In dozens of consulting conversations and audience surveys, one of the biggest concerns of managers, recruiters, and business owners I keep hearing is the notion that “nobody wants to go back to work.” It’s a fair notion: you’ve got positions open, no one’s applying, and you see unemployment checks flying off the shelf.
I get it.
But the reality is that human beings are wired with an innate desire to work, we’re nature’s best cooperators after all. Unfortunately, the way the system is set up — industrialized, bureaucratic, and extrinsically-focused — actually demotivates us. So people want to work, but we’re learning that people don’t want to work the same way we’ve been working.
Contrary to the image that’s in hiring managers’ heads (my own dad included), not everyone wants to sit around drinking and playing Call Of Duty all day. Even if they were, you don’t want that person working for you anyway.
The point: this time-for-money transactional system that we have in place is broken, so instead of offering a trade of employees’ time for money, create a shift of trading time for meaning. Instead of questioning the people who don’t want to come work for you, question the system that ignores what makes us human: meaningful, engaging, creative, collaborative work that intrinsically motivates us to seek out opportunities for growth.
Appeal to people’s humanity, not their wallets — anyone can offer an extra buck or two, a $500 hiring bonus, or benefits — but not anyone can give people a reason to WANT to come to work and work their asses off for you. If your biggest competitor is the government giving people an extra $300 a week, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the why behind people walking through your door to put their time and energy into building your business.
We’ve all seen the passive-aggressive signs in restaurant windows apologizing to customers because “everyone’s being lazy” and “no one wants to work.” I’m not sure what those business owners are trying to accomplish other than scaring away potential hires.
Do you really think people are going to see that sign, march in the door with the work ethic you’re looking for, and say “When do I start?” Try going up to someone at the bar and saying, “No one wants to date me, no matter how much I pay them.”
You’re going home alone.
I don’t have all of the answers, but I do know that if you’re waiting on the unemployed and uninterested to come to work for you because you’re willing to pay them, and no one’s showing up…
Maybe it’s you.
And I’m not claiming I know your struggles and stresses — I’ve been working alone in my office for 15 months. But I am saying, if you’re not getting the results and the people you’re looking for, maybe it’s time you take a look in the mirror. In many of these consulting conversations I have with managers complaining about the lack of a talent pool, I learn their companies don’t have recognition programs, don’t allow room for autonomy, and make decisions without first consulting with the people whom the decisions will affect most. Meaning: employees are working extra hours, extra hard without being given a voice, while being micromanaged with little more than a pat on the back. Then I find out there’s a long track record of politics at play and people don’t always get along, and that employees don’t often go above and beyond doing what’s necessary. But sure, it’s the government’s fault that people aren’t clamoring to work for you.
Maybe it’s time for you to say, “It’s not you, it’s me.” I mean, at the very least, it’ll give you a sense of accountability. I’m not blaming you, I’m offering you more control of the situation by shifting your focus to what you do control: your thoughts, words, and actions.
As a comic and a speaker, if I tell a story onstage about an ex or somebody who did something to wrong me, or I want to complain about someone else, the punchlines are always about my own perception of those other people. That way, I don’t come across as a jerk and, because I’m changing my own perceptions, I’m learning and growing so I don’t make the same mistakes again.
- Do the employees you have love their jobs so much that they’re willing to recommend to their closest friends and family members to come apply?
2. Do the employees you have go above and beyond to help one another?
3. Do you celebrate their successes as a manager, get your hands dirty, and appreciate them for their hard work, even if they do something wrong, so that they come to you with gratitude, not gripes?
If your answers to any of these questions comes with a pause where you have to think about it first… it’s time to switch things up. Feel free to send out an anonymous survey asking your team what it would take for them to recommend working for you to their friends and family.
If there’s ever an information gap you can’t seem to fill, their perspectives are more valuable than yours.
And please, for all that’s sacred, don’t take it personally.
If your people are leaving work, proud to be a part of your team. Wearing your name on their sleeve, as long as their financial needs are met, they’ll work for less to work for a cause they believe in. If they aren’t, maybe it’s time to start asking them what you can do different for them to start.
Humans have this awful habit of only seeing what proves our beliefs to be true and ignoring or disputing what goes against our beliefs, and often we end up making those beliefs come to fruition, so if you believe that nobody wants to work…
why are you surprised when nobody wants to work for you?
The good news is if this article made you angry — if you felt yourself getting worked up to dispute my points about the fact that government checks are demotivating people — you’re exactly who this article is for.
You have the power to change these beliefs and start getting the people you want who are actually excited to come work for you.
So what’s one thing you can do to make work less transactional and inspire your people to start trading their time for meaning?