The Future of the Workplace #2
Go for a drive of any length through any urban or suburban neighborhood and the signs are everywhere:
“Hiring!” “Now hiring!” “Jobs available”
I am sure most readers have had this same experience in the last 45 days. Now that the states are opening up, it seems like every company is looking for employees.
The problem is that companies are not filling the open jobs they have. The economy is starting to open up, but people are not coming back to work compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Many politicians, business owners and CEOs are attributing this to the extra $300/week that has been provided for families to stay afloat during the pandemic. The thinking goes that people are not coming back to work as they can make more by staying unemployed. While this may be part of the reason, it is by no means the only reason, yet this has become a firmly held belief that once the unemployment checks stop, people will flock back to work. Not going to happen nearly as cleanly as that. [ I will touch on the stunning thinking behind this in a bit]. I haves heard of anecdotal evidence that this theory has merit but at the low end of employment, not professionals or white collar workers.
Yes, when all the unemployment checks stop there will be more people looking for jobs, but that will still leave several million jobs unfilled nationally.
Here are some other reasons people are hesitant to come back to work:
- They are nervous about their health if they return to the old office environment. People who nervously waited for the vaccines and got them are wondering why they have to return to indoor offices with people who refuse to get vaccinated. This is more so than when the first column on the workplace was published here a month ago. 90-100% of patients admitted to hospitals and now deaths are people who did not get vaccinated.
- Working women who are mothers are still without full-time childcare needed to allow them to leave home to return to the office
- Companies that quickly laid-off or fired employees at the start of the pandemic will be remembered by those let go as not having compassion, so no reason for employees to coming running back to those that quickly cut them
- There has been a massive amount of personal transformation going on as a direct result of the pandemic. It is this fact that is being missed by employers. Employers simplistically think that now that the economy is “opening back up” that all will want to get their old jobs, or ones like them, back. It is as though the companies looking for new hires didn’t track how much personal change has occurred.
- Death was perceived as being at the doorstep. We all know someone who got COVID-19 and died from it. This facing mortality has changed people, made them much clearer that they have one life to live and that it has to be more meaningful than in the past.
As readers of this column know, I fully think that the decade of the 2020s will be the most disruptive decade in history. In two books published in the last year I have pointed out why and then what the consequences might be. What this means is that massive, fundamental change has been triggered, so that the realities accepted by the legacy thinking of the past – even the past of 18 months ago- will be different than they were.
In the last 12 months, I have advised a number of companies, spoken to a number of business audiences – all via Zoom- and also spoken with a number of CEOs, leaders and thinkers. Across all these interactions was the clear reality that transformation of self and of company was happening at a depth and speed unprecedented in our collective lifetimes. People have changed. People’s priorities have changed. Companies have completely reinvented themselves. The past is gone, never to be revisited again.
There have been recent polls that have shown that a historically unprecedented number of people are looking at changing careers, occupations or even just jobs. Millennials are the generation that seems to have been affected most deeply by living in a time of pandemic. A recent poll showed that the majority of this generation are seriously interested in changing careers and lifestyles.
The simple thinking of “where are the workers?” and “people are making more with unemployment insurance” than with jobs, is old, tired, of the past and will be shown to be only a partial reason for all the job openings.
Now let’s take a minute to look at this perceived reality; that people are disincentivized to look for work because of unemployment checks.
What does it say about America when people can make more money receiving unemployment checks, than working?
Wages are too low in America. They were cut during and after the Great Recession and only marginally increased. Since then
About a decade ago, when the effort to raise the minimum wage began, I did research that resulted in the knowledge that the highest the minimum wage had ever been in relationship to the cost of living was 1968. The minimum wage in that year was $1.65. Last week I ran that number through the inflation calculator to see what that number would be in 2021. $1.65 in 1968 translates into $12.66 today. So the federal minimum wage of $7.25 is woefully lacking as is the Florida minimum wage of $8.65. In addition, $12.66 is the national average. Higher cost of living places such as New York and San Francisco of course would need to be higher.
Said another way, the minimum wage today, relative to the cost of living, means that $7.25 today would have been $.96 in 1968, not $1.65. And we wonder why such a large percentage of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.
Now lay on top of this the new learned reality of what we have all learned to call “essential workers” during the pandemic. The delivery people, grocery and pharmacy employees, and those that showed up so the rest of us didn’t have to put ourselves in harm’s way. We thanked them, we honored them and extolled them as unsung heroes on all media outlets. They took on the perceived risks of infection so we didn’t have to. They were, in effect essential.
Now that the economy is starting to open up, how do we thank them? Hey essential worker, we want you back and I will up your hourly rate by a dollar! Welcome back hero! You are worth more than the minimum wage, but not by much.
That is how we pay people who do the essential work we don’t want to? Come on!
The employment situation will continue to be in a dynamic state all this decade. Nine years from now, five years from now, even two years from now the workplace will be profoundly different that it was in 2019.
In a pandemic column in this space ,I wrote about the “light at the end of the tunnel” metaphor that is widely being used now that we are in the time of vaccines. The light at the end of the tunnel is the new daylight reality. This is very different to the daylight from which we entered the tunnel. While we were in the tunnel, COVID changed the world, so that we are entering a new daylight, a new world.
Employers who want to see the end of unemployment payments think it is the same daylight and that the tunnel was a very unfortunate recession. That it is time for people to come back to low-paying jobs, unfulfilling jobs, bosses they don’t respect and to again believe in the costs, time and hassle of 10 commutes a week.
We may well be seeing the beginning of a new workplace dynamic where labor/workers/employees/contract workers will have growing leverage and power greater than pre-pandemic times. This might well be one of the largest and lasting consequences of the pandemic in the United States.
To quote the poet laureate of my generation:
“Something is going on, but you don’t know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?”