In recent years, workers in all parts of the world have given up their jobs in record numbers.
Some have changed careers, others have left the workforce altogether.
In USAfor example, August 2022 data from the Office of Labor Statistics put the labor force participation rate 1.0 percentage point below the February 2020 level.
In other words, people have been resigning and, in some sectors and jobs, they have not returned. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the poor conditions in many parts of employment during the pandemic.
The shortage of workers is most apparent in the hospitality and service industries, in positions such as dishwashers, truck drivers, retail workers, food servers, airport agents, home health aides, and similar roles.
This is not because people don’t want to work, experts say. They just want better jobs; higher wages, better conditions.
The market turmoil caused by the pandemic has allowed some to switch to better employment, and if the hardest-hit sectors want their workers back, they must find ways to make their places of employment more attractive.
Particularly in the US, the data shows that it has been difficult for a long time to be a service worker.
In 2020, for example, full-time U.S. food counter employees earned, on average, $23,960 a year, which is not above the poverty line for a household of four.
Weekly hours have rarely been guaranteed, making it difficult for them to have a secure income to cover their bills or transportation and childcare.
All of that, in part, explains the fact that the churn rate (in other words, the rate at which people leave as a percentage of average annual employment) has been high in service industries for a long time.
In 2017, it was 53.8% for retail workers, 72.4% for accommodation and food service workers, and 30.6% for people in manufacturing jobs.
But if being a service worker was tough before the pandemic, once it hit, things got downright miserable for many.
Retailers that remained open faced supply chain disruptions and rises and falls in customer demand.
Fewer employees had to work longer hours, and increased overtime hours contributed to burnout. With schools closed and public transportation curtailed, some employees were torn between a lack of childcare and a more difficult commute.
Cases of worker abuse and reports of rude customers skyrocketed, and while some companies offered bonuses, few increased wages or offered hazard pay.
And in many cases, the work was dangerous.
Other forms of business have moved online, but “in the hotel industry, for example, it is very difficult to replace someone who is at the reception of a hotel with someone who works virtually,” says Serge da Motta Veiga, professor of hotel management. human resources at the EDHEC Business School in Paris.
That meant frontline service workers, forced to interact with colleagues and customers while everyone else sheltered at home, were among the most vulnerable to Covid-19.
In the first year of the pandemic, 68% of those who died in the US were workers in the labor, retail and service sectors.
In the last two years, dropout rates have skyrocketed. In 2021, 64.6% of retail workers, a whopping 86.3% of accommodation and food service workers, and just under 40% of manufacturing workers quit their jobs.
While security and general misery were the main factors, they were not the only reasons for the mass exodus.
People also crave stability, which is hard to find in a low-wage job: A 2019 study found that minimum-wage jobs have a turnover rate of more than double the US national average.
“These jobs are precarious,” says da Motta Veiga. “Job security has become the number one thing people want, even above all other benefits like having flexible work hours or working from wherever you want.”
There’s another reason so many people quit: because they can. Staff shortages have left many companies at the mercy of those who work.
With the labor market tilted so heavily in favor of the worker, it has been easier to leave one job and find another, further reducing the incentive for people to return to jobs they find undesirable.
The epidemic of resignations throughout 2021 and into this year, known as the Great Resignation, left vacancies in every industry.
But David Dwertmann, associate professor of management at Rutgers University School of Business, Camden, says it has been difficult to rehire workers for low-paying jobs in particular, for the same reasons that people left them in the first place.
He points to a Pew research survey that asked people who quit their jobs about why they left. Low pay was number one, followed by “no opportunities for advancement” and “feeling disrespected.”
“If you’re flipping burgers or something, it’s not that easy to move up. Not everyone is going to be a manager. A lot of people are stuck in these jobs for years and years and years,” says Dwertmann.
In addition, “workers just don’t feel like they’re valued enough, and they don’t feel like they’re being treated well enough.”
With a market awash with better opportunities, people who felt stuck or mistreated in their jobs seized a golden opportunity to escape.
Another factor, Dwertmann adds, is the wave of baby boomer retirements that has left even more gaps in the workforce. “It’s kind of a perfect storm,” he says.
“I think covid-19 probably [para los boomers que están considerando retirarse] It was a great reason to say, ‘You know what? I’ve just finished'”.
In the case of the US, this exodus of boomers, Dwertmann notes, has been compounded by a lack of immigration in recent years that has left gaps in industries that normally employ newcomers.
“Partly because of the pandemic, partly because of changes in policy, immigration to the United States has been cut in half,” he says. “And these are some of the people who used to do or take some of those low-skilled, low-educated jobs.”
It’s not unusual these days to see signs outside fast-food restaurants, grocery stores and markets offering never-before-seen starting hourly wages for new hires.
Many employers instituted hiring bonuses: In 2021, Amazon announced it would pay $1,000 bonuses for warehouse and transportation jobs. Hilton Hotels began offering bonuses of $500 and up for room attendants and other staff.
Yet while financial incentives don’t hurt, they do nothing to address the other important things that workers want and that “unfillable” jobs often don’t offer: flexibility, predictability and better conditions.
Focusing solely on money, da Motta Veiga argues, is short-sighted. While people want to be paid what they think their time and energy is worth, companies should also “ask people, ‘What do you want? What’s your priority? Is it that security? Is it that flexibility?’ ‘”.
They need to be creative, he says, to make these jobs more attractive.
To fill an unfillable position, Dwertmann concludes, you must not only make it financially worthwhile, but also provide some flexibility, some guarantee of security, and find ways to build loyalty.
“The pandemic arrives and the first thing people do is lay off a large number of workers,” he says.
“They were thinking that when he loosened up, everyone would show up again, but actually the employees are like, ‘You know what, you didn’t stay with me. I’m not coming back with you.'”
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