It’s a workers’ market, to which banks must adapt

If you’ve been out to dinner this summer, you’ve no doubt been waitlisted at a restaurant that had plenty of open tables but not enough servers. Perhaps you’ve had a recent flight canceled for lack of a crew. Or, maybe your flight got off the ground but was stopped short of your destination because there wasn’t a crew waiting to wave the aircraft into the gate. Minor inconveniences these, but also harbingers of a larger problem.

Staffing, which has never been easy, has bedeviled nearly every business since the pandemic and has gotten more fraught this summer. First there was the Great Resignation. Then came the Great Vacation followed by the Great Reinfection. With a national unemployment rate holding steady at about 3.5 percent, businesses struggle to operate at capacity or fill open positions. Those hoping to staff up to a level that supports growth, well fuggedaboutit.

Staffing dilemmas are especially troubling for firms with fewer than 50 employees, as these companies cannot compete with larger companies on wages and benefits, traditionally the two crispiest recruiting carrots. These days, the differentiator for workers assessing an opportunity is a company’s attitude or acceptance of remote work.

A recent survey published by IntraFi revealed that 59 percent of bank executives said “no” to remote work as a viable option to fill open positions. For respondents at banks with less than $1 billion in assets, that figure jumped to 65 percent. I get that having everyone under one roof makes managing them easier. A study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that many managers are not happy about the extra work associated with managing remote workers.

Yet the paradigm has shifted. Workers are flexing their privilege, and it’s showing up everywhere. If your leadership team isn’t willing to flex in order to accommodate today’s workers, then get used to unfilled positions and the bottom-line results those gaps deliver.

When I interviewed our 2022 “Banker of the Year” Brenda Foster, she attributed some of the staffing challenges at her institution to a spate of unexpected early retirements. I’ll bet people looking at their 401(k) statements one year ago were feeling a bit wealthier than they are these days. I wonder how many recently retired bank employees couldn’t be coaxed back into part-time, flexible and, dare-I-say, remote positions at their former bank? It can’t hurt to reach out and ask.