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A meeting with a group of manufacturing company executives is not guaranteed to surprise, but I recently found myself at a rally that did just that.
The managers came from a mix of businesses. Some make cars, a made fertilizer, others make steel or glass or perfume.
Everyone present was concerned about the covid-related shortage that has hit the supply of everything from computer chips to Ikea mattresses. The lack of workers in what is called the Great Resignation was also worrying.
What was said about the potential shortage of workers, especially children, was even more interesting when the epidemic ended.
“We need to revolutionize the way we play a role in creating appeal to our younger generation,” said an executive of a global company with thousands of employees. “If we don’t, we won’t have a workforce to make our products.”
Most of the employees of this company did not have the luxury of worrying about whether they could work from home. They have worked shifts on the production line in a hot factory. Isolation was common, so there was a turnover of staff at a time when the executive said, “there are many more options”.
The factory owners faced a labor crisis before Kovid was hit. The study said that before 2018, U.S. manufacturers risked a shortage of 2.m million workers before 2030, largely due to the problem of “negative perceptions” in the industry.
But sitting in that meeting, I was reminded of the recent advice to Joe Biden when he was asked about the labor shortages that U.S. businessmen are struggling to find: “Give them more pay.”
Will it help? Not as much as you think, I was told.
As one person put it, pay is obviously relevant but it is “absolutely not an incentive that has been around for decades for the older generation and we can’t rely on it”.
The manager said that this has already happened in the case of millennial workers, the oldest of whom is 40 years old this year, but the so-called generation Z workers born in 1997 were more pronounced.
The notion that salary is not everything is not new. Influential American psychologist Frederick Herzberg in the 1960s showed that the pay scale is a “hygiene” that does not increase job satisfaction by itself, but prevents dissatisfaction – as good hygiene does not cause good health, but deficiency will cause disease.
Nevertheless, if the attitude of payment changes, it has a profound effect not only on the factory owners, but also on the employers.
This would be a shock to what could be called the Great Reassessment of Careers that the epidemic seems to have stimulated for some employees.
As many as 15 million Americans have quit their jobs since April, and 40 percent of employees in the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and Singapore say they will resign at least “somewhat” in the next six months, McKinsey reported last month.
Worryingly for employers, about two-thirds of those thinking of leaving say they are not ready to take on a new job.
Needless to say, the main reason for the ship’s jump was not mentioned. Rather, the top three issues mentioned are either underestimated by their organization, or by the managers, or they don’t consider themselves.
So what is the correct answer? Several executives have more autonomy, more recognition, more flexible hours, better holidays and something that has made careers in general more enjoyable.
I suspect they are right, especially after talking to 34-year-old Britter Sophie Munn last week, a digital marketer at consumer product group Unilever.
Four years ago, she was on her way to marry a school teacher who took two months off in the summer, when she decided to take advantage of Unilever’s unpaid leave scheme.
It allows UK workers to take up to six months and return to their old jobs or equivalent roles, without abandoning their pension plans or losing other benefits.
As a result, Moon’s planned three-week honeymoon turned into a two-month trip from Bali to Borneo and California, leaving a lasting impression on her gratitude and the significance of her salary. “Salary is important,” he said. “But I want to make my living.”