As the economy slowly recovers from the pandemic, businesses have been scrambling to hire enough workers to meet their reopening needs and the pent-up demand from patrons who want to go out again.
While new weekly claims for unemployment benefits have declined to their lowest levels since the start of the pandemic, economic figures point to a slow and jagged recovery. US employers added 559,000 jobs in May, the Labor Department said Friday, a modest gain that suggests many companies are still struggling to staff up.
Businesses are ramping up their workforces in Massachusetts, where COVID restrictions lifted on May 29, and some are offering extra incentives to get people on their payrolls, including one-time payments, higher introductory wages, or deep employee discounts on their products and services. Here’s a closer look at who’s offering what:
Several companies are offering sign-on bonuses to new hires, and others are offering their existing staff extra cash if they can find new candidates to hire.
No experience necessary and a $1,000 sign-on bonus. That’s what the online retail giant is offering some new employees for jobs sorting and stacking packages at its Massachusetts warehouses. New hires can collect an extra $100 if they show proof that they’ve had a COVID-19 vaccination.
BJ’s Wholesale Club
The Westborough-based grocery chain is advertising for several open positions, but sales, deli, and cashier jobs in Hyannis come with more than an hourly wage. BJ’s is offering new employees in the Cape Cod village a $500 sign-on bonus and an extra $2 hourly stipend during the summer. A spokesman said in an e-mail that some manager positions come with a $1,000 sign-on bonus.
As the chain of ice cream shops gears up for the summer season, owner Vincent Petryk said the company is still looking to hire 70 workers across the company’s 17 shops in Greater Boston. The company normally offers a $500 bonus to employees who refer managers, but this year he’s extending that perk to hourly workers, such as scoopers, offering them a $100 recruiting bonus.
Webber Restaurant Group
The company, which owns five restaurants, including the Scarlet Oak Tavern in Hingham, is expanding its referral bonus, offering $1,000 for any staff member who can find a manager; $500 for a server, bartender, cook, or host; and $250 for a dishwasher, busser, or food runner.
One idea to attract more workers is, of course, to offer them higher wages.
One Fair Wage, a Cambridge organization that advocates for higher pay in the restaurant industry, published a survey last month suggesting that “worker shortages” are a result of “wage shortages.” More than half of the survey respondents said they considered leaving their restaurant job during the pandemic, with low wages and tips as the main concern.
During the pandemic, inflation also caused the price of goods to rise, so the wage an employee was making before the pandemic might not be going as far. In Massachusetts, the minimum wage is currently $13.50 per hour, and it will reach $15 in January 2023.
Large companies are already raising pay nationally to compete for workers.
Chipotle Mexican Grill
Fast-casual restaurant chain Chipotle, which has 64 locations in Massachusetts, said last month that it would increase its average pay to $15 per hour nationally by the end of June. That means employees will be paid between $11 and $18 per hour depending on where they live. A spokesman for Chipotle declined to provide information about how the wage increase would affect workers in Massachusetts but said the company’s national average hourly wage was previously about $13.
Workers at company-owned McDonald’s locations should expect to see a 10 percent increase in their hourly wage, according to the fast food chain. The pay hike comes as McDonald’s looks to hire 10,000 employees during the summer as its dining rooms reopen.
Some companies are using their own buying power as a perk, giving employees a chance to snag merchandise or services for a lower price than the general public.
The specialty grocery in Cambridge is offering new and current employees a 40 percent discount on produce and the option to purchase meat in the store without markups.
General manager Julia Hallman said the store launched the benefit during the pandemic so employees could worry less about external expenses, but decided to make it permanent after seeing the impact it had on staff. And she thinks it will give the store a competitive advantage in hiring workers, which she said are becoming harder to find.
“At first it was a way to protect employees that did not feel comfortable going out [during the pandemic]. . . but philosophically it makes sense,” Hallman said. “We want to make sure that everybody can afford things in the store.”
Housing on the Cape
A hiring incentive typically offered on the Cape and Islands is paid housing for workers. This year, business owners foresee a particularly challenging season marred by worker shortages and intense demand from vaccinated people looking to book vacations again.
Stop & Shop
The grocery store is looking to hire nearly 1,000 employees on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket this summer. Stop & Shop regularly provides housing for year-round and seasonal employees in certain locations.
Straight Wharf Restaurant
This seasonal Nantucket restaurant is advertising through job listings online that it will offer line cooks housing, a sign-on bonus, and an end-of-season bonus.
Katie Johnston of the Globe staff contributed to this report.