Reading time: nine minutes.
— 3.9 million people quit their jobs in June.
— “We’re seeing the craziest counter-offers I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” says a recruiter.
Forget the housing market. Bidding on employees is the new bubble. Prospective new hires are driving the labor equation like never before. They don’t show up for job interviews, they insist on working from home, they want more than just money.
You can’t blame the whole thing on unemployment benefits. The extra $300 a week has already run out in most of the country.
America’s worker bees are pickier than ever for a variety of reasons, and they’re playing hardball. (I’m starting to think that yours truly should play hardball, too, but I’m a wuss.)
Who are these people?
It’s nearly 100 degrees in Simi Valley on a Tuesday afternoon in July — but it’s a dry heat!
At City Hall, tables spill out onto the patio, as 70 employers participate in the first job fair since before the pandemic. There are probably 100 prospective employees walking around and checking out potential jobs ranging from aerospace manufacturing to Chick-fil-A.
At least five companies here are hiring home healthcare workers. The average pay starts at $15 an hour. Currently in California, unemployment benefits for someone earning that pay would total $577 a week, only $28 less than actually working. Benefits will go down to $277 a week once the extra $300 ends September 4th, so maybe these jobs will look more appealing then.
Jennifer Henderson is a social worker who’s come here looking for a better job, but her top priority isn’t salary. “It’s flexibility, it’s something new.”
Nick Burt is a 22-year-old recent graduate of UC Berkeley who’s been “jumping around from job to job,” collecting unemployment in between. As he looks around at all the companies offering work, he thinks about his student loans. “There’s a huge demand for people to fill positions, but it’s not always great positions that are open.”
Here’s what has changed in 18 months. A lot of people learned to live on less income, even with stimulus checks and extra unemployment. For those with jobs who worked from home, many don’t want to go back into the office full-time.
Over the last year, the number of people working from home doubled to 42%. Average leisure time increased half an hour a day.
Richard Shaw is puzzled. He is CEO of Interscan Corporation, a 15-person company which makes toxic gas monitors for workplace safety. He posted six job openings at the Simi event. Shaw told me he’s been “ghosted” many times by potential employees. “I’ll actually set up an interview, and they confirm the interview, and then they never show up.”
His colleague Susan Landon shakes her head. “I foresee a lot of people saying, ‘I need to make $20 an hour in order to be hired,’” she says. “They’re going to get a rude awakening.”
Jason is a 42-year-old married father living in Southeast Wisconsin. He’s asked me not to use his last name. He spent 18 years as a golf pro until the state closed golf courses when Covid hit. When they reopened, he says everyone ignored safety guidelines. “Staff didn’t care,” he says. “In fact, they laughed about it.” Jason wasn’t laughing. He lost three loved ones to Covid.
He then became frustrated after learning the family who owned his golf course received a PPP loan to pay employees, but he received none of that money.
Jason finally quit. “I felt unwelcome.” His income on unemployment plus the extra $300 a week was similar to his take home pay.
“I have taken advantage of — and I will say ‘advantage of’ — unemployment benefits,” Jason says, adding that he invested all of it. “I’m not going to pass up free money when available, especially after busting my butt for 18 years while others were taking advantage of it.”
Jason and his wife had already experimented with living on her salary alone while he invested his.
Now the experiment is real. So far, he has not needed to touch his investments to cover expenses. “I may work again, but this time I know I’ll be able to do something I want to do, and do it for myself and not someone else.”
Maggie Mundwiller is a 38-year-old wife and mother who lost her job during the pandemic, right after giving birth to her first child, Mylo.
For 13 years, she’d worked for a senior living provider, rising up to the role of national sales trainer.
“I was the main breadwinner for our family,” she says.
After she was laid off, Maggie started making a little money selling her handcrafted goods, and her husband found a better job with more pay. They cut back on spending, and she continued to look for work. A few job interviews on Zoom had to be canceled, though, when Mylo’s nap schedule didn’t work out.
It was very frustrating.
“I felt really alone this last year,” she says, surprising herself by becoming emotional. “I’ve been looking for stories like mine to relate to and understand and try to cope, and there was nothing out there.”
Finally an in-person job interview popped up in June, and Maggie told the company she couldn’t make it because it was too late to find daycare. No problem, the company said, bring Mylo along.
That's when Maggie Mundwiller became a TikTok star.
“I’ve been enjoying TikTok a lot for the last few months,” she says. Being creative at heart, she decided it would be fun to make a short video of Mylo preparing for the job interview with her. “I have this old hand-me-down suit from a friend of mine.” It was a small, blue seersucker suit, which fit Mylo. Maggie made Mylo a resume listing his skill sets — “He can destroy a clean space within 30 seconds” — which he took to the interview.
She posted the video on TikTok after they returned home, and then both mother and child took a nap. “I woke up to, I think, it was about 537 hearts or likes.”
The video has since been viewed about 10 million times on TikTok (and on Instagram and Facebook).
Now she’d like to see if she can leverage the moment to talk more about working parents. “I see all of these other people, all these other women, all these other parents who have been hurting so quietly for the past year, because there are so many other important topics that have been overshadowing this, but this is just as important.”
She’d like to work with companies and curate lists of flexible, family-friendly work opportunities. “How can we open these conversations?”
“I could probably use 16 drivers right now,” Nuckles says. He also needs a mechanic. These are jobs which require training. “We’re kissing a lot of frogs before we come across our prince and princesses.”
There’s already a trucker shortage, and Nuckles is competing against Amazon, Costco, Walmart and Target. He’s raised hourly pay 30% and the signing bonus is now $6,000. “It’s never been this tight of a labor market.”
Nuckles believes wage inflation will impact consumer prices. “The loaf of bread, the gallon of milk you buy, all that gets to market via truck,” he says. “So how much is the consumer going to be able to afford?”
Andrea Light and Joslyn Osborn are watching the change in management-labor dynamics from a unique perspective. They are recruiters at Vaco, placing talent at a variety of companies, usually in finance and accounting.
“The vast majority of people do not want to go into the office five days a week,” says Light.
Entry level positions are tough to fill because some parents would rather collect the extra unemployment as long as they can and stay home, saving on childcare costs. An eviction moratorium in counties with high Covid levels has been extended until October 3rd.
But even when filling higher level positions, like controller or CFO, these recruiters have seen a power shift from employer to employee, leading to tough conversations with clients who insist on having everyone back in the office five days a week.
“I may have three candidates that are options for you, but you’re competing against companies that are completely willing to be totally flexible,” says Light, “so you better have a really good package around that to make them want to come to you.”
Osborn says she’s seeing an unprecedented number of interviewees get remarkable counteroffers from their current employers who fear they might leave. One tech worker interviewing with another company immediately got an offer from his current boss to raise his salary from $80,000 to over $100,000, while another worker shopping himself around suddenly received a guaranteed $20,000 year-end bonus “and they gave him a $25,000 ‘stay’ bonus,” so he wouldn’t quit.
“The candidates have the power right now,” says Light. “There’s a ton of opportunity, and they have other options.”
Maggie Mundwiller was offered the job she and Mylo went to interview for, but “it just wasn’t the right fit for me.” Instead, she’s taken a part-time consulting position with a local company which makes transfer printers, the kind of tech Maggie uses in her craft business. “I am partnering with them to create instructional and how-to videos.”
She continues to push out content on social media.
Meantime, “Mylo is as cute as ever, growing like a weed and busting out of his little seersucker.”
Jason, the golf pro from Wisconsin, says he currently has no interest in going back to work, even though he’s only 42. He and his family are getting by financially on his wife’s salary, his investments are doing well, and he loves his new schedule. “I haven’t had weekends or holidays off during any summer since 2002,” he tells me. “It’s a wonderful feeling to be making this new plan work. So far.”
Ron Nuckles is still hiring. If you know anyone…
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It's free! Because luckily for you, I'm wussing out and not playing hardball... yet.