Hunting for Employees: Mining today's discretionary workforce
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Hunting for Employees: Mining today's discretionary workforce

Hunting for Employees: Mining today's discretionary workforce

One of the most frequent questions I’ve heard business leaders ask over the past 2 years is, “Where have all the workers gone, and how can I attract and keep them?” The pandemic was a professional awakening that caused many employees to reevaluate their professional careers—not only what they want, but also what they’re no longer willing to tolerate.

Who’s calling the shots?

One overlooked segment of the labor pool is what I call the “discretionary workforce”: people who do not have to work, but in the pre-pandemic past chose to work. Who are the people falling into this category?

1) People around retirement age, many of whom enjoy working and don’t want to retire or fully retire.

2) Recent college graduates who decide to delay starting their careers (i.e., stay on mom and dad’s payroll) because graduate school looked like a better alternative.

3) Stay-at-home parents (mostly mothers) who don’t have to work for financial reasons but who like to work a few days a week for sanity purposes.

The gig economy is another crevasse in the labor pool, with hidden workers who continue to reduce the available workforce. Looking for independence, this group includes solopreneurs, Uber/Lyft drivers, business coaches, virtual assistants, freelance writers, and other nontraditional workers.

Overlooked cohorts

The impact of the discretionary workforce is a great group to try to recruit. Shifting from the Great Resignation by capitalizing on the Great Opportunity starts with attracting and retaining women and the older workforce. Earlier this year, global leaders from numerous industries shared with the Fast Company Impact Council how companies can do just that.

“Women’s labor force participation rate in the U.S. has been set back 33 years, and gender pay equity has been set back 23 years,” said Jean Accius, SVP at AARP. “There’s very little gender equity in there. Childcare is important. Paid leave is important. But they are not silver bullets.” For more inclusive workplaces, he says, there must be a commitment to equity and oversight of that commitment. If this can be achieved, Accius believes the positive impact on employee acquisition and retention, and the economic impact on companies and our economy in general, will be tremendous.

Leila McKenzie-Delis, founder and CEO of Dial Global, said, “In the U.S., you have about 10,000 people who are turning 65 every day. Currently, companies are managing around five generations at any given point in time.” Organizations with inclusive company cultures leveraging this diversity in their workforce will enjoy a competitive edge going forward, both from retaining a broad range of talent and from enjoying a deeper understanding of their aging customer base.

For many workers, the Great Resignation is paying off. According to a Pew Research Center report, 60% of people who changed employers saw an increase in real earnings, compared with 47% of those who remained in the same job. Not only that, but approximately 20% of current employees are at least somewhat likely to become job seekers in the next 6 months. Clearly, every organization must have a solid employee retention strategy in place.

5 ways to lead the Great Retention

Now that we have a greater understanding of the post-Covid workforce, how can we best inspire leaders for the Great Retention?

1) Develop great leaders to be “people first.” In the past few years we have asked more of our leaders than ever before. Let’s reward them, let’s help them, let’s train them, let’s inspire them. To evolve into customer service leaders, new leaders must strike a balance between getting results and being understanding and empathetic with employees.

2) Train your leaders how to lead at a distance. We live in a different world today; leaders have unique responsibilities never before seen. Today’s leaders must know how to lead from a distance, help their employees feel emotionally and professionally connected, and promote a sense of collaboration and work community.

3) Offer career opportunities. From their first day of new employee orientation—and continuously—inform every employee of the professional development opportunities. Share examples of your own rags-to-riches stories of people who rose through the ranks of your company and have been rewarded.

4) Conduct stay interviews. Let’s recognize loyalty. Let’s find out why existing employees stay. For the highest level of employee engagement, we must continue to re-recruit our employees.

5) Share your vision and tie it to your employees’ jobs. It shouldn’t be a shock that so many employees decide they don’t want to stay in jobs that don’t engage or inspire them. The vast majority don’t want just competitive wages and health insurance, they want to be part of something bigger. They are not lazy; they are simply not willing to trade hours for dollars.

Labor shortage as opportunity

While the past couple of years have been chaotic, with dust still settling from the resultant pandemic restrictions and labor shortage, this can also be a time of greater understanding between employers and current and prospective employees. In the words of the late American publisher Malcolm Forbes, “The best vision is insight.”

John R. DiJulius III, author of The Customer Service Revolution, is president of The DiJulius Group, a customer service consulting firm that works with companies that include Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Ritz-Carlton, Nestle, PwC, Lexus. Contact him at 216-839-1430 or

Published: June 30th, 2023

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