As Re-opening Accelerates,Where are the Workers?


You “must not get out very much” if you have not noticed all the new “Now Hiring” signs. They seem to be everywhere! The Wall Street Journal confirms that Sign-On bonuses are common, even at McDonalds and Burger King, and, hourly rates are up too.

Wages are higher today at typical lower-wage companies like Walmart than they have ever been. Other companies have also been increasing wages and benefits

Yet,even with higher wages and unemployment rates still being high, CNBC reports that employers are still having difficulty finding qualified applicants.

(Note: There is an excellent discussion (with chart) of average weekly earnings in an article at titled “Are Wages Rising or Flat”. The data runs from1965 to mid-2019sorting out the “facts” of the last 50 years of wage history.)

So, what is happening with this current difficulty in finding workers?

Although there are several reasons, the most popular opinion seems to be that the increases in unemployment benefits (and their extensions)are “just too high”. This creates a disincentive for a return to work.

This argument has credibility especially for the current “American Rescue Plan”because, unlike the Cares Act of 2020 when Covid-19 was just beginning, the new aid package comes as we are coming out of Covid-19 and trying to get the economy going again.

But even if increased UI benefits are, at least, part of the problem there is considerable evidence of other causes. During the early 2021 winter and spring months many schools have still been closed requiring mothers(or fathers)to be at home to care for and supervise their children’s online education.

Also, according to a May 12, 2021 survey by MSNBC, nearly half of those surveyed said they need to get their Covid-19 vaccinations before they would feel comfortable working around others and 35% said that their co-workers would need to be vaccinated as well.

So, even though we are well along with the Covid-19 vaccination process, we are only at 40.7% fully vaccinated as of May 29, 2021 according to the CDC (i.e. Center for Disease Control and Prevention).

Even with this significant progress most has been with the elderly who are, for the most part, not in the effective labor pool.

Consequently, we are just not there yet (physically or psychologically). All of this begs the questions of “when and how do we get back to normal?”

“Human Resource Executive” made a good overall contribution to answering these questions in an article titled; “Why ‘moving slowly’ should be at the core of returning to workplaces”.

Even though the article was written at the peak of the pandemic in May of 2020, I believe that their basic advice still applies. We will get back to work but it will be a process.

In May of 2020, many people were simply terrified. That was well before the fall upsurges, the closing of schools (again) and the still uncertain future. It is only very recently that we are seeing a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

As we return to work there will be permanent changes like working from home that may need to be negotiated for returning workers or re-negotiated with others who have been experimenting with this relatively new model

Office schedules may need to be more flexible with “on and off site” combinations, office spaces may need to be altered to accommodate social distancing, sick days may need to be reevaluated to ensure greater safety for the spreading of even common colds and flu.

Some jobs may be eliminated entirely while others will need to have their pay rates and benefits re-negotiated.

With 600,000 deaths and counting,Covid-19 has given us all time to think about what is important in life. Attitudes are changing about both workplaces and the terms of the working relationship. It is not simply a buyer’s market for employers. Good, talented, competent, and productive staff will want more.

Basically they (Millennials and the upcoming Gen Z) especially, seem to want a better balance between work and leisure. More time for family and relationships. They may not, and probably will not, be happy with anything less.

With open-minded and tolerant employers and employees, this can be mutually advantageous as both navigate the new world of work.