Reassessing Our Priorities in a Changing Economy
Updated: Aug 13, 2021
The most visible business outcome from the last 18 months is the realization that American workers have repositioned their priorities on how they will engage with their work life. American workers, like their global counterparts, have been through 18 months of COVID-related quarantine, sporadic outbreaks, healthcare shortages, death, and months of debate on vaccination and public safety policy only to discover that we can survive it all. In that experience, workers have had time to evaluate their employment and what’s really important to them in their work life.
Along the way, they have also discovered that there are options that they never experienced before. Working from home, flexibility in when they perform work and where they need to be, along with wanting to contribute in more meaningful ways have all led us to the stark reality that they, the worker, can drive change, dictate the terms of their employment, and simply opt out if it doesn’t meet their needs. Workers have figured out that they can engage with work on their own terms and create times for work production that meet their needs through gig work, develop careers of interest through side hustles, or change the way they interact with their existing careers without the fear that they are not employable because the market is driving job growth.
Government is also creating more and more opportunities. The Biden Administration is moving on an infrastructure plan that will be the largest in U.S. history; the debate is not about passing a job stimulating investment by government but rather how big it should be. Generating thousands of opportunities for small business and creating career on-ramps is not limited to infrastructure, as the President has introduced significant increases to the “Buy America” program, driving the demand for corporations to design, assemble, and make more of the products they sell to Americans in the U.S..
Large private employers are also driving employment demand and this has led to the most interesting shift of all: where corporate and some government leaders have fought minimum wage increases on the basis that it would cripple employers and drive them out of business, employers who want to remain competitive for talent are driving wages and working conditions up on their own. In Seattle, Taco Bell restaurants are offering entry level jobs at $18 per hour, and in Los Angeles, Café Rio offers new entrants health benefits and 401K matches, all in pursuit of becoming an employer of choice.
COVID also demonstrated that a customer will determine what business models they will support, even as long-time service practices give way to online and in-home services shift market demand in every industry from medical care visits to movie viewing access. Employers are feeling the pressure to respond to clients and employees are engaging on their own terms, setting the stage for a significant shift in career availability, and putting employers who create abusive or unsafe conditions at a disadvantage. Amazon, who now employs over 1 million workers in the U.S., also has significant turnover and no longer has the luxury of not addressing working condition demands from their workforce. With pressure from unionization efforts and social media, America’s largest private sector employer will be forced to deal with worker demands or create space for competitors that will.
It is clear that what employees do want is meaningful work that pays well for their contributions, fair treatment in safe and collaborative environments, and the ability to engage with their work in a way that fits their lifestyle. It’s not just about money, it’s really about careers that make people feel that they are a part of something bigger, a mission-driven, impact-generating body of work that allows them to take care of themselves and the world around them on their own terms. Those employers that get it and work on internal culture, conditions that are meaningful, and focus on being a good partner will succeed. Government and Corporate players that are not paying attention will continue to believe that workers are waiting for their handouts instead of engaging with the global market that is available on their computer screens and suffer the losses associated with their lack of vision.