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Jobs are coming back, but workers are not

The United States had 9.3 million job openings at the end of April, according to data released Tuesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is the second month in a row that the labor market has seen a record number of open jobs – and with a record quit rate of 2.7%, it’s also an indication that workers are willing to walk rather than walk away. stay in a job they don’t like.

The large number of vacancies is causing serious headaches on Main Street.

“I need to hire about 15 more people,” said Leonardo Williams, who runs a restaurant in Durham, North Carolina. Three years ago, Williams expanded the business he and his wife owned to open Zweli’s Kitchen. Durham, North Carolina’s first Zimbabwean restaurant, Zweli’s employed around 25 people before the pandemic. Now Williams is struggling to cope with a small staff of five and relies on family members to step in. “My mom needs a day off,” he said.

In a recent survey, about half of workers said they would turn down a job offer that required full-time office work.

Williams is not alone: ​​Nearly half of America’s small businesses can’t find workers, according to the National Federation of Independent Businesses. The seasonally adjusted 48% reporting unfilled job openings is a record, the trade group said.

In April, nearly a third of those who handed in their notice were retail workers, which accounted for 116,000 of the 324,000 people who left their jobs this month, according to Tuesday’s survey of job openings. employment and labor turnover.

Retailers are reluctant to raise wages and erode margins – and are losing workers to more paying employers, said Nick Shields, senior analyst covering the retail industry at Third Bridge.

“There is a retention challenge, largely because from a job perspective, if you’re a laborer and you’re at a smaller or more regional retailer, you’re going to jump ship,” Shields said.

Labor market experts say there are competing trends in the white-collar and blue-collar industries that make employees reluctant to take or keep a job.

Employers are reminding the office of the millions of white-collar workers who have worked from home in the past 15 months, only to find that many of them have no desire to take back time and travel expenses, nor to cope. potential exposure to Covid. Consulting firm Korn Ferry has found that around three-quarters of workers report having more energy and focus when working from home.

“When you talk to job seekers or employees, employees expect a lot more that they can continue working remotely – I hear a lot less from employers,” said Andrew Challenger, Vice-President. at the executive outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

This disconnection will be a growing challenge, experts say. “I think it will be more difficult for companies to return to these positions because it’s been a year and these expectations have piled up,” said David Barron, labor and employment lawyer at the Cozen law firm. O’Connor. “Putting this genius back in the bottle is a real concern. “

“Employers are realizing that they are going to lose people.”

“In some industries, it’s going to be a retention issue,” said Rue Dooley, HR knowledge advisor at the Society of Human Resource Management. “Employers are going to have to rethink what they do, which is part of why the hybrid model is all the rage. Employers realize that they are going to lose people, ”he said. The Korn Ferry survey also found that about half – 49% – of workers said they would turn down a job offer that required full-time office work.

Top executives in some companies and industries – the banking titans of Wall Street are a vivid example – have made no secret of their preference for a massive employee return later this year. “Employers want employees to find a physical location for a whole host of reasons,” Dooley said.

“It’s hard to do payroll when you have employees working wherever they want to work,” he said, citing the “administrative hassle” of employers having to know where everyone should be paying tax on the job. income, especially if employees decide to work. remotely from multiple locations throughout the year.

There are also challenges related to corporate culture. “For example, if you’re an accountant in a manufacturing plant… I think it gets trickier for these companies for people in support roles,” Barron said. “It is difficult to let white collar workers work from home every day when everyone has to be there,” he said, which could lead to resentment and even accusations of discrimination.

“I think companies need to look at job descriptions – what the core functions of the job are, what the expectations will be – and really rethink from top to bottom who should be in the office and how often,” said Barron.

“Some business activities, in particular, are easier to do in person, like brainstorming on a whiteboard,” Lindsay Duran, director of marketing for software company Zilliant, told NBC’s TODAY. Duran added that the company is re-establishing its tradition of “Taco Tuesday” as an incentive for workers.

Of course, millions of Americans have jobs that can’t be done behind a screen at the kitchen table. Restaurants, hotels and stores are scrambling to find workers to fill lower-paying positions as demand increases with reopening. Unlike their white-collar counterparts, much of the work cannot be done remotely, which presents unique challenges: some workers in positions with direct contact with customers – especially in areas with low vaccination rates – are still worried about contracting the virus, and parents who work in these industries are still sidelined by a lack of childcare options because they cannot work and supervise their children at the same time.

As a result, pay rates increase as employers compete for staff. Although the average retail hourly wage rose nine cents in May, Shields said many retailers are keeping the line on higher wages by offering one-time sign-up bonuses.

If the job market remains tight until the fall, they may not have a choice. “We are in a wait mode,” he said.

That’s the conclusion restaurant owners have already drawn: The average hourly wage in May for workers in the leisure and hospitality industry – an industry that created 292,000 jobs last month – jumped 23 cents an hour during the month, up from 15 cents overall.

Williams said the competition for workers is fierce. “Chili’s is in the same parking lot as us, and they have a sign that says,” $ 400 login bonus and $ 13- $ 18 an hour. “We cannot compete,” he said.

But when he lost his chef to another restaurant, Williams said he had to take action. “Taco Bell was paying $ 17 an hour plus a signing bonus of $ 300. We fought for her and got her back, but had to pay her $ 18 an hour. It was worth it because it plays a central role, ”he said. “She’s family here.”

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