At the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic, the United States took unprecedented measures to try to slow the spread of the virus. The country shut down for weeks. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, over 120,000 businesses closed their doors, leaving a staggering 30 million Americans without work.

These unemployed workers started spending at unexpected rates, driving up demand in most product-based sectors. As businesses began to reopen, something equally strange happened: Americans were not returning to work.

What happened to the labor force?

As demand shot through the roof, businesses scrambled to fill positions to keep up. Workers, however, found reasons to stay home.

Fear of infection

Many workers, especially those at risk for serious illness, did not feel comfortable returning to their old jobs. The fears of infection, coupled with stimulus checks keeping them financially afloat, were reason enough to avoid the risk. Companies that were less supportive of covid safety measures often solidified these decisions.

Care for loved ones

According to a poll from the Chamber of Commerce, nearly a third of women stated that caring for children or loved ones kept them from returning to work. Continual, unexpected school shutdowns kept many mothers from feeling like they could return to work while others needed to stay home to care for someone suffering with long covid symptoms.

Increased savings

For other Americans, spending less on essentials like gas meant they built up their savings fairly quickly, especially after receiving monthly stimulus checks from the government. With a healthy amount to live upon, many were in no rush to return to the daily grind.

Early Retirement

Some workers nearing retirement age simply decided to retire earlier rather than risk exposure to a virus that is more severe in aging patients. This trend was especially devastating in sectors that were already trending toward older workers, like construction.

Lack of Labor and Liability

Labor shortages have different effects in different sectors, but the result is almost always that the workload for remaining employees increases and employers are forced to lower their hiring standards. This can lead to several liability risks.

Increased workload

While the bump in stress is certainly undesirable, pressure to make up the difference can lead to employees taking safety risks or working dangerously long hours. The construction and manufacturing industries in particular have seen overwhelming demand met with fewer workers. Long hours and high pressure in such a dangerous environment can result in serious injuries, often made worse by the fact that construction is an aging sector.

Another sector in which this becomes more dangerous is commercial transportation. Part of the reason the supply chain is stalled is because of a trucker shortage unlike any other time in history, and it’s only expected to worsen. The American Trucking Association estimates that there are currently 80,000 unfilled positions. That number is expected to double by 2030. Truckers are having more accidents than ever, and pressure from companies to deliver in the midst of a supply chain disruption often means that vital safety protocols are ignored for the sake of expediency.

Lower hiring standards

As desperation for workers mounts, employers are reevaluating the hiring process. Taking on less skilled workers or dropping their standards in regards to criminal backgrounds leads to a workforce that is far more prone to accidents. This is backed up by a study that showed factory workers with a year or less of experience contributed to a full third of workplace accidents. Lower worker standards, combined with higher pressure, can result in even more devastating accidents in the construction and trucking sectors.

What businesses can do

To mitigate the risks associated with a worker shortage, there are a few steps businesses can take:

Attract the best talent

At times like these, skilled workers should be considered a company’s primary investment. Businesses that attract and employ the best talent now will have a major leg up on the competition in the long run. Competitive pay and benefits packages, as well as an aggressive recruiting program, will help attract top-tier talent. With this type of work force, operations can continue safely and efficiently.

Equip current workers

Whether a business employs a young, unproven workforce or seasoned vets, steps should be taken to hold and improve the talent on hand. One of the best ways to do this is an effective training program. By assigning new hires to experienced workers, companies can start a mentorship plan that rewards teachers even as it develops better trainees..

Businesses must also do everything they can to keep workers safe even when understaffed. Shortening shifts and scheduling regular check-ins can help to head off problems before they arise. Incentivising safety initiatives can help build an invaluable safety-centered workplace culture.

To learn how to protect your company during workforce shortages, contact the experts at