“Now Hiring” signs may soon become our national flower. Everywhere you look – storefronts, warehouses, billboards, or other inventive places you’ll find the ubiquitous plea for employees. As COVID-19 swept across the nation and globe, one of the unanticipated phenomena left in its wake was the Great Resignation. Literally, millions of people voluntarily left their jobs. With the help of government financial assistance, many were allowed to reevaluate their current work situation, stay at home, and decide what the next chapter of their work-life would look like. In March 2022, more than 4.5 million workers voluntarily left their jobs.

We often think of employment in terms of skills, level of education, and experience. Today’s more significant divide in employment comes down to working remotely or onsite, where physical presence is essential. Many employers could accommodate their employees with a work from home model where staff could maintain business continuity through virtual meetings, computer interactions, and other methods that did not require physical presence.

Such business models were beneficial not only to employees but also to employers. Less building space means less expense. The talent pool available is no longer restricted to a community, a state, or a country. Employees can be found and recruited globally. In the longer term, this global availability of workers may lead to implications for American workers who are today driving the bus.

But for businesses requiring a physical presence, no such opportunity exists. Every industry, from restaurants to retail services to hospitality, grocery, healthcare, travel, delivery services, childcare help, and so on – where we rely on onsite personnel for business continuity has felt the squeeze. It is not simply a labor shortage but a milieu of conditions contributing to this problem. Employees want flexibility in their schedules and job location. Demand for higher compensation is climbing. Many returning staff have childcare issues, and Baby Boomers retired sooner, in greater numbers, and they’re not returning.

For companies whose business model relies on in-person staffing, adjustments have been made. Hours have been reduced. Reduced waitstaff has transformed some restaurants into buffet-style dining and moving eating outdoors. Across multiple industry segments, wait times for service are longer. Some employers have lifted vaccine requirements. Some have shuttered their buildings.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic,155 million people were employed in the US. Today, our nation employs about 152 million – with three million vanished or about 2% of the workforce. The pandemic created an imbalance between the demand for workers and the available supply. It also helped people reshuffle their priorities.

There is a lot of buzz about whether this tight labor market will last. It depends. Right now, workers have the upper hand, but depending on the economy’s direction, that could shift. Perhaps the disappearance of talent has reinforced what business owners already know or should know. Create a great place to work so your retention plan is solid. Remember the Golden Rule: treat staff as you’d want to be treated. Yes, compensation is a driver, but recognize many employees are looking for a future pathway and a way to make a contribution.