunity to work with a couple of thousand low-wage workers and their employers for several decades. I heard their plight with working conditions and bad bosses, and their lack of willingness to “put up with that” when they can’t see an opportunity to move forward anyway. They weren’t treated fairly. Sometimes they have been fired for getting sick or having kids who do or having to leave to pay their utility bill, so it doesn’t get shut off.

Hiring managers have long complained about how hard it is to find the “right” people. HR Managers

often understood the daily stresses their low-wage workers face but feel little control over making their workplace one that works. Their directors and executives contacted the agencies where I worked for help finding the kind of people who would stay on the job. We hosted hiring events to staff their jobs. Then they were upset that the people didn’t stay. We toured their sites and shared feedback we had from people who left them and explained that they needed to improve their workplaces and their management if they wanted to attract and retain better workers. It was never just the money. And it was never just the “right people.” Our labor pool is our labor pool.

A quick search today on the job search site, Indeed, reveals 2,530 job postings in Columbus, Ohio offering sign-on bonuses that range between $350 to $10,000. Bonus payout occurs anywhere from “upon hire” to after 9 months.

We have long had sign-on bonuses for truck drivers and nurses. The news is that now these bonuses are for preschool teachers, warehouse workers, state-tested nursing assistants, and restaurant workers.

These are the people that cook your takeout meal so you can get back to your desk and monitor your sales pipeline.

These are the people that change your mother’s bed linens and help her get a sip of water. Since COVID, they have had to re-suit up each time like kids bundled up for playing in the snow. (Perhaps you know how exhausting that is!)

These are the people who get your package on the truck, and the ones that drive it to you.

In a June 29 SHRM article, Roy Mauer reported that Job Seekers are Gaining Control Over Hiring.

Now that we are paying the wages, perhaps we can move on to the real things are that are going to get them to do their best AND stay. According to Gallup polls, consistently over the past few decades, the primary reason people stay in a job is the relationship with their supervisor. They also care about development opportunities. But the most important thing is that relationship.

Now that we are getting money out of the way, we have a great opportunity ahead. What is your organization doing to seize it?

Lora Fish, SHRM-SCP, principle consultant. Applegate Talent Strategies

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