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  • Scott Whipkey

The Music Has Stopped

It's time to face the music.

What will you do when:

1. Some of your people are comfortable not working.

Employers: Don't be surprised if your job offer is declined.

Say you offer someone a job (or their old job back), and they reply, "Thanks very much, but frankly, I'm doing well staying home. I've got bills to pay and three young kids to feed." Or maybe they'll just ghost you. According to the Olean (NY) Times Herald (4/20/20), "For someone making roughly $55,000 a year in their job, they would make the same amount collecting unemployment benefits for the next nine months. For someone who was paid less than that in their job, their income from unemployment benefits could far exceed what they were paid to work."

If your offer is rejected, are you prepared to report this to the unemployment authority? Would you consider re-hiring the person in the future? And how will downsized employees balance their moral/legal/civic duty to return to work, with their responsibility to provide for their families?

2. Your boss calls to re-hire you – at reduced compensation.

Employees: You may see your pay, hours, duties, benefits and perks cut if you want to return to your job.

You can't really fault the company if the alternative is more layoffs, or insolvency.

Will you hold out for something better? Take your old job back, but keep looking? Or maybe roll the dice and try to negotiate? You might also try to reach an agreement to get back to full compensation upon achievement of specific objectives.

It will be interesting to see how companies juggle their duty to help their people, their responsibility to stakeholders, and their commitments to customers.

3. A critical employee isn't comfortable coming back to work yet.

Employers: The shutdown is over, and this particular role absolutely cannot be done from home. Your own job is on the line too, and you need someone in this position right away.

Will you hold their job open until they're comfortable? Will you keep paying them? How much and for how long? Is your decision different if they are medically high-risk? Or if they're a single parent struggling to make ends meet? Would you ask them to take unpaid leave, so that you can hire a temp until they return? And what effect will this have if you've taken a PPP loan?

Two things are certain: (1) you need someone now, and (2) you can’t afford to pay two people to do one job.

4. You see your old job posted.

Employees: If they really wanted you back, wouldn't they have called?

Perhaps their post-pandemic needs have changed, and your skills no longer fit. Some organizations might take this opportunity to 'upgrade' their teams. And when the music stops, some highly compensated, benefit-rich employees may find their old seats filled with younger, cheaper talent with a higher 'upside'. After all, there are lots of great people available now at a good price. Best advice: Assume you won't be back, and start finding a good seat.

5) You're safe, and being recruited.

Employees: Millions are out-of-work, but that doesn't mean the headhunters won't be calling.

Even in hard times: the best people aren't looking, and the best jobs aren't posted. Companies don't want to be deluged with applicants, and they also might not want to broadcast the holes in their organization for the world to see. We already have more clients asking us to conduct confidential searches as they move to fill key roles, re-build their teams, and position for post-pandemic prosperity.

You need to be prepared for how you're going to handle the recruiter's call when it comes, and this depends entirely on your own situation. Now is the time for some soul-searching. So take the headhunter's call, ask good questions, and be direct. The great game of musical chairs is mainly a function of supply and demand.

The music has stopped, but the rules have changed. We've posed more questions than answers because the new rules have yet to be written. Your comments would be appreciated, so that we can all make more informed, sound decisions.

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