Stop Saying People “Don’t Want to Work” … They Just Don’t Want to Work for *You*

Job openings have hit a record high. There’s energy in the market; the flood of new positions in aviation, hospitality, and tech are contributing to a collective buzz.

Yet for many organizations, filling positions is becoming increasingly challenging. From American Airlines canceling flights, citing a labor shortage, to Applebee’s offering free food to anyone willing to apply, employers are getting desperate.

For me, the cries of “no one wants to work” ring untrue.   As you can likely tell by the headline of this piece, I’m becoming frustrated with the ‘woe is me, no one cares about work’ griping.

Let me explain:

If you believe in the free market as I do, the rules that apply to products also apply to talent.

In a free market, if your product is not up to par, you get beaten by the competition. You either crumble, or you do some (often painful) digging, to figure out why your competitors have been able to capture the market and you haven’t.

The same model plays out in the competition for talent. Finding and retaining high-quality talent is arguably the single most important objective for an executive team. In the labor market, your ‘product’ is your employer brand.  The holistic experience of working for you.   And if the ‘customers’ (i.e. potential employees) don’t bite, you need to do some digging to find out why you’re not competitive.

Here are four reasons why the application pool may be dry:

1.    You’ve Been Ghosting
Enthusiastically emailing a former employee, or even a former applicant, after a huge (many months) lapse in communication is the corporate version of a 2 AM “You up?” text. It’s very obviously self-serving.

Your (former) employees have not spent 15 months sitting by the phone waiting. They moved on. If you want to win back their heart, it’s going to take some work. Keep reading.

2.    The Requirements are Outlandish
The four-year degree requirement took a (well-deserved) nose dive during the pandemic. As Ryan Roslansky, CEO of LinkedIn writes, “A degree is an achievement, but with careers stretching to half a century, a one-time intensive period of study is not enough. The reality is that with the current pace of technological change, everyone needs to continuously expand their skills.”

Do you really need a 20-year old bachelor’s degree to do most jobs?

No. You don’t.
Take a look at your open positions. Are there requirements that may no longer be necessary? If so, remove them. Are there requirements that you could easily train someone to learn in their first few months? Remove those, too.

Overly grandiose job requirements can scare away excellent talent from even applying.

3.    The Cost / Benefit Analysis Doesn’t Make Sense
It’s not that people are lazy. It’s that, in some cases, taking the job might be pragmatically foolish.
Let’s paint a picture here: An open position pays $9 an hour. For a candidate to accept that position, they need to find affordable childcare, manage transportation costs, and deal with even more stress… all to maybe break even.

If you’re struggling to find talent, put yourselves in the shoes of an applicant. Add up the costs associated with accepting the position. Are you expecting people to make an unreasonable decision just to die on the hill of ‘being a hard worker’?

4.    The Job Seems Meaningless
The last year has prompted deep reflection for everyone. We’re all asking what’s important to me? What was I missing out on? Am I spending my time doing work that matters? People crave purpose and significance.

Nobody is going to apply to a job because they’re so excited about making money for you (a literal stranger).

Instead, openly talk about how the work makes a difference. How are customers (or the world) better as a result of doing business with you? You don’t have to be in the medical field or in a nonprofit to have a purpose-driven culture.

Rallying around saving your customers time, helping them make decisions, providing a product that makes their work safer, or whatever your version of ‘purpose’ is shows prospective (and existing) team members why the work matters.

As Jenice Armstrong described, the belief that no one wants to work anymore is “A classist trope and a gross oversimplification.”

People do want to work. They’re just increasingly selective about for whom they want to work.
As a small business owner myself, I empathize with leaders who are struggling to fill positions.
Having said that, companies who offer fair and fulfilling work experiences will continue to win talent. Companies who cling to old norms and throw their hands up at market conditions will not.

No organization is entitled to a workforce. If you want to get talent in the door, stop complaining and start competing. As the Facebook trolls like to say, nobody owes you a handout.