This article originally appeared in the November/December, 2017 issue of PARCEL.

Breaking the rules to get qualified workers this busy season may be just what needs to be done. In certain areas of the country, finding qualified associates has become a dilemma. That’s why many are deciding to break the rules! Often the human resource department has some tried and true rules on what employees can and cannot do. Some standards that deal with the timing of breaks, shift hours, type of training, clothing mandate, etc. are being changed to open up a new source of warm bodies in the workforce. Sometimes it’s a major hurdle to get these rules changed. Distribution managers are partnering with Human Resource departments to get creative and find better, more qualified associates that are dependable, hard-working, and responsible.

Traditionally, workplaces have required the employee to wear uniforms or non-descript clothing. To what benefit? Granted, very loose clothing could be hazardous, and this would be a resonable exception. But to get high school and college kids today to come to work and stay, it takes getting creative. Bending and breaking old traditional requirement rules, if they aren’t safety hazards, only makes sense.

A Real-Life Example

A company that is doing just that is Gap, Inc. Located in Tennessee and surrounded by many other distribution companies and manufacturing companies, the unemployment rate has plummeted, so companies are competing for workers by driving wages up and allowing fringe benefits to be more available to part-time and new people. The Gap staff needed to get creative and challenge some of the old rules by exploring the employment sector of high school students. Shift hours were the first challenge. They started a new shift to accommodate the seniors when they got out of school and ended by the mandatory requirement in the state for employment of minors. One of the other major changes for Gap was earbuds. One of the managers stated that if you asked young people to work and take away their phones, “It was like asking them to cut their arm off.” They realized that most jobs could be completed while listening to music of choice, so they allowed the young people to listen to their earbuds while at work, which didn’t harm anyone and did not create any safety issues. They realized that this new work force actually worked much faster, had tons of energy, and were not intimidated by new challenges. Young people were also more inclined to work as a team and to make sure that the whole team was successful. There was also an added benefit to recognizing possible new full-time associates that Gap wanted to keep for future leadership positions.

Another group of untapped workers is the older work force — people that have taken early retirement such as retired school teachers, medics, law enforcement individuals, etc. Many after retirement are finding that they are bored and would like to stay busy. The motive of this untapped work force to work for your company is not money (although they would resent getting paid less than others doing the same job). The real motive and determining factor for these people is the culture. Creating an environment that would feel like a family of friends caring about each other is an environment in which they would enjoy and commit to. After all, these people don’t have to work. They would not prosper in an environment that was high stress. Of course, if you hire people from this segment of work force, special considerations need to be taken to break more rules. They may need extra training, especially computer training. They may need the type font on reports, pick list, RF guns etc. to be larger to accommodate their aging eyesight. Many older people are used to getting up early. You may need to change shift hours to start earlier in the morning.

Another untapped very qualified work force are housewives and mothers that have opted to stay home with their children. Oftentimes, these people are very qualified and would love to work between the hours of dropping the children off at school and picking them up.

Of course, retaining your full-time associates is also something that you must focus on in today’s world. People are tired of “just working.” They want to feel part of a team, part of a work family that truly cares about their own families, talents, and their accomplishments. This includes doing some of the “soft sale” stuff like company picnics, Christmas gifts, recognition, and frequent feedback on jobs well done.

Susan Rider is President of Rider and Associates, and an executive life coach. She can be reached at