Linked: Changed by pandemic, many workers won’t return to old jobs

There are some individual stories in here that bear reading. The issue of understaffing is a problem, but it’s also much more complex than man people are making it out to be. Let’s consider all the possible reasons for why some places are struggling to find workers.

First, the obvious ones:

1. The extra unemployment benefits discourage people from looking for work. (The old “lazy” argument.)
2. The jobs should pay more.

Now, I think both of these things are true. The extra benefits do keep some folks from coming back, some because they don’t really want to work, and some because the difference in income is negligible. Frankly, if people can make more or less the same salary not working than they do working for you, why is the answer to hurt people who aren’t working versus letting the employers who won’t pay more suffer for their own decisions?

But, I also think none of this is that simple. It’s much more complicated, and the stories in the article below draw that out more.

For example, childcare is an issue. With some schools still not in-person yet it’s a massive issue, but it was an issue even before COVID-19. How much money does a job pay versus what it costs for full-time childcare? Is it really worth working when all it does is cover the extra costs of having a second parent not home? All of these questions have been relevant for years.

We also are facing a reckoning in the workplace as well. The “pause” that many people took from their jobs gave them a chance to re-think what those jobs are, and what they want from their careers.

And you know what? A lot of people are starting to see how terrible these jobs are. Especially the jobs that had to deal with the public during the current pandemic. How much does it cost you, emotionally and physically, to have people scream at you about masks, ignore safety precautions, or sexually harass you on a nightly basis? Is minimum wage plus tips really worth that?

After having some time to look at the reality of that job, would you be in a hurry to go back?

So really, maybe the advice we should be giving to employers is not just “pay more”, (because we’d also have to deal with inflation if everyone just did that at the same time), but also consider the numerous ways the job just sucks and needs to be improved. That won’t be easy. It will involve standing up for employees, which too many employers have not done, at all.

For example, the customer who asked their server to lower her mask so that could see how cute she is before deciding what to tip her? They should be kicked out and banned from coming back. Same thing for people who want to come into your business and don’t care at all about the health and safety of the people who work there. No one should have to tolerate that from a customer.

If your business depends on tolerating customers poor behavior like this, maybe we can do without your business? It’s clearly not needed. Go ahead and close.

Do the calculation yourself. What do you ask employees to tolerate versus what they get from the job, and consider what you’ve asked them to put up with during the last year versus what they get from the job. The calculations have changed. As it turns out, those employees were watching you, and watching how much you valued their health and safety.

Consider the possibility that you didn’t show them what they wanted to see, and that’s why they’re not coming back, and why no one else wants to work there too.

Maybe they’ll come back to work when they have no other options, for a short time, but they’ll never be committed to you again. You’ve lost that, and in many cases, you deserved it.

We also, as a society, need to rethink our own attitudes about workers, especially in the service industry. No, it’s not right that any employee have to tolerate some of this customer behavior, but we need to recognize how common this is, and who those customers are. Are we willing to let this go unchallenged just because we aren’t the ones in those positions? Why are we so willing to just dismiss it?

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