The Job Conundrum of 2021

Where are the employees?



Lindsey Naples


A random Friday somewhere in 2021…


If you’ve ventured out recently, there’s a chance you’ve heard someone mumble about how no one wants to work anymore. Just recently, I waited twice in a week for takeout orders (Chinese and Chipotle), while three to four frantic employees ran around attempting to satiate a hangry mob of patrons who “ordered over an hour ago!” Not to mention the conversations I’ve heard when there’s one cashier at Target and 30 seething people waiting to pay.


Angry or not, it’s kind of impossible not to notice how different things like food service and retail have changed. The New York Times recently published an article surrounding the labor shortage, asking the growing question: How can Americans afford not to work?


Source: The New York Times


There is no clear-cut answer to this, but rather a coalescence of factors that have aided workers—or lack thereof—in not returning to their previous jobs. Citing stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, and severe unhappiness in job conditions, The Times article details how a financial cushion coupled with employee dissatisfaction have resulted in what we’re currently experiencing—a labor shortage, but more importantly, a shortage of people willing to settle for unsavory conditions.


With many referring to it as the “Great Resignation”, we are seeing employees leave their positions en masse due to nebulous work hours overtaking their home/work-life balance, wages too low to support them, feeling unheard or underappreciated by employers, or just a shift in priorities. In April, according to a report from the US Department of Labor, the country saw more than four million people quit their jobs—the biggest spike on record. A Microsoft survey of more than 30,000 global workers showed that 41% of them were considering quitting or changing professions this year.


Right now, workers and employers are standing firm in their positions: workers until their financial bubble depletes, and employers until their customers are gone. It is an oddity to understand both sides; employees want better and businesses are stuck with what the economy allows them to offer. But regardless of what the future holds for the American workforce and what is waiting when people return, the current reality is that this impasse cannot last forever—even if it may last for a while.


Regardless of when these members of the workforce return to whatever jobs they decide on pursuing, things could very well have shifted. There is a possibility (however small) of this labor shortage forcing the hand of employers, resulting in higher wages and attractive benefits being offered as a siren song for employees to return. According to The Times article, the more likely scenario is that employees will return to a workforce where the employers are in a seat of power due to “the decline of labor unions and an increase in corporate concentration.”


If you ask me, operating within realistic boundaries is key, but asking employers to give up traditional office culture in full isn’t going to work, and neither is asking workers to return to job-life as it was after nearly two years of operating on a completely different level. Flexibility and open minds are essential for both parties if this issue is going to be resolved with any lasting effects.


In short: listen, learn, and adapt.