When Employees Want COVID Unemployment Over a Job at Your Company

Kris Dunn COVID-19, Organizational Development, Talent Strategy 1 Comment

This post is for the business owners (and the HR pros who support them) that have lower paying jobs that have been thrown into turmoil by the COVID lockdown and the resulting recession. The company I’m a part of isn’t part of this situation, but I’ve been following the news closely.

As expected, federal enhancements to unemployment meant to aid the unemployed is causing confusion and frustration among some business owners, laid-off workers, and the employed, according to interviews.

The federal program pays $600 weekly to the unemployed, in addition to state unemployment payments. With the extra federal money, workers in more than half of US states will receive, on average, more than they were earning while employed, according to an analysis detailed by The New York Times.

If you go read the article, you’ll see those who got a raise (or could) through federal unemployment analyzing it like this:

“Marcus Anthony, a 48-year-old warehouse worker in Macon, Georgia, said he was receiving $300 more weekly in unemployment benefits — for a total of $730 after taxes — than he would with his regular paycheck.

He said he’s feeling conflicted about his eventual return to work.

The extra money “will undoubtedly come in handy during these uncertain times but will be missed when I’m called back to work because I make far less,” he said. “On the upside, I guess after the pandemic I hope to return to a life of normalcy with a full-time job with full benefits.”

And this:

“Miriam G., who requested that her last name remain private, said she initially felt relieved when she was spared from layoffs at the public-relations firm where she worked in New York City and instead given a pay cut.

Now, she’s thinking her laid-off colleagues might be better off.

“I’m trying to decide how is the best method to go about the conversation with my management about how unemployment benefits are more supportive right now than my steady paycheck,” she said.

Add to this employers who thought they were heroes by getting a loan to continue operations through the Payroll Protection Act, only to find their employees pissed that they would get employment protected rather than go into unemployment due to the pay differential, and it’s clear – employers have a lot to consider (click on the link if you haven’t seen the story, it’s a doozy).

So what do you do if you’re an employer and you have the following?

1–Employees who don’t want you to protect jobs because unemployment is richer, or 

2–Employees who have been furloughed but are signaling they don’t want you to bring them back for the same reason.

My advice? First, understand and be empathetic to the fact that some may actually be prioritizing their safety over the money.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get real. I offer up the following quote from Don Draper on Mad Men for all the business owners who feel slighted and under-appreciated by these circumstances:

People tell you who they are, but we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be.” 

Simply put, when people who are working full schedules (or you’re paying in full while you try to wait this out) want to get the compensation provided by the Federal unemployment benefit – or want to stay out and not return to work if you furloughed them and want to bring them back, they’re telling you what they value most.

Money in the pocket during a recession is key. So you can’t blame the people who view the world in that way, right?

Right.

But you can prioritize the people who didn’t feel that way for the rest of your company’s existence. You know the ones I’m talking about – the ones who never blinked, who never considered that going on unemployment is better than working, regardless of the compensation of both paths.

Simply put, the people who never blinked and valued the job over the unemployment compensation are the building blocks of your company moving forward.

There’s a work ethic in this group. If you find yourself in this situation as an employer of folks who net under 30K annually, you should be empathetic to the group that wants to get as much compensation as possible, but you should never view them the same as the folks who wanted the job – above and beyond all else.

At some point, the benefits run out and we are likely still in a recession with employment levels significantly lower than what we knew before March 2020.

Protect the people who hung with you during this time. They’re different. There’s something in them that made them value the job over all else. Celebrate the group who hung tight and refused to join the group think that unemployment was better than a job.

They’re who you build around coming out of this.

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