We’re closed today because nobody wants to work, said the sign on the restaurant’s door.
This lament will be familiar to any restaurant or business owner in an industry that survives on a business model of low paying jobs. Simply raising wages may not be sufficient to attract workers, even if it were financially feasible, which it usually isn’t. Working conditions are also important.
So take another look at that statement from the perspective of the workers. As someone whose been as a short-order cook, a gas station attendant (the only one not robbed in broad daylight by an armed nutjob) and a motel maid, that message is insulting.
It says I showed up for every assigned shift, pulled double shifts when asked, dealt with horrible and rude customers, put up with unreasonable and demanding bosses, and all for a company that doesn’t value me as a person or an employee.
Blue collar workers face job insecurity. Millions lost their jobs during the pandemic and many of those jobs aren’t coming back. Those still employed worry about losing their jobs even as they work extra hours due to a shortage of workers.
Blue collar workers face housing insecurity. Whether paying a mortgage or renting their homes, costs are going up. Many blue collar workers never earn enough money to build a nest egg to protect them financially if they lose their jobs. They are always a paycheck away from default and a possible eviction.
Blue collar workers face food insecurity. Inflation hits the poorest first and the hardest. As more of a family’s earnings must go to pay for housing and utilities, there is less to pay for food. Food pantries say they’ve been overwhelmed with the numbers needing food assistance.
Blue collar workers face a health crisis. They often lack employer-sponsored health coverage, and even if it’s offered, they probably can’t afford the payroll deductions for their portion of the premium. But they make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, particularly in the states which refused for political reasons to expand Medicaid coverage to the working poor. As a result, treatable health conditions become life threatening.
All these insecurities pile up to emotional and physical burnout. Blue collar workers are exhausted. They have spent decades working jobs that paid little and offered stingy benefits, while facing condescension and amused contempt from people who either never worked these types of jobs or have forgotten what it was like.
Blue collar workers are reacting to burnout exactly like their white collar counterparts. The Baby Boomers are retiring and those who can are switching to jobs with better pay, working conditions and employee benefits. That leaves some employers in a bind. That bind won’t be fixed by accusing the potential workforce of not wanting to work.
About Norma Shirk
My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps small businesses create human resources policies and risk mitigation programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy. To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).
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