| Apr 09 2020

Company Needing Workers Seeking Company w/Workers Needing Hours

Tracy Watts
Senior Partner, National Leader for U.S. Health Policy

It’s being reported that five million more unemployment claims are expected, which would push the total number of Americans filing for unemployment to more than 15 million. Unfortunately, that number may go even higher. Beth Umland, Mercer’s Director of Research, explained in a blog post that employers responding to our latest Mercer poll are considering furloughs (35%) or layoffs (26%) in the next 60 days. It’s just another sobering statistic in a sea of scary and depressing economic reports.

While it feels so good to hear about companies like Bank of America, Marsh & McLennan Companies, Morgan Stanley, and Visa pledging to avoid layoffs during the pandemic, most American businesses can’t make promises like that. But this week I learned about some companies that are doing something equally awesome: sharing their workers with other businesses in their communities to keep them employed.

My colleagues have been talking with retailers, grocers, movie theaters and warehouses who are working together to address their pandemic-induced staffing challenges. While the deals are unique to each pair of employers, there are some commonalities:

  • The employer contemplating furloughs/layoffs “loans” labor to the employer experiencing increased demand
  • Agreements are typically between two employers that have workers with similar skills. This reduces the time it takes to onboard and train staff for new positions.
  • The lending employer continues benefits; the receiving employer pays wages
  • When demand levels out again, employees of the lending employer return to their original jobs and the receiving employer isn’t forced to terminate employees they no longer need.

The biggest hurdle to forging this type of agreement is locating an employer in a specific geographic region with similar workforce skills that can complement current staffing needs. It has been rewarding for us to be able to leverage our connections across industries and geographies to facilitate workforce matchmaking opportunities.

This type of agreement comes with challenges and risks, including how employees get paid, whether benefits continue, ensuring employee safety and a whole host of other issues. Most of these have to be negotiated and handled between the two organizations themselves. But the employers that my colleagues have talked with seem determined to make this work – and quickly -- by tapping resources to think outside the box. At Mercer, we’re excited to help identify a business solution that exemplifies leading through a crisis with empathy for employees. And who knows? This exercise in rethinking the routine may result in a new workforce strategy that employers will use for years to come -- to adapt to whatever challenges the future brings.

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