It’s impossible to leave the house these days without staffing shortages affecting our daily lives. There have been countless examples in my own life. Two that happened one after the other immediately comes to mind:
I arrived for a routine teeth cleaning at a dental office that was apparently so short-handed that no one even bothered to record that morning appointment onto their computer system. So they had to turn me away. There also was no hygienist in the building that day, so I couldn’t be treated if a chair became available. Furious, I asked that the office manager call me when she got out of a meeting. It never happened.
On my way home, I decided to indulge in a scrumptious turkey sub from Which Wich (see accompanying photo). The store had two noteworthy signs that (ahem) are actually signs of the time: one advertising for help and the other apologizing for any inconvenience because of a staffing shortage that week.
Similar incidents recently occurred when one night, much to my chagrin, our local Panda Express closed its dining room area, which meant I had to queue up behind about 10 cars in the drive-through, which took forever to order, pay and be served. Same thing happened at a local Starbucks one weekend when a meandering line in the drive-through lane seriously eroded my morning plans.
There are many more examples: I was floored, for instance, to learn that our local school district is shorthanded 50 bus drivers, which meant that certain group activities would be curtailed. And when our family attended a minor league baseball game, concession stand lines were ten to 15 people deep. My favorite takeout window wasn’t even opened that night because, I was told, the college kids returned to school and there weren’t enough replacements available.
One other incident involved an email I received from my daughter’s gymnastics academy, which read: “As you all are aware, the hiring market is rough right now for employers. You are probably feeling this in all areas of your life, and we at (redacted to preserve their privacy) are feeling it too.
“We have been actively recruiting and hiring nonstop since we reopened fully in 2021, and have not yet caught up to where we would like to be. In addition to that, many of our staff members have reached a point in their lives where they have finished school and are now looking to transition into jobs within their fields. While we have worked very hard to anticipate hiring needs and fill them preemptively, we just are not receiving many applicants right now.”
The letter goes on to say the school may need to adjust its business hours without notice, have fewer staff members at the front desk and may need to combine or close classes.
What the heck is going on here?!
I know we’re all frustrated, but for me, it’s a phenomenon I’ve seen unfold for a year and a half because I write about the workplace for a living. A college professor coined it the Great Resignation. It’s the employee equivalent of the scene in the 1976 film “Network” when Peter Finch’s character shouts out his apartment window: “I’m MAD AS HELL, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
While the trend has also spilled into the C-Suite and can be felt pretty much across the economy, according to research, it has bubbled up on the lowest rungs of the corporate ladder where there’s a serious revolt against low pay and bad hours. We’re seeing this mostly play out in the retail and hospitality sector, as well as trucking and warehouses. Can an American revolution of the proletariat in which the working class overthrows bourgeoisie elites as we saw with the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917 be far behind? That’s a topic for another day. But what’s clear to me is that pandemic lockdowns and restrictions really made people pause and take stock in their lives as never before, and many of us decided to make some long-overdue changes.
Where all this ends up is anyone’s guess. This is hands down the strangest economy in my lifetime. On one side we have inflation worries and recession fears, but on the other there’s record low unemployment and job openings.
Employers are pulling out all the stops to recruit and retain workers. I saw signs for a $1,000 bonus for a short-order cook at a restaurant chain around the corner from where we live and a $10,000 signing bonus for a manager at a local Panda Express. Many companies also are finally coming around to heavily promoting or offering mental health benefits and financial wellness programs. Yet we still see Help Wanted signs in virtually every store or office window, and we’re all experiencing customer service that’s stretched as thin as it has ever been.
Let’s hope that whatever is in store for us post-pandemic will be better than the hand we’ve been dealt now.