The great labour shortage – an opinion piece

Yesterday, I finally caught up with my friend Louise. We had agreed to go for dinner to Earl’s restaurant, but she didn’t know the southside very well and couldn’t figure out how to get there. So, we settled on going to Ihop. I had never been to an Ihop before, but I assumed it was like any other Denny’s or similar type of restaurants.

When we got there, the restaurant was mostly empty except for a few tables. I had no idea how huge the place was. There was one waitress working as the hostess, seating people and taking their orders. As the restaurant became busier, there was another waitress.

The food was served fairly quickly – though my fries were undercooked which was disappointing. I paid in cash for the first time ever and the waitress had to get me change. We watched as she went from table to table, on her own, taking orders, before she finally got a chance to go back to the till.

We stood up and waited by the till as a reminder to her. And she came right away. She seemed flustered and looked like she was about ready to cry. I’m always kind to restaurant staff, but these days, I feel it important to even be kinder to them, and work on patience.

She rushed to hand me the change, and gave me an extra $10. Having worked as a cashier before, I knew she would get into trouble for being short in her till. I handed her the $10 back and said, “It was only $15. Thank you.”

She was so grateful that I was honest and again, it looked like she was going to cry.

Staff shortages everywhere

Last week, when I ordered my sofa from Leon’s, I received a call from the southside store. The sales person told me that I had ordered from the warehouse on the other end of town. Since I had requested assistance with set up, he told me that they would make an exception for me – and have the sofa shipped out to the southside store. This way, they could deliver it to me and set it up for me as well.

He said, “we are really short staffed right now, I’ll try to get it to you Saturday. But it might be Tuesday.” I told him I understood, even though I was disappointed – and I got a call a few minutes later advising my sofa would be here Wednesday, which is tomorrow.

A delivery that would normally take three days, turned into a week long wait. It’s been trying on my patience, but – the store went out of their way to accommodate my request. I can’t complain about that, can I? It wouldn’t be right.

Again, I told myself to practice kindness and patience.

Shortage of international travelers

I know that in places like Jasper and Banff, which are popular tourist spots here in Alberta, many places have been struggling to find staff willing to work. I think I figured out the issue there. With the pandemic and travel restrictions, we don’t have the amount of international workers that we would normally have in summer months.

When I’ve traveled to the mountains in the past, I was almost always served by an international student or someone who was on a travel Visa from far off places like New Zealand or Australia.

Here in Edmonton, while we don’t get a lot of international workers – we do get quite a large number of international students who take some of the summer jobs. But again, with the travel restrictions that have been in place for the past year – good workers are in short supply.

Shortage of medical staff

Louise told me last night as we were discussing the shortage issues, that her clinic of over 15 years where she donates plasma, called her and asked her to reschedule her appointment. She said they didn’t have any staff to get her set up for the plasma donation.

It is scary when you think about it. We need these workers. Without these essential workers in retail, restaurants and medicine, how are we even supposed to function as a society?

I have a feeling it’s going to be harder to get in for personal services and specialized businesses due to staff shortages. Wait times may be longer. Shipping times have already increased for most companies due to delays in post offices.

But the real question here is — why? Why is this happening?

Worker’s Revolution

What I’ve learned on apps like TikTok is that it’s not that the younger generation doesn’t want to work. It’s the fact that most places are paying slave wages. How is it fair that people have to work two or three jobs just to pay for basics like rent and food?

Working conditions in fast food restaurants for instance, are horrendous. From horrible bosses that micro-manage or “steal time” from their employees, or worse, they overwork the one worker who is actually willing to work hard and follow procedures and protocols – to the point that worker becomes burned out. I know this to be true, because it happened to me in my job not that long ago.

The common complaint that I see is when employees request time off – whether it be for family leave, bereavement leave, or even for being legitimately sick – employers often threaten them with job their jobs to try and force the employee to come into work.

How is that fair? How is that even legal? It’s not really. Employees are entitled to vacation days, sick time and family bereavement leave. They may not get paid for the time off , but they are more than entitled to request the time off.

It’s almost like society expects people to work full time and dedicate their entire lives to work. Like, no. Some of us have families or passion projects that we want to spend time on. Some of us have health issues that need to be dealt with.

And ALL of us, need that time for self-care. It’s important. For every one of us.

And then we have the angry customers who just want to fight about everything. I’ve seen one too many “Karen” videos to know that I could never work in customer service again.

Advice to business owners

If employers are struggling to see why they can’t find workers, I have some advice and solutions for them. They sound easy to do on paper – but for some employers, these solutions are costly. In my opinion, I think that investing in your employees can only help sustain your business for the long haul. Give your employees reasons to want to stay where they are.

  • Offer fair wages so your employees don’t have to take two or three jobs just to make ends meet. This includes paying employees what they are worth based on experience.
  • Offer paid time off, or sick days so that employees know they can look after their own health.
  • Focus on retention of staff – encourage personal development, mentorships, career growth and opportunities
  • Ensure your workplace is safe and free from toxic and hostile behaviours. Have protocols and policies in place for staff to safely report these toxic behaviours. Middle management is where most of these violations occur.
  • Stop micro-managing your employees. Train them well, so you don’t have to watch their every move. In return, you will have happier and more confident employees. You will see less turnover and more employee satisfaction.
  • Don’t expect your employees to behave like family. Work is work. Unless you work in a family business, it’s ridiculous to expect this kind of “loyalty” from your workers.
  • Don’t let “Karens” bully your employees. Create policies that protect your employees. The customer is not always right.

Some of these items could easily be implemented by having the right policies and procedures in place. If you don’t know how to create these, you could seek out the help of professionals or consultants who can. For administrative policies, I could definitely help you out.

I have a lot more I could say on the subject but I think I’ll stop there. I had to laugh when I saw a clip on TikTok not long ago from a news interview.

“It’s almost like workers expect to be paid to show up to work.”

Um…. isn’t that the point?

Do they expect people to work … for free???

Anyways. I know this is a hot topic – let me know your thoughts in the comments. Are you experiencing labour shortages where you live? How is it impacting your business or experiences as a customer?

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