How the Pandemic Has Changed Work

Recently many articles about what is happening in the American workplace have hit various media outlets. These stories are about the “Great Resignation”, “Quiet Quitting”, and “Hybrid Jobs”, among other trends that have arisen since the pandemic. Some studies say that the time in quarantine allowed people to think about work and what they wanted out of life, and they came to realize that what they were doing was not what they wanted. Other studies tell the story of a country full of burned out people who finally had a chance to catch their breath and realize they had been running on empty for too long. A lot of people left the workforce and they are simply not returning.

With time, researchers have been able to gain a better understanding of who has left the workforce and why. According to an article on the U. S. Chamber of Commerce website, we have 3.4 million fewer workers than we did in February of 2020. It goes on to say that if every unemployed person in the country found a job today, there would still be five million jobs open.

 Why Are People Not Returning to the Workforce?

There are a number of reasons people are not returning to the workforce. Retirement has taken one of the two largest groups of people opting out. More than three million workers aged 55 and above chose to step away from the workforce for good. This was due to excellent separation packages when cutbacks came during the pandemic, as well as increased savings thanks to stimulus checks and the inability to spend money during the height of the pandemic which led to Americans adding $4 trillion to savings, according to cnbc.com.

Women with children are the next and largest group not returning to the workforce. That is because of the lack of childcare. The Washington Post reported that childcare facilities are still 10% below pre-pandemic levels. Also, with children bouncing in and out of classrooms during the last two school years, it has been predominantly women who have had to care for children sent home due to quarantines. Women leaving the job market due to childcare issues added another 3.5 million workers to the shortage.

The next group of people left the job market to work for themselves. More than 10 million new business applications were filled out in 2020, according to the U. S. Chamber article, and more than four million new businesses were started. Plus, the gig economy of freelance workers has exploded.

Others have chosen to take the time created by the pandemic to go back to school and either better their education within a current field, or to train for another field completely. Sixty-eight percent of unemployment claimants made more with heightened benefits during the pandemic than they made working, allowing for realization that they needed to enhance their skills to have a higher paying job and a better life.

Skills gaps have increased over the last two years as the pandemic accelerated the speed of transformation to a digital based world. Graduates coming out of college have technical skills that older workers never had to learn. Often learning these new technologies requires a heavy financial investment that makes developing new skills harder for those who have been in the workforce for some time, but are not ready to retire. While this group wants back into the workforce, they are having a very hard time finding a job because skills do not match new requirements for a job they excelled at pre-pandemic.

Lastly, fear of the pandemic is still keeping some people out of the workforce.

Changes in the Workplace

The workplace is changing, too. With the power shifting from employers to workers, there is an increased demand for better wages and benefits, as well as a desire for more flexibility and work/life balance.

As a country known for having hard workers who go well beyond what is asked of them, what will be the new definition of “hard work” if these trends continue? A recent article in lovemoney.com ranked the hardest working countries in the world based on the number of hours worked. The United States came in 16th, with an average work week of 38.7 hours. The top country was Columbia, with an average work week of 47.6 hours, having their legal maximum being 48 hours. That number will change to 42 by 2026.

Tennessee is ranked as the 13th hardest working state in the country according to a recent poll by wallethub.com. Rankings in the study took into account both hours worked and productivity. Will new workforce trends affect Tennessee’s ranking?

While “Quiet Quitting” is nothing new, it is a growing trend reaching everywhere via TikTok, according to the Wall Street Journal. There have always been workers who chose to do the very minimum to get by in their jobs, left on time when others stayed to work on a project, and defined their obligations by the letter of their job description, but this kind of performance has been given a title and it is becoming more prevalent.

The problem with quiet quitting is that there is still work to be done, which ends up putting even more work on fewer people as more workers choose not to give more than is required of them. In the end, those who give more become even more burned out and disenchanted with their work. Possibly becoming quiet quitters themselves.

 Meaning for Employers

In the current work climate, employers are having to pay more to hire each employee. The number one benefit that employees are asking for is health insurance. Since the pandemic, 72% of employers are giving their employees this benefit, up from 61% pre-pandemic. Second in demand is a retirement plan, which is up 16%. And one of the most demanded benefits is more flexibility as far as working from home, with the number of companies offering a more flexible work environment doubling.

Employers are, however, doing more than increasing compensation and benefit packages. One additional improvement is the creation of a better workplace culture, including diversity and inclusion. Also, today’s employees want to work somewhere that has similar values, so businesses are defining theirs.

Additional workplace improvements include opportunities for personal development and education enhancement.

Employing new technologies, employers are also being proactive by developing relationships with potential future employees upon finding resumes that fit their needs on sites like Indeed.

With the pandemic still raging and technologies advancing quickly, there are still more changes coming to both the way people work and how employees are hired. But, right now, there is an increasing dialogue between businesses and potential employees about how to get the work done, and offer a better work environment with more flexibility, growth and opportunity.

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