Especially if you have been reading this blog, you know what on this subject is happening. Positions, ever more plentiful, are staying open, and numerous companies continue resisting raising pay to get the personnel they need. Possible workers, between child-care problems, holding out for more money, benefitting from high unemployment payments, and having changes of heart about what they want to do, are staying jobless. Covid-19 has become a pandemic of the unvaccinated, with so many of them getting sick that infection, hospitalization, and death rates threaten the highest points America reached in total, before shots were widely available. Our president is trying to get the vaccine into more people, and working to increase overall safety, by requiring it for many jobs.
Some responses, such as complaining and giving in, are expected. Yet a handful are more noteworthy. Which countermeasures have reached the press lately?
First, employers are paying or just plain requiring employees to take their off-work days. Per “The limits of vacation” (Jenny Gross, The New York Times, August 14th), firms as prominent as LinkedIn and Intuit “have introduced weeklong companywide shutdowns so employees can fully disconnect,” and another, PwC, “is offering workers $250 each time they take 40 consecutive hours off.” None of this time is additional to what people have already been guaranteed, but, at PwC at least, they are then being asked to lay off their office email accounts. That is more important than forcing employees to step away for lengths of time that may not be convenient for them. As Gross pointed out, it is better still to ask workers what would help them, which could result in less along the lines of “installing a volleyball court on the rooftop of an office” (to get people to spend more after-hours time there) or “providing free food during the day” (to facilitate more lunchtime work), when what people really wanted “was receiving fewer emails from bosses during evenings and weekends.”
Second, businesses now have a real and unusual opportunity to experiment with different ways of togetherness. That was the thesis of Priya Parker’s August 20th New York Times “How Should We Meet? And Who Decides?”; ideas she mentioned, without much judgment, included assessing a group’s needs before every meeting, implementing new knowledge of what is best done remotely, and shortening the workweek with a commensurate reduction in tasks. More than anything else, Parker conveyed the value of management trying different things.
Third, “New surveys show how pandemic workplace policies are shifting” (Sarah Kessler, The New York Times, September 1st). Such changes include, with percentages of organizations including those now practicing them, requiring vaccinations (52%), tracking worker inoculation status (78%), considering passing along some health-insurance financial impacts to workers (17%), and cutting travel costs even after the pandemic is minimized or ended (84%). Planned or not, these changes may not be implemented, let alone lasting.
Fourth, some companies are saying “We’ll Give You a Week Off. Please Don’t Quit” (Tiffany Hsu and Lauren Hirsch, The New York Times, September 6th). What’s missing here is whether or not these breaks, often companywide, are bonus holiday time, in place of individually scheduled vacations, or unpaid furloughs. These efforts, in various significant but not household-word firms, are designed to cut burnout, but sadly often help only temporarily, as employees often return to piles of emails and the same cultural situation. Worthy experimentation, but no panacea.
Fifth, more are saying goodbye even from good jobs, as noted and investigated in “Why Are So Many Knowledge Workers Quitting?,” by Cal Newport in the August 16th New Yorker. One cause may be money saved through fewer pandemic spending opportunities. Another related reason, Newport mentioned, was that “this particular class of workers were thrown into their own Zoom-equipped versions of Walden Pond” as “diversion and entertainment were stripped down to basic forms,” cutting their need for money. I won’t hold my breath waiting for dumping well-paying positions in favor of financial leanness to become widespread, but it’s hardly out of the question.
Finally, sixth, the fun one, especially to this long-time remote-work hawk: “Some white-collar workers are secretly balancing 2 full-time jobs and earning up to $600,000, a report says. They drop in and out of multiple meetings to avoid getting caught” (Grace Dean, Business Insider, August 17th). Isn’t that a fitting response to poorly controlled telecommuting? This, by the way, is legal, only something that “could breach employment contracts and get people fired.” Dean’s perhaps unintentionally humorous accounts of tactics include a teacher-technician who dealt with one boss’s request for a video call while running a class for the other by asking his students to take a break and then firing up his second computer, attending simultaneous meetings online and by voice, and traveling, not for training as represented, but to work part-time jobs. As long as all employees are treated as fervently productive and scrupulously proper, we will get this sort of ingenuity, and it may prove to be remarkably difficult to identify. Ha ha – who says news about workplace trends can’t be hilarious?