All Articles Leadership Management The great "refusal to work" lie

The great “refusal to work” lie

Unemployment benefits aren't the only thing keeping you from hiring great employees. Learn what's in your control about finding, attracting and retaining talent after the pandemic.

5 min read


The great "refusal to work" lie


I can’t wait for the additional unemployment checks to end, but not for the reason you may think. Organizations and leaders struggling to attract talent have been using the additional unemployment benefits provided during COVID-19 as a crutch.

Hey, it’s easier to blame someone else (in this case, the government) for your problems than to look inward to see if the problem might be you.

In other words, they’re lying to themselves and propagating this lie to others every chance they get.

Are there some people who would rather collect an unemployment check than work? Sure. This was true before the pandemic, during, and will not change once this pandemic is behind us.

However, many people can’t wait to get back to work, and the extra unemployment money isn’t what’s keeping them from doing so.

Here’s a list of why you can’t find talent

1. Workers are still resentful that some companies never stayed in touch while they were on furlough. Are you guilty of this? Think about it. Would you be champing at the bit to return to an organization that treated you as if you no longer existed?

2. You’re trying the wrong tactics to bait talent. One-time sign-on bonuses are a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

3. For many workers, it’s considerably less expensive to stay home with your kids instead of paying for child care — that is, if you can even secure a coveted child care spot. Have you checked the market lately to ensure your wages are still competitive? Can those workers, whom you’re trying to attract, afford to work for you? Are you willing to subsidize the high cost of child care?

4. Many people have experienced what it’s like to work from home and have been successfully doing so. They want the flexibility to do so in the future, yet many employers are saying, “It’s my way or the highway.” More and more workers are choosing the highway. Can you afford to stand your ground while positions go unstaffed? How much are you willing to lose in terms of revenue? How will these unfilled positions impact your reputation?

5. Your online application process is tortuous. Most were built for applicants applying from their computers, which is a problem when you consider that 61% of all job applications were submitted via mobile devices last year! Now imagine what happens when a candidate is required to type in their entire resume to be considered. If it takes more than 10 minutes to apply, many candidates won’t bother.

6. Qualified candidates can’t get through your applicant tracking systems. Their resumes seem to go into a dark hole, never to be found. Don’t believe me? Try applying for a position with your organization and see if you can get hired!

7. Job seekers are looking for better benefits. Stories about awesome perks are in the headlines daily, making many people question why they should forego an opportunity to get in on the goods. They’re flocking to those organizations that are offering a pot of gold while your talent pipeline remains dry.

8. Speaking of benefits, job seekers are looking for good health care benefits. The pandemic has shown people that we’re all vulnerable — you can get sick at any time. While it may not have been traditional for organizations in your industry to offer such benefits, you soon may not have a choice — that is, if you need staff to produce your products or serve your customers.

9. Money matters. The people who say it doesn’t have money. Job seekers want to be fairly compensated for the work they do. You may be able to snag some talent with lowball offers, but for how long? These people will be ripe for the plucking and will depart the moment they receive a better offer.

10. Jobs with overinflated job requirements will remain unfilled or will continually turn over. Candidates who are well-suited for these jobs, yet don’t perfectly match your long list of qualifications, won’t give your job postings more than a glance. Think about it. Is it essential to have a college degree to fulfill the duties of a receptionist or a customer support rep? I think we both know the answer to this question.

11. Many job applicants will remove themselves from consideration if the entire hiring process is long and drawn out. Some will be quickly snapped up by organizations that hire more swiftly, and others will refuse to work somewhere solely based on the applicant experience.

12. Less “desirable” candidates can’t get a second look. I’m not talking about people who have served prison sentences for robbing a bank. I’m referring to mature workers, people with disabilities and military veterans. Consider looking for talent where others aren’t digging. Be willing to dig a little deeper, and you’ll find some real gems out there.

The challenge of attracting and keeping people isn’t going to go the way of the stimulus money. Now’s the time to take stock of the reality of your situation and take bold steps to attract the right talent for your organization. When you do, be sure you are doing everything humanly possible to keep these people as well.


Roberta Matuson, president of Matuson Consulting, is a workplace strategist who helps organizations attract and keep the best people. Her clients include General Motors, Takeda, and Microsoft. She’s the author of six books, including the bestselling, “Suddenly in Charge” and “Evergreen Talent.” Her new book, “Can We Talk: Seven Principles for Managing Difficult Conversations at Work” will be released in September 2021. Contact us for our Evergreen Talent Audit®, and we’ll help you find the right people for the right jobs right away.

If you enjoyed this article, sign up for SmartBrief’s free e-mail on leadership and HR, among SmartBrief’s more than 200 industry-focused newsletters.