One lasting effect of the pandemic will be how it has altered the workplace. How well we adapt to those changes will play out over the next several years. Some people will make positive moves, finding new ways to balance their work and personal lives. Others may take a career path they never thought possible, while another group will struggle and be no farther ahead than they were before Covid-19.
Right now there’s a paradox in the economy. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, there are currently more than 10 million job openings, but more than 8.4 million people remain unemployed looking for work. Only 235,000 jobs were added in August, way below what the Biden Administration had hoped for.
Turns out solving this jobs crisis is a little like fitting a square peg into a round hole. Not all of those unemployed have the skills to get hired for the positions that are open. But more than that, those that are qualified for those jobs – in retail or hospitality, for example – have decided they no longer want to work in those sectors. If you’ve been to a restaurant or gone shopping recently, you have firsthand experience with how this shortage is playing out. Signs outside many establishments state: “We’re short staffed, so appreciate your patience.” Not all patrons are so understanding, however. Social media is rife with stories from overworked and overstressed wait staff members and clerks who have had to contend with angry, disgruntled customers. Not exactly the work environment that encourages workers to stay, even with slight bump ups in hourly wages, even bonuses in some places.
Health care workers are exhausted and depressed and the nursing shortage is expected to increase. And while people are eager to take that long delayed vacation, flight attendants are fed up with out-of-control passengers. Many are taking self defense courses to better protect themselves. It’s like hearing a collective, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” as workers walk off their jobs and refuse to come back. There were predictions that when job benefits ran out, workers would return. That has not happened, at least not yet. And with the pandemic leading to new mandates in many parts of the country, even those who are vaccinated may hesitate to return to the workplace, particularly if they have unvaccinated children at home.
Another factor leading to worker shortages – retirements exploded during the pandemic, with 3.6 million retiring, two million more than expected. We can assume that those workers will not return to the jobs they left, although some may eventually transition to part-time work or even launch a new career or business.
Many of the job openings are not located where workers live. If remote work is not a possibility, then a physical move must be made. Certainly, many people pulled up stakes and found new places to live when the pandemic hit, some to leave major cities where infections were raging, to less populated and, hopefully, safer small cities and towns. But those areas may not be the ones where jobs are available. So, now what? Move back? Not so simple.
No matter whether you are working, where you are working, or what your job entails, all workers now have something in common. Stress levels are through the roof. Added to the uncertainly about work, every area of the country has been hit by weather catastrophes – fires in the west, hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding in the south and east.
Are there any bright spots? I like to think so. And it starts with each one of us to do what we can to return to an atmosphere of understanding, kindness, and generosity. Let’s not criticize those who have not yet returned to work. Let’s listen to their concerns and perhaps offer suggestions. If you are working, be kind to your co-workers. Don’t be so quick to judge. And please, if you venture out to a store or restaurant, be patient and thank the people who are there. After all, they did show up and are doing the best they can. As we celebrate this very extraordinary Labor Day, let’s strive to make a difference.
Top photo: Bigstock