The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly altered many aspects of our everyday lives. Going maskless is now unacceptable, sanitizing frequently is the norm, and periodic lockdowns are amongst just a few of the things that we have all gotten used to over the last two years. For a lot of people, the changes over this period have been profound. It is therefore unsurprising that the changes in peoples’ personal lives will translate into changes in their social and professional lives.
Data from LinkedIn has revealed that there is a ‘Great Reshuffle’ occurring in the workforce. This is not just an Indian phenomenon, but a global one. Working professionals across all sectors are rethinking their professional goals and ambitions and are switching to jobs that they feel are more rewarding. The pandemic has influenced this in a number of ways. People have become more conscious of what is important to them not only professionally, but also in terms of a work-life balance. Being overworked and underpaid, which has unfortunately become commonplace, is no longer being accepted by those who have a choice.
However, this is not the only phenomenon that has been observed. In countries like the US and the UK, 2021 saw the emergence of the ‘Great Resignation’. During the pandemic, essential workers in non-healthcare jobs such as groceries store clerks, waiters, delivery professionals, and many others were required to keep working while everyone else was allowed to work from home. The stress of having to work during a pandemic and not being adequately rewarded was deeply felt. This led to anger and frustration as these are employees who are already on the lower end of the income scale and although they were being hailed as heroes, they were not being compensated for their extra efforts. In the US, the unemployment benefits that a person is entitled to turns out to be only about $50 dollars lower than what a person earning minimum wage would make in a month. As a result, the decision to simply quit their jobs and sit at home became an easy one to make. September and October saw record-high numbers of resignations.
While these resignations are mostly found amongst low-paying jobs, people in higher salary ranges are also resigning. The difference is that they are pursuing a different career altogether. The data from LinkedIn reveals that the main reasons for people leaving their current positions have to do with the amount they are being paid and their work-life balance. What this reveals is that employees are now valuing themselves higher than what the job market values them at. Normally, workers have little to no bargaining power. This is beginning to change as there is a demand for workers, especially in the IT, healthcare, and business development sectors. If people are not happy at their current stations, they can simply quit and find work elsewhere with relative ease. This means that employers will have to work harder to retain their workforce.
Numerous businesses in the service industry such as restaurants and bars have had to shut down because employers could not give their employees what they wanted. This is especially true of the US. There is a subreddit known as r/antiwork which has seen its membership grow from 180,000 to nearly 2 million in the space of just a few months. Here, people share their stories of the unacceptable working conditions that they find themselves in, and the community at large supports people leaving their jobs and finding better opportunities. It has at least in part been responsible for the Great Resignation.
What we are seeing now is a significant shift brought about by the pandemic. It is important to remember, however, that only those who can afford to quit and seek other opportunities are doing so. India’s unemployment rate and labour force participation rates have touched all-time highs in the recent past. There are still millions in this country who simply want an opportunity to work any job. Recent reports from Oxfam tell us that 16 crore Indians slipped into poverty during the pandemic and 4.6 crores out of those are now in extreme poverty. India has two very different problems that it needs to address. On the one hand, it needs to create more jobs and on the other, the private sector needs to re-strategise its treatment of the workforce.
Employers will need to start listening to their employees. Suggestions like a 4-day work week and stakeholder capitalism have been gaining in popularity. Stakeholder capitalism is when business leaders look to create value for not only the shareholders, but also for customers, employees, and so on. The pandemic has merely brought a magnifying glass over issues that were already present. As of right now, it appears as though these issues are only going to become more prominent in the public eye which means that employers must seek to act sooner rather than later. In countries like New Zealand and France, the 4-day work week has seen enormous success. The concept of stakeholder capitalism took centre stage at Davos in 2020 as well.
The wheels appear to be in motion. It is up to business leaders to play catch up to the demands of the workers. Some have already made adjustments while most are taking on a more passive approach. At a time when employees are wrestling back control, it may be more sensible to be proactive in planning for the future.