Where are all the workers?
330 million Americans are still waking up every morning and living their lives. Students are still graduating and joining the workforce. Couples are still getting married and divorced. Businesses are still churning out products. Professionals are still growing their careers.
The world continues to turn, in spite of the pandemic.
But talk to any hiring manager, in any industry, at any level, and you’ll hear the same complaint – there are no candidates. They’ve disappeared. When a job is posted, it’s getting virtually no applicants. LinkedIn messages are going unanswered. On the rare occasion a job actually attracts a great candidate…the person is lost to a competing offer – a depressing blow to the hiring manager after a long and costly search. And then that same overworked manager is forced to start all over again, now even more desperate and demoralized.
If only we could 1. determine where the candidates have gone and 2. entice at least some of them to return…then our hiring troubles would be (somewhat) solved. So let’s break it down:
1. Early retirement landed a big blow (CBS News)
Workers of all ages faced major layoffs in the beginning of 2020 – but unlike their younger counterparts, 3 million additional older workers chose not to return. Amazingly, nearly 20% of baby boomers left the workforce since Covid infiltrated our lives.
Some were unable to work from home. Others were immunocompromised and unwilling to expose themselves to risk. And others still took the opportunity to excuse themselves from the mess that was 2020 and retire early. Covid didn’t deplete savings like past recessions, so many boomers on the brink of retirement felt secure enough to retire. But with inflation on the rise, older workers may be tempted to take on contract, consulting, or flexible work arrangements that would allow them to grow their nest eggs without compromising their newfound freedoms.
2. Women have been forced out (NY Post)
Since 2020, parents have divided their focus between work and school – monitoring remote lessons, dealing with mandatory quarantines, and often replacing a teacher altogether. Add to that the lack of daycare spots available across the US and it’s no wonder parents – specifically mothers – have been fleeing the workforce.
Yet even single women haven’t escaped the sweeping effects of the pandemic. As it turns out, women are much more likely to work in positions requiring in-person work, including many lower-wage service and retail jobs. That means that lockdowns have disproportionately impacted the careers of women. In fact three million more women than men lost their jobs since 2020, and they’ve been lagging in recouping those jobs too.
What’s to be done? Remote, flexible work offers one solution. If you can offer a flexible return-to-work plan, you might be able to tap into this dedicated pool of time management experts. Moreover, now is the perfect time to advertise any parent-friendly policies your workplace might have – including paid daycare, parent subsidies, flexible hours, great health coverage, etc.
3. H1-Bs are being pushed aside (Economic Times)
Blame travel restrictions and Covid fears for the steep decline in immigrant work visas. The number of H1-Bs dropped 17% from 2019 to 2021, falling 9% in 2021 alone. If you dig into the numbers, you’ll see that engineers and mathematicians – an important subset of H1-Bs mostly hired by big tech – has dropped a disturbing 12.6% in 2021.
The good news is that this is not a permanent trend; as Covid numbers drop and borders open, H1-Bs will likely ramp up once again. And there’s (some) hope that the Biden administration, in revamping immigration visas, will increase the number of visas and/or replace the lottery system with something more meritocratic and predictable.
4. Demand is exploding for…everything (NY Times)
This comes as a surprise to no one. Following a year of near-ascetic living, the world is desperate for stuff and services. Demand has been driven sky high at the worst possible time – a time when the labor force is at a low, and when increased churn is at a high.
Unfortunately – or fortunately? – there’s nothing to do about this phenomena except ride the wave. Better to have people lining up for your products than to have no demand at all, right?
5. It’s a time of reinvention and reevaluation
The pandemic brought about two major revelations (among others) –
We are closer to death than we might be comfortable admitting
Time with friends and family is infinitely valuable, something that was made especially clear when it was taken away from us
How is this relevant to the world of work? Well, it means that people are being pickier about how they spend their (limited) time on earth. Many want to spend more time doing what they love with people they care about.
As 55% of people look for new employment over the next year, it’s the ideal time to solidify and publicize how your company is making a positive difference to the world at large and their employees specifically. So sit down with your team and establish how you’re making an impact – be it a life-changing difference or a minor positive change. Then weave that mission into your job posts, interview discussions, website copy – everywhere.
6. And yes, fewer people are working (NY Times)
Here’s where the mystery still lies. Even taking into account all the factors we’ve mentioned, we don’t come close to accounting for the millions of people still missing from the labor force. The NYT puts the number of “lost” workers at five million, while The Atlantic estimates that it’s closer to seven million. These workers were here in 2019, and now they’re gone. They are simply…not working, and we’re not sure why. Three million of them aren’t even looking for work.
While it’s tempting to attribute these missing people to Covid deaths and anxieties – and that surely accounts for a significant portion – Covid isn’t the primary culprit. Yes, almost 800,000 people have succumbed to the virus, and even more are dealing with Covid-induced anxieties that might hinder one’s ability to work. But looking at the numbers, they just don’t add up. Most Covid deaths and serious illnesses have been among the elderly – not professionals in the prime of their careers. As for Covid-anxiety, it has lessened, not increased, over the past year. Yet the labor force continues to shrink.
We’ll keep you updated as more information comes in, but for now – focus on what you can control. You can’t make people come back to work, but you can make your company/team/mission as appealing as possible. You can provide perks that people actually want like remote work, flexibility, and medical insurance. You can surface how your team makes a difference in the world. You can streamline your hiring process. You can find advocates or sales people to help get the word out about your amazing team.
The situation is far from hopeless. Although many workers are burnt out and exhausted, others are rejuvenated and excited to start down a new path. People are reconsidering the role work plays in their lives, wanting to integrate their job and their personal obligations. It’s an exciting time to be building a team, even if it has its drawbacks.
Learn more about the current hiring situation – its challenges and benefits – in our State of Work Survey, which polled 8,000+ hiring managers on key workplace topics including compensation, cohesion, location, and remote flexibility.
We’re here to offer advice – be it general hiring tips or specific guidance for attracting a certain type of candidate. Reach out!