Trader Joe’s appears to have created a “work by choice” workforce.
U.S. employers are looking to fill more than 11 million jobs. With 99.5 million working age adults currently not in the labor force, that should be easy. The trouble is: the vast majority of them, 93.3 million to be precise, don’t want a job and aren’t looking for work.
Of the slightly more than 6 million who say they do want to work, more than a third haven’t looked for work during the past year. If they had, they’d be working by now, because Help Wanted signs are everywhere.
The headlines tell the story. From The Wall Street Journal, June 21: “Labor Shortage Weighs On Small Businesses.” From the same issue: “Worker Shortage Stymies Construction.” From CNN, June 4: “Worker shortage forces summer camps to trim—or cancel—all programs.” From Industry Week, June 2: “US Private Hiring Slows in May Amid Worker Shortage.”
From food service and hospitality to nursing, manufacturing and transportation, the story is the same: Employers have jobs, but they don’t have job candidates.
So, imagine if we could entice just a small percentage of today’s non-working working-age adults to join, or rejoin, the workforce. The labor shortages would disappear.
Who are the 93.3 million workers who are missing in action? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 60 million are 55 years or older, more than 22 million are age 25 to 54 and more than 17 million are 16 to 24 years old. Fifty-eight million are women.
And by and large, it’s a no excuses crowd: 379,000 say they haven’t been looking for work because they’re discouraged, 169,000 say they’re sitting on the sidelines because of family responsibilities, 154,000 claim to be in school or training, and 146,000 say they’re not working due to ill health or disability. In short, out of the nearly 100 million working-age adults who currently aren’t working, it appears most aren’t working for the simple reason that they don’t want to.
Let’s focus on the 55+ crowd (BTW, my crowd) in particular, because it’s both the largest cohort (60.2 million) and, in many ways, the most valuable, possessing decades of on-the-job work experience.
It’s certainly reasonable to ask: After a lifetime of work, shouldn’t they be able to relax and enjoy life? And if they don’t have to work, why should they choose to work?
Those are questions employers need to grapple with. The key words are “enjoy” and “choose.” What can employers do to make work so enjoyable that seniors will choose work—even part-time work—over leisure?
One company that seems to have found the answer is Trader Joe’s. I’ve always been captivated both by the number of older workers and the overall easy-going work atmosphere at my local Trader Joe’s.
Don’t get me wrong: Everyone appears focused and highly motivated and you rarely see anyone slacking off. But they also seem to be enjoying themselves. The older workers—most of whom (I imagine) probably retired from a previous career and decided to do something different when they got bored with retirement—seem to fit right in with their younger coworkers with their Hawaiian shirts.
I imagine the work can be difficult at times: stocking shelves, bagging groceries, and standing at a register for long periods of time (with regular breaks, I notice). But the alternative for some senior “crew” members, as employees are called, probably would be sitting around watching TV, going to the senior center, or kibbitzing with friends and neighbors.
Though I have no formal relationship with the company—other than being a regular shopper—Trader Joe’s appears to have created a “work by choice” workforce. People work there, it appears, solely because they choose to work there. Employee reviews on Indeed.com, though not uniformly positive [If they were, it would raise some suspicions.], seem to support my impression.
Or, as mashed.com further explains, Trader Joe’s provides good pay and benefits and a family feel that makes work seem like “nothing more than, ‘hanging out with friends for eight hours.’”
Other companies should emulate this “work by choice” model. With tens of millions of healthy men and women voluntarily sitting on the work sidelines, and more than 11 million jobs that need filling, employers have to create workplaces that make people want to work there. It’s that simple.