Labor and patience in short supply on this Labor Day – The San Diego Union-Tribune

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As a summer fanatic, I always feel a tinge of sadness on Labor Day. After all, the holiday is the unofficial end of the summer season — even if that isn’t always obvious from the temperature.
Here’s the hot story of summer 2021: the record number of people who fled their jobs.
Right now, there are more than 10 million job openings in the United States. Beginning in April, 4 million people quit their jobs, or 2.8 percent of the workforce. The hospitality industry accounted for 740,000 of the job quitters. In May, 2.7 percent of the workforce bailed out.
Even a 2 percent quit rate amounts to roughly one-quarter of the workforce leaving every year.
It’s not a matter of money in most cases. According to a recent survey by Bankrate, more than half of people are looking for greater flexibility in their jobs. That’s true even among people who make less than $30,000 a year.
Workers, it seems, learned a big lesson during the pandemic. It’s called “Life Is Too Short.” Along with greater flexibility, workers are seeking more happiness, as well as a sense of purpose. That means calling the shots — deciding when and where they truly want to work.
The quit craze has been dubbed the “Great Resignation.” Gallup calls it the “Great Discontent.” In their “State of the Global Workplace: 2021 Report,” Gallup found a marked increase among Americans in our feelings of daily stress, worry and anger when compared to 2019.
Gallup also measured employee engagement — people who are emotionally attached to their workplaces and motivated to be productive — and found a slight improvement, to 34 percent. Still, that means two-thirds of workers are doing only what is required to get a paycheck. Some of this disengaged group may be completely checked-out — or worse, undermining their employer.
In the 1980s, workplace loyalty began disappearing. Organizations started to restructure, seeking to increase shareholder value. Employees were viewed as expensive and expendable resources. Workforces and benefits were cut. Without reciprocity, loyalty waned.
In the hospitality industry, high turnover is the norm — nearly 75 percent annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And that was true before the COVID-19 pandemic. The industry is seasonal by nature, with regular cycles of new hires and layoffs. Students often fill these positions, seeking flexibility. But systemic issues like low wages, lack of opportunity and poor management practices also come into play.
Now for a cruel irony: As these businesses reopen, they’re struggling to find workers — even as they bump their pay and offer perks like yoga classes, health benefits and retirement plans. Unable to meet customer demand because they’re short-staffed, some businesses have cut their hours or trimmed back service.
It turns out that relationships also matter. Managers or team leaders play a critical role in ensuring team engagement. For today’s workers, being treated with dignity and respect is considered non-negotiable.
As customers, we share that obligation: to treat workers — particularly those who serve us — with dignity and respect. Remember at the start of the pandemic when service employees were applauded for their bravery and considered essential? Now we’re seeing reports of hostile behavior and abusive language, most often related to mask wearing. On airplanes, violence is spiking, with unruly passengers assaulting flight attendants over mask mandates and other perceived inconveniences. Customers and workers alike are exasperated.
All of this angst has led to staff shortages. The resultant delays have only stoked the fire — and the ire.
In response, restaurants have begun hanging signs in their windows, explaining the lack of help and asking customers to be patient and kind.
I get it. After more than a year of public-health protocols that upended our daily lives, people want a return to normalcy. That includes dining out with family and friends and traveling freely.
But even when our experiences differ from what we imagined — which they inevitably will, at least for now — we shouldn’t take out our frustration or disappointment on the person serving us. Nor should we expect them to go out of their way to make us happy, especially when they feel like they’ve been personally attacked for something that’s out of their control.
Instead, we should pause, take a deep breath, and remember that more often than not, that person is trying their hardest in difficult circumstances. If you can muster it, share a few words of encouragement. Just a moment of grace will improve the encounter. And you just might make someone’s day.
Dinkin is president of the National Conflict Resolution Center, a San Diego-based group working to create solutions to challenging issues, including intolerance and incivility. To learn about NCRC’s programming, visit
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