A “Seller’s Market” for Labor?

Daytona Labor Shortage Grows as Eateries Open,” reports my local paper today. Maybe this is happening in your area too, as things reopen.

The article was no news to me, as my neighbors who work in the restaurants and hotels have been experiencing overwork in under-staffed establishments for months now. Especially with many people still collecting unemployment, motivating people to go back to work at jobs that are hard labor for hard pay even in the best of times is a tough sell.

I’m probably being overly optimistic, but I’m hoping we are seeing a new age of worker autonomy and occupational freedom. Some wages are rising, and that’s part of the equation. Also, I hope that more employers will be forced to confront the fact that they are not offering reasonable working conditions even at the best of times. No, it’s not spoiled or self-indulgent for workers to want plenty of time off and a healthy work-home-life balance. It’s healthy. Time is something a person can’t stockpile for “retirement.” We spend it now doing things that matter to us, or we lose it forever.

But I’m also seeing people start their own little cottage businesses instead of rushing back to work for someone else.

I’m also hoping that more employers have the self-discipline and integrity to do what one currently under-staffed restaurant mentioned in the article has done: temporarily removed some of its tables until it is able to hire more workers, rather than force its existing staff to work themselves threadbare. Customers are willing to wait in line for good service, the restaurant owner points out.

This is healthy for workers, for customers, and even ultimately for the owners. After all, an under-staffed place has an unpleasant atmosphere, and its reputation will suffer.

I like the approach taken by traditional European family-run businesses (at least the ones I’ve read about). A bakery or brewery or restaurant has been in business since 1553 or whatever, but they still only open like 2-3 days a week, during which their goods promptly sell out to their longstanding loyal customers. Sure they aren’t really accommodating to new demand, but they’re like, “So what? We have enough.” From a person who finds the mainstream USAmerican zeitgeist exhaustingly hectic, this attitude is so refreshing.

And I’m cheering on all my friends who are pursuing that type of model. There are plenty of people in my circles who are out there right now marketing their goods and services on social media, to their own exclusive hyperlocal fan-base.

Maybe you can be one of those micro-businesses, if you’re not already. If you want some encouragement give me a shout; I have lots of good examples and ideas to share.

Postscript, mid-April: One of my dear favorite restaurants ended up working its employees threadbare, by refusing to cut the restaurant hours even though they were greatly understaffed. As a result, they just lost probably their best server, leaving them now even more understaffed. The last couple of times I ate there (I eat on their open-air patio, either alone or social-distance with a couple of friends), although the food was exquisite as always, the experience was hard to enjoy because the poor employees were so obviously exhausted.

Meanwhile, another popular restaurant has made the hard choice of cutting its hours. Smart choice and kind choice, not only for its employees but also for its customers.

I fear that my longtime favorite place may not survive.

Postscript 4/16: In the papers and on social media, there’s been a lot of vitriol directed at people who have the gall to choose to stay home instead of rushing out and going back to work at their incredibly grueling, often tip-dependent jobs. Since when did it become a crime for overworked people to reassess their life priorities and decide they’d rather spend more time at home, with family, etc., even if it means earning less? I’m cheering the “work rebels” on.