One of the results of the Covd-19 crisis has been people leaving jobs. But such big changes in the labor market are just beginning.
In the history of nations, pandemics are more powerful accelerants than economic crises. They not only upset the balance of power and business models, they disturb mentalities as well. Changes in the labor market bear witness to this. Although it was expected that unemployment would increase, recovery has been characterized by a lack of manpower and by a massive increase in resignations, which shows not only an inversion of the power balance with capital, but also a profound change in the concept and organization of labor.
In the USA, 25 million salaried staff have resigned since the spring. The sectors most affected are mass retail, the hotel and restaurant trade, and personal services – the jobs that were the most exposed and the most in demand during the Covid-19 epidemic. In the UK, there are increasing numbers of resignations and the shortage of manpower has been exacerbated by Brexit. In France, the hotel and restaurant trade has lost 18% of its labor force, and a wave of resignations has swept through the public services, particularly in healthcare where 5% of posts remain vacant, and in education where the number of resignations has increased fivefold. People are leaving their posts either for jobs that offer better pay and working conditions – as well as better pension schemes, as 2.3 million Americans have done – or to change their lives and indulge a passion, which has been the choice of 10% of those who have left their jobs in the USA. This phenomenon has reached Asia where, in Vietnam for example, there is a lack of laborers, for migrant workers have returned to their villages in order to flee lockdowns and sanitary restrictions.
The Covid epidemic has affected careers, but, above all, it has made people think deeply about the meaning of work and the balance between one’s working life and personal life. Lockdowns have meant that teleworking has become widespread; they have imposed flexibility in the organization of labor and changed the way work and personal activities are related. They have also underlined the gap that has widened between, on the one hand, the social usefulness of jobs and, on the other hand, the respect in which they are held. The polarization of jobs and the increased precarity of junior staff positions has turned against businesses. Worsening standards of living in big cities have been brought to light by the sanitary restrictions. Hence there has been a powerful desire to leave jobs that are too hard and too badly paid, and to look for jobs that favor teleworking and a better quality of life, and that give a new meaning to work. This proves the truth of what Albert Camus said: “There is no more terrible punishment than work that has no use and no hope.”
These resignations are having serious consequences. The USA has lost 4 million posts since 2019 and has 11 million unfillled jobs. In France, hiring has become the main problem facing companies, who find themselves with a million posts they cannot fill, notably in computer services, logistics, the retail trade, and the hotel and restaurant sector. Jobs are no longer being created in big cities but in towns on a human scale, where more and more managerial staff are coming to live.
In order to attract and keep talented people, companies have no choice now but to look for meaningfulness. This is particularly hard for the public services in France, where the concept of serving the people has been skewed by centralization and bureaucracy.
Such changes in the labor market are only the beginning of changes brought about by the Covid pandemic. “Every now and then go away,” said Leonardo da Vinci, “[…] for, when you come back to your work, your judgment will be surer.” Big changes in the organization of labor are opening the door to the possibility of correcting the shortcomings of capitalism, by means of more inclusive and sustainable growth. They also bring the notion of full employment into question. Full employment is not the absence of unemployment, it is the use of talents and skills in the way that will best benefit production and the common good.
(Article published in Le Point, 9th December 2021)