The pandemic and associated impacts hit with blinding speed. Within two short months - between January 22, 2020 when the WHO first confirmed human-to-human transmission of the virus, to March 30th - over 100 countries locked down. Billions were immediately impacted.
Work structures shifted quite literally overnight, with office buildings from Beijing to Manhattan standing empty, and the people who used to fill them struggling to find spaces in their home to continue working. Service workers found themselves unemployed as hotels, restaurants, cleaning services, and more paused all operations. In many cases, those businesses wound up shutting down or radically transforming themselves in attempts to survive. Truckers, cab drivers, couriers - all sat idle.
In the midst of this, governments increased unemployment coverage, and a mix of public and private organizations began offering reskilling and training programs.
And, of course, political upheaval accelerated. Civil rights battles were fought out on the streets, the US Capital saw its first invasion since the War of 1812, mass anti-vaccine protests began (and continue) in Berlin, Melbourne, other locations.
As a poet once wrote: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold... The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity... Surely some revelation is at hand?"
And, now we're seeing impacts. According to a large global survey, three quarters (75%) of the global workforce made changes or plan to change how or where they live, with that percentage even greater (85%) among Generation Z.
High turnover, and higher stress
These are signs of what's to come. Emerging signals in all the noise. The report just issued by the ADP Research Institute shows that the workforce, one year out from the pandemic's arrival, has changed. More interestingly: that transformation is far from over.
The transformation of the global workforce only accelerated in 2021, driven by the continued impact of the pandemic and strains on businesses amid record labor shortages and shifting worker priorities. It's a strain felt universally. The study found that 64 percent of the global workforce was negatively impacted by COVID-19, including 28 percent who lost a job, were furloughed, or were temporarily laid off, and 23 percent who took a pay cut. These labor market shifts have led workers to reprioritize their needs, further redefining how and where work gets done. As a result, employers face added pressure to adjust to emerging talent demands.
These pressures are geometric. A short-staffed restaurant begins to increase employees hours and stressors, leading to worker burnt-out and higher resignations. A coffee shop owner in Anas Zein Al-Abdeen, a coffee shop owner in Birmingham, UK, tells The Guardian: “When you’re short-staffed, the staff get stressed out, because they’re working more than they should. It’s hard to keep morale up. It’s like a chain reaction. It’s terrible."
"The most frustrating thing is how it affects our service,” he says. “We’re trying our best not to, but there’s not much you can do. We’ve won multiple awards and I think we’re destroying what we’ve achieved. I don’t blame customers for getting annoyed. They’ve paid their money. They have the right to be upset if we’re delayed or the service isn’t up to scratch.”
A Starbucks in Newburyport, USA, a bustling seaport tourist hub, can only find enough staff to stay open for limited hours. Speaking privately to RNN, a barista at the location said: "We went from working way too many hours, to not enough [once they went to only being open weekends]. I can't live like this. It's like a yo-yo."
In the US, 78% of restaurant operators are reporting that they do not have enough workers to handle normal business in a survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association. If your local Starbucks is closed at a time it is typically open, this is probably the reason.
In the face of this burnout, employers are not responding as nimbly as they likely should. One in 10 workers (10%) globally are now working in excess of 20 hours per week for free. That proportion has doubled in the last year from one in 20 before the pandemic. Many of those taking on additional responsibilities have been rewarded financially for their commitment, however it is striking to see how much unpaid overtime workers are now doing. On average, the amount of free time being worked each week is now 9.2 hours per person – up from 7.3 last year. The amount has increased significantly in every region: nowhere more quickly than in North America where the average has doubled from four hours per week to nearly nine (8.9). APAC still leads the world in terms of the amount of unpaid overtime its workers provide to their employers, reaching an average of almost 10 (9.9) hours.
More than six in 10 (62%) say that their employer is monitoring time-keeping and attendance more closely than ever. Given the amount of unpaid work being undertaken, issues around employees’ perceptions of fairness may come into play. Managing these contradictions in the changing way people are working may prove to be a key area of focus for managers and HR teams alike going forward.
Sign up to get our monthly newsletter and updates about RNN.