Where have all the people gone? The ‘Great Sansdemic’ is upon us!

The first time I remember a discussion about a labor shortage was 1989, but it was mostly projections. The first time I remember the skills shortage being discussed, I was making a speech in the 1990s and listing the overwhelming number of Help Wanted signs in manufacturing facilities. The first time it got scary was when UW–Madison’s Applied Population Lab published “Wisconsin’s Future Population: 2010–2040” and it became a body shortage. And now it’s the “Great Sansdemic.” That’s sans (without) and demic (people), meaning there are no people.

Talent supply chains have been a focus for employers for the past 20-something years, but this sansdemic is going to be a whole new ballgame. Where and how we recruit, how we use artificial intelligence (AI), how we do more with less (people), how we use cognitive computing, how we fit lifestyle and work together, how we reinvent the candidate and employee experience — basically, EVERYTHING must change!

However, all is not lost. Regardless of your business or industry, there are a few new and innovative ways companies are changing. Here are a just a few.

Try these three questions

Have you thought about quitting?
Why didn’t you?

Think about those three questions for a minute. We’ll wait!

When did you have that discussion with yourself, or your partner, or a co-worker? Most likely after a tough day, or a series of tough days, or a set of circumstances that just overwhelmed you. Now what if you were told one company is having its managers ask their direct reports those questions on a regular basis? Surprised?

As part of their quarterly stay reviews, bosses throughout the facility at one company are being bold enough to ask, “Have you thought about quitting?” And they follow it up with, “Why?” and “Why didn’t you?” Gutsy, but revealing! Think about it — if you want to know what’s on someone’s mind at work, what’s eating at them, what’s got them thinking about going somewhere else … ask!

That’s quite a bit cheaper than trying to replace them after they leave, and sometimes the solutions are really quite simple. These are tough conversations and managers need to be well-trained. But if you don’t ask employees what is on their minds, you probably won’t find out until they’re heading out the door. In today’s talent market, that is a risk you cannot afford to take.

So, what else can you do?

Consider Uber for talent? Most people didn’t think much about the word “uber” until it became a transportation phenomenon. It certainly was never thought of when discussing talent. Technically, “uber” means being a superlative example. It is also a way to get from place to place. And it came up three times in recent discussions about talent.

  1. Using the Uber transportation meaning, a company is covering a limited number of Uber reimbursements for its employees each year when there is no other way to get to work.
  2. Another company is applying the Uber transportation idea and using a taxi service to get its employees to work in carpool fashion.
  3. Finally, both a hospital (nurses) and a warehouse (assembly workers) are applying the Uber idea to scheduling. Employees tell the employer when they are available to work, and the employer builds the schedule around them.

More innovative ideas from employers 

  • A large delivery warehouse is interviewing people, asking what hours they want to work, treating work with an Uber Also, it is providing two-hour leeway on start and stop times by just notifying their supervisor the day before. Can your work schedules be adjusted to make accommodations such as this?
  • Applicant tracking systems are now a necessity to be more candidate friendly.
  • Quicken, simplify, and make the candidate experience web- and mobile-friendly.
  • One company does all its learning and development via a podcast subscription. It has access to over 1,000 podcasts. Supervisors select the podcast and direct reports listen, and then they hold small group discussions.
  • A large employer had all its managers go through the company’s orientation process and then completely changed it based on managers’ experiences and suggestions.
  • A benefit is not a benefit if the employee doesn’t think it is a benefit. Companies are rethinking their total rewards package.
  • Recruiting everywhere and anywhere to find talent. With remote work and more, there are no boundaries.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and that is where employers are as they struggle with the “Great Sansdemic.”

Jim Morgan is vice president, business development and workforce strategies for MRA – The Management Association.

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