Quaint Quitting and the WFH Divide
#WF34 How To Prepare for Volatile Times Ahead
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The last Workforce Futurist article was the ‘on the beach’ edition about careers, this is the ‘back to work’ edition.
You might have experienced delays at the airport during your summer holidays – a precursor to the impact of incoming economic volatility. In TikTok news, workers are thinking about ‘quietly quitting’ as they work from home.
Questions that drive this article : ‘Where are we now?’ and ‘What can employers do to prepare for the next volatile phase?’
The WFH Divide
“the physical workplace offers guardrails, structure, and connections for a generation that’s been robbed of relationships and growth. We are a social species. We live in a capitalist society. Find mentors, colleagues, and mates … get to the office.” Professor Scott Galloway
Many parents sent their kids back to school last week. They now find themselves working from home, trying to find space on the kitchen table after a chaotic family breakfast.
The pros and cons of when to WFH ‘work from home’ and when to go to the office will be debated for years – mainly by relatively privileged knowledge workers.
Jobs that can be done from home, e.g. computing and legal work, tend to have a higher median hourly wage than work that can’t be done from home, for example, food preparation, construction, and health care.
There has been an understandable focus on the ‘where’ of work in the Digital Covid age. Occasional readers of workforce commentary might be surprised to read that most workers don’t work from home.
55% of US workers do not work from home, according to a recent survey.
69% of UK workers do not work from home, according to ONS data.
Most people in these countries do not work in an office - they work in industries with diverse work locations including shops, hospitals, factories, delivery vehicles, and, restaurants.
It looks like the ‘location of work’ has stabilised, according to data from Nick Bloom, a Professor of Economics at Stanford University.
Working from Home is not such a new phenomenon.
For example, in Britain from the 1600s to the mid-19th century, work did not take place in factories but in people’s houses. Workers made dresses, shoes, and matchboxes in their kitchens or bedrooms.
In looking at future trends - it can be useful to look at historical cycles. Technology enabled us to change the location of our work from our homes to factories, and is now coming back full-circle again.
Is ‘where we work’ creating a new schism in our society?
Workers that can’t work from home are more likely to rent a home, lack a college degree, and be non-white, according to US research.
It appears a new fault line in society is emerging between those who can ‘work anywhere’, Vs those who ‘need to work somewhere’.
You have read that ‘Quiet Quitting’ is a thing - prompted by some viral TikTok videos – this is the phenomenon of a worker doing what it says on their job description.
They might not like their job but they continue to do it, albeit grudgingly.
This attitude to work will be familiar to most people who have ever had a J.O.B.
‘Work to rule’ is as old as the industrial revolution.
It’s all rather quaint.
Is there widespread organisational evidence that this is the case? Nope.
Is ‘quiet quitting’ any different from the general trend that workers are evaluating ‘work : life balance’, developing side-hustle businesses, being cynical about the incessant push by employers at ‘discretionary effort’ for no extra pay, or just letting off steam on Reddit? Not really.
‘Quiet Quitting’ comes from the same school of journalism as ‘the great resignation’ – with a lack of global evidence, little context and pretty shallow analysis.
In an economic recession, the focus can quickly change from
‘why do I work?’ to ‘will my salary pay my bills?’
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Preparing for Volatile Times Ahead
The good news for employers? Workers might be thinking of quitting, but most are staying put.
The bad news? Inflation is 10% and rising, with increased fuel costs, upward wage pressure, and the subsequent industry mergers, acquisitions, and layoffs.
Consumers’ spending patterns will change. Workers’ expectations will shift.
The direct and indirect impacts are unknown.
I can’t think of a more tricky set of circumstances for the C-Suite.
Over the Summer, many of you will have experienced the impact of airlines having to cut summer schedules and make last-minute cancellations. Airlines like JetBlue are over-hiring staff because of the rate at which people are leaving the industry (real quitting). By the end of 2022, half of JetBlue's employees would have been with the airline for less than two years.
Will things stabilise in the next few months? Unlikely.
So what can employers do? Here are three suggestions to consider :
Design a Positive Worker Experience
It’s difficult to predict who will quit, or how many workers you will need to hire or make redundant in the next year or so. But we can expect plenty of movement.
As you onboard different types of workers it’s important that this experience is positive and at the very least doesn’t make the new hire question their decision.
Broaden out the traditional focus on employee experience and include all types of workers, suppliers, and contractors.
Ensure Workforce Measurement Is In Place
For an experienced CHRO, with decent workforce measurement in place, a concept like ‘quiet quitting’ is easy fairly easy to identify and measure. There are colourful dashboards that show engagement and performance levels over time. These flag risk areas which can be acted upon.
More sophisticated HR departments are emerging post covid with much better awareness of the organisational evidence and better data.
A challenge is that many of our workforce systems have been cobbled together over the last decade by stealth rather than design. This results in workforce data being scattered. Our systems maps look like a bowl of spaghetti. We need to connect those technology silos and provide a more seamless onboarding experience and ensure our workforce measurement engine is working.
More on this with ‘Seven Tips for Using Technology To Make Work Better’
Focus on Maintaining a Positive Employer Brand
Why would someone want to work for you?
You knew where you stood BC (Before Covid) but will your company have the same pull given that the workforce and labour market has changed?
Is your brand attractive to diverse categories of workers? Including contract, platform, and freelancers as well as permanent salaried employees. Independent workers will vote with their feet where they have contract choices and making their experience positive will have benefits for both parties.
Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
If you are just cruising in your job and ‘working to rule’ - then good for you.
Getting the balance between work, play, family and health is a continual challenge.
And when you do Quit - be noisy about it!
For companies, the coming months will be volatile. The location of workers will be less of an issue than how many are needed. There are some workforce housekeeping tasks to do before we are in the midst of another storm.