Recruitment & Retention | Article

10 Barriers to Employment and What Leaders Can Do

When there are barriers to employment, everyone loses. People struggle to enter the workforce and companies struggle to recruit and hire.

Breaking down barriers to employment is very important. And it’s not just because employers need to widen their pool of candidates for hiring purposes. It also matters because when the pool expands, so does the diversity. Diversity of thought is crucial for connecting with a wide range of consumers.

To benefit both your business and society as a whole, do what you can as a leader to break down these barriers:

1. Childcare

Access to child care has been always been a barrier. However, the pandemic completely disrupted operations and shed light on some of the industry’s issues. Many parents, especially in lower income households, have been kept out of the workforce due to childcare shortages and costs. There are other factors for working parents as well such paid maternal and paternal leave. Not every industry and role provides these benefits.

What you can do: Entrust working parents with flexible work hours and location so they can fulfill childcare duties if needed. If possible, provide on-site daycare or a daycare stipend. Also make sure your paid parental leave policies are in place for all workers.

2. Elder care

The elder population is exponentially growing. With an elder care labor shortage, responsibility has fallen on many working adults. Many employees may have to care for an elderly parent or other loved one. In fact, caregiving is now so common that 53 million Americans – 1 in 5 – provide unpaid care for family or friends.

What you can do: Similarly to the case for employees with children, it’s great to allow flexibility. It could be fully remote work, hybrid work from different locations, or varying working hours. Keep an open mind and get creative!

3. Unpredictable needs

Business can be unpredictable and change every day. An organization eager to hire many new employees one day may rethink that the next. Or perhaps rising costs end up making it difficult to offer the planned salaries. Uncertainty and change can be frustrating (and frightening) for both organizations and employees.

What you can do: Consider implementing free and low-cost employee benefits to prepare for fluctuating costs and needs. Some examples include hybrid schedules, casual dress codes, and themed office activities.

4. Skills and education

Some job seekers haven’t had the opportunity to gain skills required for jobs. They may be lacking training, resources, or education. Organizations can work to provide all of these to employees who might need to learn new skills while on the job.  

On the other hand, there are also candidates who have the skills and experience needed for a job but lack the degree required. People of color are disproportionately affected by degree requirements. Yet, there are plenty of skills that can be learned without an education.

What you can do: Get rid of degree requirements for roles where the same experience and skills can be acquired outside of school. Offer resources for employees to upskill and reskill. A couple things you can provide are training and opportunities for learning at conferences.

5. Work and criminal history

Too often we judge people by their pasts. Some candidates have gaps in their resumes or have hopped jobs more frequently. Other candidates have criminal backgrounds. Whatever the case may be, we don’t have the full story. We should avoid ruling out potentially qualified candidates based on their history alone.

What you can do: Remain open-minded and create opportunities for employees of all kinds. Avoid screening out candidates because of resume gaps or job hopping. Modernize criminal background check policies and seek out hiring non-traditional employees.

6. Transportation and location

Not everyone has access to a car or reliable transportation which creates a major barrier. The region people live in can have a big impact as well. They may not have good public transit or job openings could be far away with expensive commutes. Getting to work, and even to the interview in the first place, can be a challenge.

What you can do: Meet your employees halfway. It could look like providing stipends for driving to work or offering remote work when appropriate. Go out to underserved communities to recruit candidates that may not have access to apply for jobs online.

7. Physical and mental health

Health issues and disabilities can present barriers that make it difficult to work. The pandemic has added new challenges like “long COVID” which is keeping an estimated 4 million Americans out of work. In addition, mental health issues continue to plague millions of people.

What you can do: Take a holistic approach to wellbeing. Cover gym memberships and therapy visits. Encourage meditation for mental health breaks and walks outside so people get up from their desks during the day.

8. Communication disconnect

Communication has shifted farther towards technology over the past few years. This has caused preferences to vary more widely than before. Some candidates may prefer completely remote communications for interviews while others may prefer completely in-person interactions. Employers and hiring managers may not always align with these preferences.

Another aspect of communications is languages and accents. It is not uncommon for people to fall prey to unconscious accent bias during interviews. Hiring decisions may end up being unfair despite these candidates having all the same qualifications and skills.

What you can do: Respect candidates’ communication preferences and ensure communication is always clear and transparent. Create awareness around accent bias and train leaders on how to confront their unconscious biases.

9. Culture expectations

Employees have higher expectations today for workplace culture. People want to be engaged, appreciated, and connected to a purpose. If a company’s culture fails to meet their expectations, they are likely to leave to seek out a place that fulfills their wants and needs.

What you can do: Meet with other leadership to align on the company values and overall culture that make most sense for your organization. Invest in an employee engagement platform to create a culture of gratitude and connectedness.  

10. Compensation expectations

Wages have been rising, but prices have been rising even faster. The buying power of a potential paycheck can seem low which isn’t very motivating for people looking to join or rejoin the workforce. It’s best to invest in good employees where and when you can. The cost of turnover is typically much higher than increasing wages in the first place.

What you can do: Add value to positions beyond wages. There are many ways to do this through mentorship programs and other learning and development opportunities. It’s not an excuse to underpay employees, but is a great way to supplement what they get out of the role.

For more on barriers and how to strive for diversity within organizations, check out our podcast episode with Carrie Wilson and Steve Huizinga. You can find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you stream your podcasts.