Storefronts and Roll Calls: The Emptiness Left Behind By Covid-19 and What To Do About It

It seems we can’t walk down the street or through a shopping center without seeing boarded windows and help wanted signs in nearly equal measure.

The businesses that managed to survive the Covid-19 pandemic are suffering another crisis in keeping their doors open—how to fill their open positions. Especially in the service industries, millions of workers across the country said, “take this job and shove it,” and as the song goes, “I ain’t working here no more.”

What made them do it? On the positive side, the pandemic forced many people to take inventory of their lives. They examined whether things like fixing coffee drinks, stocking shelves, or putting in 10 hours a day at a tedious desk job were taking them on a path in life they wanted to travel much longer. Family time, creative pursuits, and quality of life became at the top of people’s minds, and they started pursuing new dreams that made them feel more fulfilled.

Behind the Curtain

You could almost call it a renaissance. But peel back the curtain, and I see a negative side to many of these changes. Culturally, I think our priorities have shifted while our sense of structure diminished, and how many Netflix series we binged on the couch became a source of pride in conversation rather than a hard day’s work.

New forms of theft also cast a shadow on certain industries, especially in big cities like Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the dollar figure for a theft to be considered a misdemeanor in Los Angeles went from $400 to $950. Some say this incentivizes shoplifters and thieves to continue to commit crimes. Although many factors are at play, Walgreens recently cited a rise in shoplifting for closing some of its stores. As I see it, a loss of $950 worth of goods can mean a lot to a struggling small family business.

In response to financial hits brought on by the employee shortage and shrinking revenues, many employers, especially those in the service industries, are cutting their hours. But still, it’s often not enough.

Workers stepping back into the force—in industries far and wide—understand the leverage they have. It’s as if the situation has created an unwritten minimum wage, with new workers demanding their worth and getting it. The Associated Press reports that employees are gaining an upper hand in negotiating their salaries for the first time in two decades. There are many ways I have seen businesses cater to this new balance in power.

Some employers are offering employment contracts to applicants, forgoing their states’ at-will-employment laws. These contracts may say that if the employee stays for a year, they get a bonus of $1,000, $2,000, or whatever is appropriate. But these contracts need to be rock solid, especially in the event of a slacking worker, who, if you try to fire later, can respond with a wrongful-termination lawsuit.

Other employers are offering incentives at the beginning, like $500 and a free cell phone the first day they start working. But I’ve seen the same employers scratching their heads when these workers leave after a month.

Further, employers are taking a what-I-don’t-know-won’t-hurt-me approach to hiring, skipping drug and background checks for employee candidates. As I’ve mentioned in a previous column, failing to test for more serious drugs and checking the background of people working with your customers and other workers can be a matter of safety for all involved. It’s not worth the risk.

A Sense Of Purpose

Almost everyone is in the same boat, and there are no easy answers. But we employers can try what employees could say we forgot to do all along: Engender a sense of purpose and make people happy to come to work.

One of the ways I attract employees to my business is to advertise personal growth potential. I let them know that we’re looking for inquisitive minds, and I stress that even assistant and clerical staffers can one day earn their private-investigators licenses. If you can help new workers envision an interesting future, that can help get them excited.

I advise that you create similar opportunities for advancement and demonstrate to potential hires a trajectory that includes training they can get in-house or from other sources that will lead to promotions in your company.

Overall, once you have good talent, cherish them. After 90 days of employment, I hold a quick review and give employees a raise to keep them motivated to come back to work. Based on my success with this, I recommend you stop waiting for the dreaded yearly performance review and adopt a model of having 90- or 120-day check-ins.

As a business owner, it’s important to remember that the little things matter, too. For example, at my company, we get them Starbucks once a week, and once a month, we cater lunch. For this past Good Friday, we bought everyone a McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish for something cute and different.

On their birthdays, we pick up their lunch tab along with a friend or significant other. A gift or a gift card in response to an extra effort can also be a nice surprise. Taking the time and a little extra expense to create a cheerful workspace puts employees in a better state of mind. They appreciate these gestures.

Perhaps a little appreciation from us and a little joy from them was what we were missing all along. In these uncertain times, we can still make the workplace a more fun place to be. This way, everyone is working hard but in a much happier environment. Now, this is what you could call a renaissance.

Top photo by cottonbro on Pexels