Poaching Employees

DSC02071In a recent conversation with my niece, who lives in the Twin Cities metro area and works for a national chain, she mentioned that the unemployment rate for the city of St. Paul is currently around 3.5 percent. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics posted that rate on June 3, 2015.)

It’s an astonishingly low rate and because it is this low, my niece said that it is difficult for companies to find workers, such that they often “poach” employees from each other. They do this by offering incentives, typically higher wages and better benefits, so that workers will be enticed to switch jobs.

Can you imagine such a scenario in Little Falls, where there are so many openings and so few workers that businesses would be willing to poach employees from each other? Seems like an economic fairy tale, doesn’t it?

Earlier this year in the Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce’s newsletter, it was reported that local businesses were having trouble finding workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Morrison County’s current unemployment rate is 5.9 percent, compared to the state rate of 3.7 percent. According to another site, the Little Falls unemployment rate is 7.4 percent. Why, when there are lots of people looking for work, is there a mismatch between local employers and workers?

Are local businesses not offering enough in wages? Providing enough hours? Are they expecting workers to walk into the job fully-trained, without being willing to invest in this training?

Are today’s potential employees just lazy? Are they happy sponging off the welfare system, getting something for nothing? I’ve heard this aspersion cast so often that I had to bring it up here, so we can face it as a factor. What might make people not want to work?

Yes, some people are happier not working, but it’s not typical for most people to remain unproductive. Perhaps the types of employment offered locally do not fulfill people’s greater psychological needs for the long-term. In which case, we need to find ways to broaden the types of work offered, make local jobs more emotionally fulfilling.

We can say, “To heck with people’s psychological needs! Forget self-fulfillment! Just earn a paycheck, pay your bills, and be happy with that.” I would argue that if you want employees who are devoted to helping your organization succeed, you darn well better care about their emotional fulfillment. However, setting that aside for a moment, if local jobs don’t pay a living wage, they are not even meeting the basic level survival needs of employees. People are going to look elsewhere for work or cobble together some form of low-level employment plus welfare benefits in order to get by.

(Before you start complaining about welfare recipients, as I know many find tempting, realize that welfare benefits are set up to keep people dependent on the system. As soon as you barely cross a low-level line set for income, you are kicked off the program and expected to pay fully for everything, from child care to health care to transportation & etc., but you still don’t have the income to do so and thus fall behind yet again, never able to crawl out of the financial hole.)

Like a business, employees are going to look for the highest return on their investment of time and skills, with the lowest personal cost. It’s a careful dance between meeting the needs of businesses and employees that creates a thriving economy.

What other factors might be fostering a mismatch between workers and employers in Little Falls? How can we bridge that gap? Do you have anything to add to the thoughts shared in this post?