Tuesday, October 19, 2021
Oct. 19, 2021

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In Our View: Pandemic gives many workers new perspective

The Columbian

The Great Resignation? The Great Attrition? The Great Mismatch?

These monikers and others have been applied to the economic upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 has led to a broad reevaluation of priorities by workers and a disconnect between those who are hiring and those hoping to be hired.

The impact is — and will be — profound, altering the U.S. economy for years to come. For now, the most important issue is that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a record 10.9 million jobs are open throughout the country, and that 8.4 million potential workers are unemployed.

That sounds like a self-solving problem. But the issue is complex. As Vox.com reports in a story headlined, “Why everybody’s hiring but nobody’s getting hired”: “The result is a disconnected environment that doesn’t add up, though it feels like it should.”

The Columbian recently detailed the issue at a local level, with many workers in Clark County leaving secure jobs before having a replacement lined up. Sometimes they don’t even know if they desire a replacement job. “It’s happening here, but I don’t think there’s a way to quantify it,” one local labor expert said.

Shelly Steward, director of the Future of Work Initiative, told Vox.com: “A lot of what people are seeing are low-paying jobs with unpredictable or not-worker-friendly scheduling practices, that don’t come with benefits, don’t come with long-term stability.”

That has many would-be workers reassessing their requirements for taking a job. For younger workers, who are accustomed to a gig economy and prepared to frequently move between jobs, the flexibility comes as second nature. In the long run, that will force changes in how companies hire and retain employees.

One point of contention has been expanded unemployment benefits. The federal government provided an additional $300 a week to workers displaced by the pandemic; as a labor shortage started to sweep the nation, critics argued that the payments disincentivized work, making it more lucrative to stay home rather than accept employment. Several states halted the payments early, and all extra payments ended in early September.

Interestingly, early data suggests that halting the payments had little impact on employment rates. Bloomberg reported Tuesday: “Economists and companies expected a wave of interest from workers as the financial lifeline was pulled away, hoping it would provide the incentive to get back into the workplace. That hasn’t happened, according to employers across industries.” Even states that halted federal payments early have not seen a boom in job applicants.

Analysts say that pent-up savings, bolstered by federal stimulus payments, could be allowing people to remain out of the workforce. But there is no doubt that the changing desires of would-be employees is altering work in ways that will take years to assess. A study of 9 million employees from Harvard Business Review found that resignation rates are highest among midcareer employees, ages 30-45.

The Washington Post reports: “Workers are shifting where they want to work — and how. For some, this is a personal choice. The pandemic and all of the anxieties, lockdowns and time at home have changed people. Some want to work remotely forever.”

In other words, the economic changes wrought by the pandemic might not come to be known as The Great Resignation or The Great Mismatch. Instead, it appears to be The Great Reassessment.