How are you feeling about work these days?
Are you taking stock of your life and thinking about moving on? (You're not alone.)
Are you a boss struggling to fill roles and retain your people? (You're in good company.)
America is going through a pretty major reconfiguration of the labor market.
Headlines are calling it the "Great Resignation" but I think it's deeper than that.
The pandemic threw many assumptions out of the window. It caused us to think long and hard about a lot of things.
Where we work. How we work. What work means. What we want out of life.
That existential crisis is visible on the supply side of the labor market:
Folks retiring ahead of schedule (not all by choice).1
Folks quitting their jobs.2
Folks (primarily women) caring for kids and family instead of going back to work.3
Folks striking over pay and working conditions.4
Folks starting new businesses.5
And it's visible on the demand side as well:
Restaurants struggling to staff up.6
Shipping ports clogging up because there aren't enough truckers to haul goods away.7
Employers offering higher wages and perks to attract job seekers.8
At its most basic level, employment is a transaction: a certain amount of work for a certain amount of pay.
But it's really much more than that.
For many of us, who we are as a worker...
A business owner...
Is central to our identity.
And the ground is shifting under our feet. That makes folks anxious.
High-anxiety times like these bring plenty of judgment, blame, and dramatic headlines.
Are workers who don't want to take low-paying, high burnout jobs lazy?
Of course not.
Are business owners worried about keeping their doors open evil capitalists?
Are employees organizing strikes or leaving for better opportunities disloyal?
We're all doing the best we can every day.
When we see talking heads griping about "entitled" workers or "greedy" businesses, let's remember that behind the numbers are real people with real struggles.
A parent with a medically fragile kid who is afraid to go back to work.
A business owner who worries the staffing shortage will put her out of business.
A laid-off worker who doesn't have the skills needed to get a different job.
A manager who is doing two jobs because he can't fill a key role.
Let's be compassionate toward one another.
What does the labor market upheaval mean for the economy?
That's hard to say.
It could cause a slowdown in some sectors if businesses struggle to fulfill demand.
It could lead to increased inflation if higher wages get passed on as higher prices.
It could be a factor in a market correction.
It could also accelerate trends toward automation, remote work, and offshoring.
Bottom line: Like most major events in history, the overall consequences won’t be fully visible for a long time.
I’ll close by asking: what’s your take on all this?
Are you pondering any big work or life changes?
Reach out and let me know.
Daniel Ruben, MD, MPH, MBA
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P.S. What else do you think the pandemic will change? Any thoughts to share?