The Work Force is Changing

McKinsey & Company recently published an article that explores the changes in the U.S. workforce. The bottom line of the article is that the pandemic gave people time to contemplate their personal and work lives, and a large percentage of Americans have decided to not go back to the kinds of jobs they held before the pandemic. McKinsey is calling this the Great Attrition, where millions of people have decided to retire early, take sabbaticals, start their own businesses, or start a new career.

This is reflected in a lot of statistics. There were a record 11.3 million jobs open at the end of May. After a huge number of people quitting their jobs in 2021, the percentage of people still quitting jobs is up 25% over historical trends.

McKinsey says that the current labor shortage is mostly for jobs that can be classified as traditional. People who are willing to take traditional jobs do so for the benefits, job titles, and the chance of long-term career advancement. The article postulates that the number of people willing to take traditional jobs that put the company first is dwindling. McKinsey doesn’t see that many big companies are changing the way they are recruiting – and this means there is a disconnect between what companies and potential employees are looking for.

Companies are mostly filling traditional jobs by luring people away from other companies, which is resulting in wage inflation but is not addressing the overall underlying number of people willing to take jobs they think will be unfulfilling.

McKinsey suggests that the long-term solution for companies to fill open jobs is to find a way to attract the 40% of workers that McKinsey classifies as non-traditionalists. That’s going to mean a big shift in the way that many businesses operate. Consider the following chart from the article that explains the difference between traditional and non-traditional workers.

The first column represents people who quit jobs between April 2021 and April 2022 but then took another traditional job. These folks look like traditional workers in that career development and advancement, adequate compensation, and meaningful work top the reasons why they took the new job. For the most part, these folks moved on to a company that offered them a better chance for career advancement. The one difference between this list and a list from five years ago is that even traditional workers now highly value workplace flexibility.

The second column represents the factors that non-traditionalists say might lure them to accept a traditional job. Topping the list as the most important reason is workplace flexibility, followed by good pay and meaningful work. The chance for career development and advancement is listed seventh for the reason to consider a job, below having a safe work environment.

The conclusion that can be drawn from this chart and the rest of the article is that building a long-term career at one company is no longer important to many people. People who are looking for long-term advancement will tolerate a work environment with an annoying boss or long hours if they think it puts them on the path toward advancement. But the growing number of people who view jobs untraditionally will likely bail on a company that doesn’t have a great work environment.

This is an important issue in our industry since telcos, cable companies, and other ISPs tend to offer traditional jobs with set work hours, decent wages, and okay benefits. At least historically, ISPs have not been known as places with a flexible work environment. Technicians and customer service reps work set hours. The business office is open at set times. Career advancement is possible, but it’s often a slow path that rewards staying with a company for many years until the bosses above retire.

The article suggests a number of different strategies that companies are starting to consider for filling open positions. One is to reach out to people who retired from a company to see if they can be lured back to work. Companies are looking for ways to become more flexible by allowing people to work from home or periodically take extended vacations.

One thing is for sure; this genie is not going back into the bottle any time soon. In an economy with more job openings than people to fill them, workers are currently in the driver’s seat. And unfortunately for many companies, that means they are not taking traditional jobs.