Romer: Elon Musk is wrong (about remote work) |

Romer: Elon Musk is wrong (about remote work)

As the worker shortage crisis continues to cause major headaches for small businesses, a new U.S. Chamber and MetLife poll finds that hiring challenges are causing the majority of small business owners to change the way they recruit and retain employees.

Data suggests that Elon Musk and the “Remote work is no longer acceptable and anyone who wishes to do remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean *minimum*) of 40 hours per week” policy is wrong. Working remote isn’t possible in many of our jobs, but for those who have the option, the data suggests it is both viable and beneficial. Employers who want to retain employees must focus on flexibility and valuing output over time at the office.

According to the Q1 2022 MetLife and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index, over half of small businesses (56%) say they are concerned about recruiting enough new employees to fill open positions, and 57% are concerned about employee retention. This is even higher locally with 80% of businesses pessimistic or expecting the same challenge with employee retention.

Larger small businesses (20-499 employees), in particular, find employee retention a challenge: they rank employee retention (21%) alongside inflation (24%), supply chain disruptions (25%), and COVID-19 (26%) as their highest concerns.

The struggles that small businesses are experiencing in hiring reflect the reality of a historically tight labor market. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that there are 11.3 million job openings in the U.S., but only 6.3 million unemployed workers. Eagle County is a microcosm of the national data, with multiple job openings for every unemployed worker.

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The data suggest that small businesses must make changes to retain employees. A near record-high of 37% of small businesses surveyed plan to increase staff this year, according to the poll. To attract workers amid a shortage of talent, small businesses are offering new benefits and opportunities to recruit and retain workers.

A majority (60%) of small businesses say they have implemented new changes over the past year to improve employee retention, including:

  • Increasing work schedule flexibility (37%)
  • Increasing wages (31%)
  • Providing employees with more opportunities to learn/grow (29%)

Looking ahead, less than half (48%) of small businesses agree that worker shortages across the country will be resolved in 2022. But most small businesses feel they are well placed to win the war for talent. A majority said their business has a clear plan in place to retain their employees (76%) or find and attract new ones (68%).

Employee attraction and retention are not the only issues facing businesses. Inflation and supply chain disruptions are other top worries. According to the Index, the vast majority (85%) of small business owners are concerned about the impact of inflation. More than two in three businesses (67%) report having to raise prices to cope with inflation.

One in three (33%) small business owners now rank inflation as their biggest challenge, up from 23% last quarter. Other top challenges include:

Supply chain disruptions (26%), jumping eight percentage points since last quarter

COVID-19 safety protocols/compliance (24%)

Revenue (21%)

Employee well-being/morale (14%)

The biggest challenge we’re facing right now is finding ready, willing, and able-to-work employees. And it’s not unique to us, it’s a challenge all of our neighbors are facing at the same time. We simply do not have enough people to fill the positions that exist to support our businesses or their expected growth and expansion. Despite Elon Musk’s inflexible approach, most businesses are embracing flexibility whenever possible.

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