Last week, I spoke with the Country Manager of a well-known supermarket chain. Before the pandemic, their HQ’s location in the suburbs of a major European metropolis was a large selling point. They could easily convince young people to reverse-commute from the congested city centre and work in a peaceful environment with better amenities. Now, they are encountering increasing resistance, if not outright opposition. “Nothing we say or do can convince them to commute again”. This trend is not limited to Europe or the FMCG sector.
Demanding employees are not a new phenomenon. After all, essentially all workers’ rights progress following the Industrial Revolution occurred because employees demanded better labour conditions. Overall, European unions are still relatively strong, and even in those countries where unions are not as strong as they once were, virtually all workers are still covered by collective bargaining agreements and substantive governmental protections (France). American unions, in contrast, have lost much of their power over the last half-century. Like any complex phenomenon, there is not just one main reason, but a list of several contributing factors to the decline of unions in the United States. Experts mainly point to general American hostility towards regulations, a powerful Republican Party that has been adamantly anti-union since the 70s, globalisation, and public shifts in opinion during economic crises.
No matter where you are located, you are living in an area that is suffering from a labour shortage in at least one (if not several) significant industries. And organised or not, workers have learned to be much more demanding. I do not make this statement based on the Country Manager’s anecdote; preliminary survey data supports this idea as well. According to a survey of 3,500 American workers conducted by GoodHire:
- 45% of Americans would either quit their job or immediately start a remote work job search if they were forced to return to their office full-time.
- 74% of Americans need a continued remote working arrangement to stay at their current job.
- 85% of Americans prefer to apply for jobs that offer remote flexibility, while just 15% would apply for a position that requires total full-time office work.
- And perhaps the most shocking stat is the following: 70% of Americans would forfeit benefits to maintain remote working status, most commonly: health insurance, paid time off, retirement accounts, and more.
Much of the political opposition in the United States stems from the idea that unions unnaturally restrict the free market. But the free market is speaking quite loudly and clearly. I am not saying that unions are no longer necessary – despite being a business owner myself, I wholeheartedly believe that societies are better off when workers have greater protections – but there are clear labour market trends that will affect the workforce for years to come. And they seem quite universal. Now, there is a difference between what someone might say in a survey and what someone might actually do. That said, the numbers are overwhelming. For companies expecting to retain the current talent and attract future talent, they are going to have to listen and accommodate employee demands.