A New Year in a Changing “World of Work”

Changes Ahead

A lot has been said about the changing “world of work” in terms of technology(Automation, AI, etc.), government regulations, the economy, wages, etc., but this article will focus on the sociology and psychology of work, or, to put it more simply, the human dimensions of work.

In our blog writing we have reviewed many surveys of workers giving feedback on what they like and dislike, what they want to achieve besides a paycheck, what kind of “climate” they want in their workplace, what outlets for creativity, learning, and personal growth, balancing personal and family life, etc…

Some commentators opined that the pandemic gave many people the time and motivation to reevaluate their lives, and what was most important to them. Millions concluded to simply quit work entirely. There were also surprises in some worker surveys, especially learning how many workers would give up significant income for more desirable  working conditions, like working from home (see our blog article “Is “Remote Work” Losing FavorAmong Employers

Another of our blog articles, in particular, that gives a good sampling of these worker surveys is one we wrote in June 2022 titled, “Workplace Flexibility and the Staffing Company

According to one of these studies in the Harvard Business Review, the top four benefits that workers desired most were:

  • Better health Insurance (inc. dental and vision).
  • Flexibility in work hours.
  • More vacation time.
  • Remote work options.

You will notice that higher pay is not on the list, but the researchers did include it when they asked another directly related question: when choosing between a higher paying job or a lower paying job with better benefits which would you choose? The respondents said that a combination of “health insurance and more flexible work hours might tip them towards the latter”.

But one thing for sure is that the world of work is changing and largely due to workers’ desires and demands. Some of these have been more readily adopted, perhaps, because of the tight labor market, which has been continuing well beyond the peak years following the pandemic.

But, looking at the top four worker desires listed above, we can see that in three of the four, what workers are looking for is creating what has been called a“better life/work balance” with more quality time for families and the “better healthcare option and better security against costly medical expenses.

Again, looking at those top four we can see the value of the benefits almost intuitively. But I think it is very important to briefly look at the details of each to better appreciate them and what having these benefits can do for working people.

As I mentioned at the beginning, we will consider the benefits in terms of the human impact of these benefits, the sociological and psychological impacts.

Better Health Care: According to a 2022 article in The Texas Tribune, 100 million Americans have medical debt, and, 58% of debts in collection are for medical bills. Even with the reforms of “The Affordable Care Act”, 40% of bankruptcies in the United States are caused by medical bills.

Even with health insurance, the annual deductible can be many thousands of dollars and many families are paying off medical debts with payment plans that negatively impact their family budget.

Workers are often in the stressful situation in making the decision to purchase high deductible health insurance because they cannot afford the much higher priced low deductible insurance. It is also stressful to go forward with inadequate insurance.

From a statistical standpoint, it may be a good gamble but when some medical procedure is needed, the stress is not only with the medical condition, but with the several thousands of dollars that must be paid. If it cannot be paid it goes into collection and is only removed through bankruptcy, which takes time as well as the impact of the bankruptcy reported to collection agencies and on file for several years. We can imagine the psychological impact.

When we consider the sociological impact of 500,000 bankruptcies in the U.S. every year and 40% of them caused by unmanageable medical debt, that cannot be a good for the country. Medical businesses look at bad debts as a cost of doing business and medical care prices increase to cover them.

Flexible Work Scheduling: One of the critical work-related circumstances that families have, which is far from having been dealt with, is the absolute need for quality childcare, together with its high cost. Even with an annual salary of $50,000, if you are spending $20,000 annually on childcare ($400 weekly) plus the probable necessity of two cars, and a daily commute that consumes time and money (see below for estimates), there is bound to be considerable stress on both parents. This is not good for employers either. Good quality and productive work is greatly facilitated with a relaxed and happier employee.

A good example of how flexible work scheduling can create more quality time and significant savings is what has been going on with nurses and other healthcare professionals. Many have gone to 12-hour shifts for three days with four days off. If both parents could have access to the same flexibility, they could arrange for 4 and even 5 days of childcare, saving $20,000 annually. Then there are the savings in the cost of commuting for 250 work days a year. This is considerable.

Although routine commutes are not an IRS deductible expense (although they should be) I want to use their milage allowance for other approved travel to determine the savings by not needing to commute. So, the IRS reimbursement rate for 2024 is 67 cents per mile and the average commute in the U.S. is one half hour each way or a total of one hour per day. That time would probably equal at least 20 miles per day X .67 equals $13.40 per day or $3,375 annually.

So, the savings in “gas, oil, maintenance, insurance” on a vehicle driving 5,000 miles a year according to the IRS is worth $3,350 (13.50 per day x 250 work days = $3,375)/

So, such a “flexible work schedule” would (in this case) save $23,375 in childcare and commuting costs per year. There would also be savings in commuting time of 1 hour per day X 250 working days. That is equal to 31.5 eight-hour days each year. More relaxed quality time for the “on duty” parent to get the kids off to school each day and greet them when they return. Plus 125 days of less commuting stress for each parent (250/2=125).

This “flexibility in work scheduling”certainly facilitates less financial stress and considering the other benefits of this arrangement significantly improves the work/life balance that workers are looking for.

The benefits of this arrangement would not only be for working parents but also for couples with no children, “empty nesters” and singles who might also enjoy a three-day work week and two days with no commuting. Obviously, there are many other variations.

More Vacation Time: This benefit can be created by using a variation of the Flexible Work Scheduling strategy. This exists in many companies in the form of “Comp-Time” where overtime is exchanged for days off. By working just 3 extra hours a week can create an extra 3 weeks of vacation time (3 X 50 = 150 hrs /8 = 18.75 comp days (2.5 weeks)additional vacation time.

A vacation fund contribution via payroll deduction and deposited into a special vacation account, so the vacation is funded to any limit mutually agreed upon by the employee and employer.

Although this is self-funded, it obviously requires the genuine cooperation of the employer. With advanced planning these arrangements can be facilitated without much disruption in the operation of the business. Premiums could be offered for taking vacation time at a slower time of the year for the company. Even in the middle of winter a “summer” vacation today is only three hours away (once you get to the airport).

Creating a better “work/life balance” needs more than the traditional 2 weeks’ vacation and, perhaps, especially for young people with children but without much seniority where vacation time has been usually assigned by longevity which could continue as an option. The always necessary quality and productivity standards will be enhanced by happier, more relaxed employees whose personal and family time has been greatly improved.

Remote Work Options: Although the pandemic began some major changes in work flexibility which was very much needed at the time, one of these, i.e., “remote work” has been largely modified in favor of a “Hybrid” work scheduling strategy. This obviously depends on the nature of the work and is not possible with many jobs, but flexible work scheduling is.

Although remote full-time work is often used, even now, the preference for the Hybrid strategy gives time for what many employers feel is necessary for many reasons like better coordination with coworkers and fostering teamwork, helpful contact with senior staff,company identity, etc.

Also, remote work, either full time or hybrid, is not for everyone. In the beginning it certainly needs to be carefully supervised and evaluated for productivity and quality. With computers, email, text messaging, document work sharing, screen sharing software, video conferencing and other tools, remote work or hybrid can be very successful as many employers have learned. These tools can also be used for ongoing supervision.

But even if remote work is not possible, there are other creative ways to accommodate the work/life balance that we all need. So do our communities.

There were other worker desires on those surveys we studied, and the articles cited at the beginning of this article can give you a quick overlook (Especially the Harvard Business Review article).

And, Staffing Industry Analysts had a survey report just a few days ago about the high level of interest for “Meaningful work and Persona”. You can find it on their website under the Daily News section for January 2nd 2023 under the title “Job Seekers are Prioritizing Personal Fulfillment: Survey”

Staffing Industry Analysts had a survey report just a few days ago about the high level of interest for “Meaningful work and Persona”. You can find it on their website under the Daily News section for January 2nd 2023 under the title “Jo Seekers are Prioritizing Personal Fulfillment: Survey”

We can make our companies better and our workers happier, less stressed, more personally fulfilled, and even more productive. It can be fun! Go for it!

As always, Stay Safe and pray for Ukraine and Russia, Israel, and Gaza!