Where Have All the Workers Gone?

Monday Author:  Susanne Skinner

Help Wanted, workers, employees, pandemic, lockdown, ghostingCompanies can’t find workers and workers can’t find companies. It’s a double-edged sword as employers hold out for high levels of experience and working in an office. But employees have a different idea of work, and they have the upper hand. They are taking their time, weighing career options that include remote offices, flexible schedules and higher pay.

Supply-and-demand is suffering as the economy asks, “where are the workers?”

Real Jobs, Real People

There are eleven million job openings in the U.S. with hiring companies struggling to fill them. In part, they are recovering from record-breaking unemployment caused by a pandemic, but they are also failing to attract the talent they seek.

Statistics support the fact that over four million fewer Americans are employed today compared to one year ago. During lockdown companies scaled back services, reducing their full-time workforce.

Remote work is the new status quo. Home-office productivity and worker efficiency are  no longer in question. As the pandemic recedes, employees are evaluating careers and priorities, in search of higher salaries, remote flexibility, and career advancement.

The Upper Hand for Workers

Employees have the upper hand and they know it. As the economy ramps up, companies are aggressively recruiting candidates against a record number of openings. But those same candidates are evaluating their options and holding out for a new set of perks. Employees are jumping their current ships for jobs that align with newly found priorities and needs.

During mandatory isolation people working remotely began to assess their work-life balance. Couples with children managed on one income by eliminating the high cost of childcare and transportation, reducing financial stress.

A small percentage of families receiving the additional $600 per week through the CARES Act, along with unemployment benefits, earned higher compensation by not returning to work.

Many families did better at saving money during Covid and do not feel the pressure to take any job versus the right job. As these benefits end, a disconnect between employer and employee expectations remains and makes returning to work negotiable.

Fear of Covid

Health and safety concerns also prevent people from returning to the in-person workforce. This is especially true (and concerning) when individuals refuse to wear masks or be vaccinated. Many companies are mandating vaccines, threatening termination if employees don’t comply. If enough workers refuse it affects that industry’s ability to function.

Woman with mask, Covid-19, coronavirus, worryCreating psychological and physical safety is crucial for employers as more people are vaccinated and risks of returning to offices diminish. Companies must institute protocols for employees refusing a vaccination that include regular testing and medical grade masks.

Sales teams rely on face-to-face meetings to convert prospects into customers.  Working together in person enhances communication, problem solving and innovation.  The truth is many people like working in the office.

Companies touting ‘back to normal” must be abundantly clear about employee safety when asking them to return to in person work environments.

A New Sense of Self

As hiring companies hold out for highly skilled employees and those same employees hold out for better opportunities and benefits, job vacancies remain unfilled.

A crisis, like a pandemic, reveals a new sense of self and personal values. Abnormal circumstances give us the chance to adapt and discover what is meaningful. Work suddenly finds itself lower on the priority list.

Work-life balance, body, spirit, mind, workers, employeesFor some, this means more time with family. For many it presents an opportunity to make career changes that include more fulfilling jobs.

The Great Resignation of 2021 saw unprecedented numbers of people quit their jobs.  Against a backdrop of 9.3 million job openings four million people quit work, believing they will do better by finding a new job.

The ghosting shoe is suddenly on the foot of the employee as opposed to the employer. Candidates complete the application and interview process, receive a job offer, then disappear, ghosting potential employers. I see more than a little poetic justice here.  Just sayin’.

A Shift in The Force

The power dynamic is shifting to the side of employees as businesses face a labor force in no hurry to return to their old jobs or in some cases any job.

Strong competition in the job market gives candidates choices, even those currently employed. Employee retention is just as much of a challenge. Changes in work culture, especially remote work options, offer benefits previously off the table.

In some cases, the pay for a minimum-wage job or a part-time position does not justify the cost of both family members returning to work. When factoring in needs such as childcare and transportation families benefit when one person remains home.

Early retirement is also a factor. As those fifty and older were let go or put on hiatus many decided to retire early. Older employees who felt the sting of employers criticizing their skills left sub-optimum jobs to reap the benefits of early retirement. Employers expecting their return made a difficult situation worse by failing to anticipate it.

Reinventing Work

What's different now, employees, workers, hiringIt took a pandemic to change the way we work. The 9-to-5 workday, overtime, the rush-hour commute and the unending struggle to find balance are shifting. Sexual harassment, burnout, and bullying turn away viable candidates who refuse to work in a toxic culture.

Free beer and a pool table hold no allure for post pandemic job seekers. Instead, workers seek a less conventional and more flexible work environment. The lack of remote work options is the new employment deal breaker.

How we work in 2022 and beyond is a gamechanger for employers and employees.  There is no better time to reinvent the workplace. If we build it, they will come.