Take this job and shove it.
Forty-four years ago some dodgy, scruffy country yolder named Johnny Paycheque (seriously) released that song. It endures. In fact today it’s been embraced by GenZs whose moms were not even born when Mr. Paycheque gave the world voice. This time we know it more grandly as The Great Resignation.
Is it really a thing? Did Covid cause it?
The stats are what they are. On Friday we learned that job openings in the US, for example, sit at 10,438,000. Those are empty positions employers cannot fill. The number continues to grow as workers walk out. In fact in September 4.43 million Americans quit. The put the “quits rate” as a percentage of the entire work force at 3%.
Compare that to a shove-this-job rate of just 1.6% back in 2020 when the virus was taking hold and businesses were crashing. That was a seven-year low, and the pandemic hit women harder, as lockdowns shuttered the hospitality and childcare sectors. But as vax rates have increased and the pandemic crisis ebbs, big changes are hitting the labour market. The rate of resignations has now achieved a level double the historic norm. The result is the 10.4 million vacant employees in the US, signing bonuses for dishwashers in Vancouver, Deere workers refusing a $8,500 back-to-work cash offer in the US and the right-wingers who run Ontario jacking the minimum wage to $15.
The GR is vexing employers mightily. It’s making the supply chain issue worse. Canada alone is down 17,000 truck drivers. Same story at the ports. A study by Adobe found 50% of GenZers plan to find a new job in the next year. Another study by PriceWaterhouseCooper revealed 65% of employees are looking for another position. Microsoft’s polling finds that number is 44% globally. It’s staggering. Perchance historic.
So this has the potential of making the economic recovery more halting. It certainly impacts small and medium businesses with shallower pockets and more virus damage. It portends extra inflationary pressures and a wage-price spiral as workers wield greater bargaining power. Unions are reenergizing. Labour costs are destined to rise and you can bet this will help make our cost-of-living spike a structural one. No doubt what that means. Yep, six or eight Bank of Canada increases as rates rise to deal with the price romp.
But why? Why, even as the pandemic still hangs on and after two years of collective misery, is this happening?
Stress, the experts say. Covid stressed the hell out of everyone (except Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk) by upending daily and work routines, shuttering offices and schools while isolating us from each other. Telecommuting was everywhere. WFH became a reality for five million Canadians. Hospitality, restaurant and tourism workers were thrown on the pathogenic slagheap.
Stuck at home, shuttered from others, cut off, Zoomed to death and stripped of normalcy, people have been reassessing priorities and goals. After 19 months of this many have concluded they never want to commute again. They don’t want to spend most daylight hours in a work space. They crave a balance. They want to continue seeing their kids, walking the dog and doing the laundry on a personal schedule, not an imposed one. In short, the work ethic has been shot to hell.
Now, with so many jobs going begging the balance of power shifts.
Employers are being told they must coddle and yield. Companies have to work at building a sense of engagement and attachment to the business. Mostly, say HR poohbahs, they must support employee wellbeing which means personal time off, remote work arrangements, praise and rewards plus the realization that everything has changed because of a virus. Today people demand money, frequent tummy rubs and to not actually show up.
Well, if you run a business and need to employ anyone under 40, good luck. This genie may not be going back in the bottle until the next recession.
Meanwhile, we can think fondly of Johhny Paycheque’s time, when not getting killed on the job was a perk and only singers whined.
About the picture: “This is Bruin – my big, slobbery goofball with jowls to spare,” writes Jenn, from Ontario. “Even in his senior years (for a Dane – he’ll be 7 in February), he is playful and loves to gallop around the woods. Although his slobber goes everywhere (truly, nothing is safe) – he makes up for this vice with his loyalty and devotion.”
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