Right now, from every client and every business owner I talk to, I am hearing an overarching concern: They can’t hire or keep enough people. The problem is at all levels, from entry to middle management, and even in more senior positions. The combination of a chronically tight labor market, “quiet quitting” as people pull back and reassess their jobs and the desire for change continue to create a persistent and ongoing talent challenge.
The solution does not sit in any one company, but in how attractive of an economy we are for the current workforce. The business community seems to know this and has taken the lead in quality-of-life issues such as early childhood education and transportation. But is it enough to repair the years of state neglect in infrastructure, both physical and social?
The headlines tell two stark tales: one of economic success and scientific innovation and the other of a stubborn wealth gap and inequitable growth. Within these contradictions lies the answer.
Massachusetts has many strengths; it is a rich, stable and sensible state, one of the first and still the best. The question is, how can its strengths be used to fill the deficits we see around us?
A Chance to Highlight Solutions
This election cycle, the Fair Share Amendment will be pushing the state to have these conversations about solutions; and rather than just dismiss the issues or the amendment, this may be an opportunity for the business community to highlight its solutions to these ongoing problems.
Our employees are the ones paying for childcare, taking the train and sending their kids to public schools. Helping them to do these very things will go a long way toward elevating our brand, our workforce and our infrastructure in Massachusetts.
In fact, structural change goes to the heart of what McKinsey has highlighted as the way forward for businesses as “competition for talent remains fierce” at a time of a “fundamental mismatch between companies’ demand for talent and the number of workers willing to supply it.” Rather than rely solely on compensation, benefits, and opportunities for advancement, employers need to “solve the underlying structural imbalance,” McKinsey states, such as by offering more flexibility and mental health benefits. In other words, making life better and less stressful for the people who do the work at our companies.
We know that, among Millennials in particular, there is a willingness to actually be paid less in order to work for a company that aligns with their sense of purpose. Businesses supporting structural change in a way that helps reduce the wealth gap, expand quality education and increase workforce development send a more powerful message with greater impact for the long term. After all, philanthropy – which also has been dwindling – is not going to rebuild our infrastructure. (And, while wealthy Americans have increased their wealth, what hasn’t increased is their generosity, as Forbes reported, citing a decline in overall “philanthropy scores.”)
A Business Opportunity in Disguise
Of course, the notion that people will become Robin Hoods who give it all to the poor is unrealistic. However, I have some dear friends who came close – people like Chuck Collins, author of “Wealth Hoarders” and part of the Oscar Mayer family. He and others, like George Pillsbury, my co-founder at Mass VOTE, have donated most of their wealth to fight for fairer tax policies.
They are not alone. Patriotic Millionaires is another organization pushing for fairer tax policy, chaired by Morris Pearl, a former managing director at BlackRock. And as angel investor Karen Stewart puts it on their website: “I don’t want to add to my personal net worth at the expense of my fellow Americans. I can pay more, I should pay more, and I reject the false concept that we wealthy Americans are the job creators who will leave the country with our money if we’re asked to pay our fair share.”
Now, let’s keep it real. Every quarter, I get sticker shock when paying taxes. But to blame the people who make even less than I do makes no sense. The Fair Share Amendment is on the ballot because working people need relief – the people who make sure we have hot coffee on our way to work or fix the traffic lights after a storm so we can drive safely to the store. And ignoring that may not make the industry more attractive.
Whether this amendment passes or is defeated, it is going to be a public fight. It’s important for the business community to be seen not as opposed to it, but rather using it as an opportunity to double down on its own investments and solutions for working people. We continue to navigate unprecedented times in which there are no rule books on how to build a workforce, but one thing is sure: for the sake of the next generations that businesses want to attract and retain, empathy and impact need to be more than talking points.
Malia Lazu is a lecturer in the Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management Group at the MIT Sloan School of Management, CEO of The Lazu Group and former Eastern Massachusetts regional president and chief experience and culture officer at Berkshire Bank.