The pandemic has disrupted every aspect of our lives, including our relationship with work. As the global economy shut down in the past two years to contain the virus, consumer behavior has changed dramatically, putting entire industries such as tourism, art, and hotels at risk. Many people have lost their jobs, and the luckier people can get a vacation plan, a government program adopted by many wealthier countries to subsidize wages and keep people on payrolls temporarily.
However, although the world continues to fight the pandemic and the full extent of the economic loss remains to be realized, some workers find themselves with unprecedented bargaining power to affect their employment conditions. They either find that their needs are higher, they can get more job opportunities and higher salaries, or they find new ways of working that are more suitable for their lifestyles. Does this herald the golden age of workers?
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of critical jobs, which are often underestimated, such as nurses, warehouse workers, truck drivers, and retail workers. These roles can basically keep other sectors of society functioning. These heroes have no choice but to continue working in person to keep the supply chain and basic services alive, even if it means increasing their risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Perhaps for some of these essential workers, it may eventually translate into better (if it’s too late) welfare. For example, there is a shortage of truck drivers worldwide. In order to prevent an empty shelf crisis in stores, employers have increased economic incentives, including a 10% salary increase in five months in July 2021 to attract drivers, some of which exceed the wages and bonuses of lawyers and architects. bonus. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the United States, as restaurants reopened, wages in the hotel industry have risen to their highest levels in 20 years, but employees seem to be reluctant to rejoin the industry.
Fierce competition for talent
COVID-19 has also enabled many workers to reflect personal priorities more deeply. Insurance provider Prudential reported in 2021 that as many as a quarter of employees are planning to find a new job because of burnout, seeking work-life balance or pursuing passionate projects.
Alain Dehaze, CEO of human resources giant The Adecco Group, recently stated that border closures have hindered the flow of talent, and due to the direct health impact of COVID-19, more and more workers retire or leave the labor market, and fierce competition is bound to occur For talent.
In the short term, employees in key departments are likely to enjoy unprecedented bargaining power, but this may not last. In the long run, the increase in labor costs will accelerate the trend of automation, especially for daily tasks, which may increase productivity, but will lead to reduced employment opportunities.
According to a survey of 800 executives conducted by consulting firm McKinsey in 2021, two-thirds of the world’s companies are increasing investment in automation and artificial intelligence. As an example of the scale of change waiting for us, McKinsey predicts that in the United States alone, the number of customer service and food service jobs will decrease by 4.3 million, which will have a serious impact on the 13.3 million and 14.8 million currently employed in the hotel and retail industries. With the popularity of “self-checkout” services in supermarkets, we have seen clear signs.
White-collar employees who can work online have also seen changes, and telecommuting has created a new era of work flexibility. Work from home was introduced as part of COVID-19 government restrictions, forcing companies to accept it and invest in remote technology.
‘A great transition’
Due to the proliferation of new Omicron variants, many people continue to require or advise their employees to work from home, thus continuing to normalize the concept of remote work. McKinsey calculated that this new labor behavior could lead to four to five times the number of people working at home than before the pandemic. It will completely change the geographic location for commuting to work and may benefit the suburbs, which provide more space and lower housing costs, rather than larger urban centers.
There are obvious benefits to working from home. Eliminating the need for long-distance commuting can save employees time, money and carbon emissions. Being at home may also help balance work and life, especially for working parents who are busy with housework and children.
For introverts who are afraid of socializing in the office or who do not like distractions, the feeling of being quiet and safe in their own home may be a blessing. Remote work means that companies can now also hire employees from greater geographic distances, further increasing the choice and influence of employees for better benefits. Employers may also benefit financially, especially if they can cut expenses by reducing office space.
However, being away from the office has its disadvantages. Business leaders may consider whether video calls can truly replace the natural relationships and collaboration necessary to establish a positive work culture, especially for creative projects. Managers may also find it more difficult to monitor performance. If performance is related to face-to-face time, regardless of the output, it may result in employees working from home at an unfair disadvantage than employees working in the office.
If you are not lucky enough to have a pleasant living and working environment, working from home may also be unpleasant. The reality is that not everyone can use a beautiful garden or internal office space with a good internet connection, and enough quiet and space to concentrate.
Working and sleeping in the same house all day, without the natural boundary between the beginning and the end of work, can also cause serious damage to our mental health. The Royal Society of Public Health reports that 56% of people find it difficult to get off work.
As companies digitize, there may be higher security risks, including risks from cyberattacks. Technology consulting firm Accenture reported that cyber attacks such as ransomware, credential theft, and digital blackmail have increased by 125%. Without adequate understanding and investment in cyber defense, both employees and customers may become more vulnerable.
The workforce is currently undergoing a huge transformation. For some people, lockdowns and vacations have been catalysts to reflect and pursue new passions, and workers in some industries can now work with greater flexibility and higher salaries. For others, there is a lot of uncertainty ahead. McKinsey suggests that by 2030, more than 1 in 16 people will need to find a different career.
We need to accept new work models without leaving people behind. This includes investing in retraining programs to ensure that all of us have the opportunity to participate in the new digital economy. If done well, we may really be in the golden age of workers.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.