This is probably the most frequent question I have heard business leaders ask over the past two years: Where have all the workers gone, and how can I attract and keep them? Nearly every industry is struggling with finding enough workers to run fully staffed. For so many the pandemic was a professional awakening, causing many employees to reevaluate their professional careers, not only what they want but also what they’re no longer willing to tolerate.

Some Segments of the Labor Pool are Actually Calling the Shots

An overlooked segment of the labor pool is what I call the “discretionary workforce”. The discretionary workforce includes those groups who do not have to work; in the past, pre-pandemic, they chose to work. Who, specifically, are the people falling into this category?

  1. People around retirement age. Many people enjoy working and don’t want to retire or fully retire.
  2. Recent college graduates who decide to delay starting their careers (stay on mom & dad’s payroll) because a graduate school with its further degree requirements looked like a better alternative.
  3. Stay-at-home parents (mostly mothers) who don’t need to work for financial reasons but liked to work a few days a week for sanity purposes.

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The “gig economy” is another crevasse in the labor pool, with hidden workers who continue to reduce the available workforce. They include those former employees who are looking for independence, e.g., solopreneurs, Uber drivers, business coaches, virtual assistants, freelance writers, and other nontraditional workers.

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*Related – What is Quiet Quitting?

Equity Matters: Capitalizing on the Great Opportunity

The impact of the discretionary workforce on the labor shortage has been extremely underestimated. It is also a great group to try to recruit for your job opportunities. Shifting from the Great Resignation by capitalizing on the Great Opportunity starts with attracting and keeping women and the older workforce. Earlier this year leaders from around the globe, 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, Senior Vice President of 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 tomorrow and beyond, there must be a commitment to equity and an overseeing of the 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, shared, “In the U.S., you have about 10,000 people who are turning 65 each and 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 enjoying a deeper understanding of their aging customer base.

*Related – Prioritize Employee Mental Well-Being

Loyalty, Unrewarded

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

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5 Ways to Lead the Great Retention

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

  1. Develop great leaders to be “people first”The last 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 need to 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 need to know how to lead from a distance, help their employees feel emotionally and professionally connected, along with promoting a sense of collaboration and work community.
  3. Offer career opportunities – From their first day of new employee orientation and continuously, let’s make every employee aware of the professional development opportunities when they are rockstars of customer service experience and help the company grow. Share examples of your own rags-to-riches stories of people who rose through the ranks of your company and have been rewarded for it.
  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.

*RelatedHelping Your Employees Find Their Ikigai

5. Share your vision and tie it to your employees’ jobs – It shouldn’t be a shock that so many employees decided they don’t want to stay in jobs that don’t engage or inspire them. The vast majority of people don’t just want 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 is an Opportunity for Businesses AND Talent

While the past couple of years has 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/prospective employees, alike. In the words of the late American publisher Malcolm Forbes, “The best vision is insight”.

*Register for the Class of 2023 Customer Experience Executive Academy


“Kindness is not an act—rather a lifestyle.”


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Join us this November 8th & 9th in Cleveland, Ohio, for The Customer Service Revolution in person or virtually.

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Learn from incredible subject matter experts on The Great Retention:

  • Employee experience
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  • Change management
  • Motivation
  • Leadership, and much more!

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You’re going to love the content that has been curated for you during the two-day conference. These sessions will allow your team to divide and conquer at the event, learning as much as possible during their experience.


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About The Author

John DiJulius

John R. DiJulius is a best-selling author, consultant, keynote speaker and President of The DiJulius Group, the leading Customer experience consulting firm in the nation. He blogs on Customer experience trends and best practices.