June 10, 2021
Joseph J. Lebel III
If our economy achieves the long-awaited and much-desired V-shaped recovery from the pandemic, the “V” will certainly stand for “vaccine”. As large segments of the population receive their “jabs”, many COVID-19-related restrictions are being eased across much of the country. On May 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that adults who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 could generally stop wearing masks indoors. And in OceanFirst’s market area, the governors of New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania eased state-mandated capacity limits and related measures in time for Memorial Day.
For employers who are now thinking about re-opening or ramping up activity, one thing may stand in their way: a shortage of workers. The labor shortage is a nationwide problem, but the impact on small-to-midsized businesses is particularly harsh. The National Federation of Independent Business found in a survey of its members that 42% had job openings they couldn’t fill. In addition to a lack of qualified candidates, other explanations for this include higher unemployment benefits that may be a disincentive to job-seeking, workers' continuing concerns about exposure to COVID-19, and a newfound preference for working remotely. The difficulty of obtaining and paying for child care also may be a factor.
I’ve heard from a number of our business customers how difficult it is for employers, both seasonal and non-seasonal, to find enough help. The labor gap may be especially hard on businesses, including many along the Jersey Shore, which must gear up to serve summer traffic.
We are seeing our clients employ creative approaches to entice people to join their companies, including bonuses for signing on, referring other employees, or even payments for getting vaccinated. Some seasonal businesses paid workers a “retainer” to hold on to workers during the off-season, or are offering bonuses for staying through the entire season.
While such temporary measures may have some positive effect, especially for seasonal employers, most businesses need to look at the “big picture” of how they engage with employees, differentiate their benefit programs, and tailor their operations to workers’ changing needs. Potential employees may be attracted to robust training/career development programs, flexible scheduling, including remote work, or on-premises child care. Many millennial employees may want to work for purpose-driven companies that provide opportunities to volunteer or “give back” to the community, or those that have strong policies and performance with respect to ESG and sustainability issues.
In terms of remote work, at OceanFirst we followed a hybrid model in response to the pandemic, keeping branches open to ensure uninterrupted banking services to our customers, while performing many non-branch functions remotely. I continue to be extremely proud of the effort and dedication of our branch, facilities, human resources and other team members who delivered exemplary service to our customers daily during COVID-19. Now, as we are inviting those who employees who have been working remotely to return to our buildings so they can collaborate and maximize opportunities for safely interacting, we understand the importance of being flexible. Updating remote work policies, maintaining social distancing protocols, and encouraging continued use of video interaction even from the office, are just a few examples of how OceanFirst is working with our employees to provide a best-in-class work experience.
To compete for talent, businesses in almost every industry must adapt to the new realities of the labor market. Just as it took a tremendous effort to face the challenges of the pandemic, it will take initiative, creativity, and determination to attract, retain and engage employees in the “new” operating environment.