By Terry Lopez

For years there has been an ongoing debate, people versus profits. Some proponents argue that the only social responsibility a company has, is to increase their profits. Others argue that without people, there would be no profits. 

In early March of 2020, a pandemic was declared. By April of 2020 some employers started staff reductions and furloughs. Large, well established companies were making announcements about having to let their employees go, and not having a surplus to get them through a couple months. How was this even possible? Let’s talk about it! 

We saw different kinds of employers, and while this list is not exhaustive. These are the most common.

  1. Employers that cared about their profits, and put everything, including people ‘after’ the bottom line. 
  2. Employers that cared about their profits, and put their employees ‘first’, knowing the employees would help them meet their goals. 
  3. Employers that wanted their profits, but were not sure how to prioritize their people.
  4. Employers that wanted to do right by their employees, but financially were not able to stay afloat*. 

Let’s review employers number four and number one. I personally think the employers in category four deserve recognition. While many of them did not make it through the pandemic, and some would argue this failure does not deserve to be rewarded. I argue the latter. These are the employers that knew financially they may not survive, but they did not want to adversely impact their employees or let down the communities that relied on them. Many worked through a lot of challenges, from reduced staff, limited supplies, limited resources, etc. Yet they stayed open. Some, until it was not possible, and they subsequently closed their businesses. 

The employers in category four that were fortunate to avoid permanent closures, in some cases this was attributed to the fact that they took care of their employees and their community, when it counted most. The people they put first came to their aid, when roles were reversed. We saw countless stories of communities and employees coming together to save a company. Whether it was a call to action, asking the community to order food or make a minimum purchase at a specific day and time, or in some cases asking for cash donations. In some of these instances, the employees cited being grateful and some feeling indebted to the employer.

We saw employers that simply did not care there was a pandemic. These are the employers that align with number one. These were the employers that refused to close their locations, despite the fact they were not essential. They only closed their doors when they were ordered to do so. They didn’t want to be flexible for parents with school aged children who were unable to go to school due to school closures. They didn’t want to get their employees PPE (personal protective equipment), because there was a cost implication for them. 

They were hard-hearted when some of their employees got sick, demanding they use their personal time, take unpaid time or encouraged employees to donate their time to other employees.  Time they themselves might have needed at a later date.  These employers wasted no time reducing their staff, limiting supplies, and taking excessive cost effective measures. Some would say they did what was necessary. Some of these employers are now stating they are unable to find people that want to work for them. 

We hear that people don’t want to work, they want to stay home collecting unemployment. But everyone we know from the middle/working class is getting up every single day, and going to work. We can’t afford not to. You can be sick, overwhelmed, tired, it doesn’t matter, we still go  daily. 

These employers never cited they were not the best employers, that clearly demonstrated to their employees that people did not matter to them; not even in a crisis. As standard, they are blaming the employee and refusing to look in the mirror. A lot of these employers were “pandemic profiteers”. They actually made more money during the pandemic than they did previously. Some earned a profit from tactics like having their employees take unpaid furlough, claiming this was a cost saving measure. 

Billionaire wealth accelerated during the pandemic. Some analysts state this is the largest wealth increase in 31 years. How is this possible when Americans are now struggling with food insecurity, Americans are rationing life saving medication or are having to work multiple jobs to survive? We saw small businesses fold, but they shouldn’t have. Money that was slated for them, was not given to them, it was given to big business instead. It’s time for us to get real. The issue isn’t that people don’t want to work. The issue is people are tired of working for greedy employers, that let employees know every opportunity they get, that they do not matter. 

You have states like Florida, where employers can do what they want, when they want. An employee can be the best performer, but if a Manager has a personal gripe with them. They can let the employee go without warning, because Florida is an at-will state. The flip side is if that same employee decides to leave on their own, they need to provide a two-week notice. 

A small percentage of employers conduct exit interviews to understand first hand why people are leaving their organizations. In 90% of the cases, employers take no action based on feedback they receive from employees exiting their organizations. The reality is any employer that cared about people as a whole, they would take the initiative to review the results and action them. They don’t, because they don’t care, and the main reason you ask? Because they believe it has a negative return on investment. Again, the bottom line is money, not people. 

If we look at the majority of companies that claim they can’t find people who want to work for them. I guarantee they are known for their employment practices, which probably has an employee last approach. I’m certain if you look at Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Indeed.com, Comparably, etc. they would have a poor rating. I’m almost also certain that if you looked at their history of employee retention before coronavirus, they probably had poor employee retention then too. People want to work, they want to enjoy what they do for five days a week, in many cases more than five days a week. They want to be happy, they want to stay at their employer for as long as possible, because who wants to go on interviews and have to start over annually? People need better employers, like the employers in category four. 

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