Los Angeles, CA

Are Staff Shortages in LA Restaurants a Sign of Things To Come As People are asked to Return to Work?

Toby Hazlewood

The factors that could be keeping people at home

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Server in a restaurantPhoto by Bimo Luki on Unsplash

As the USA opens up for business again, many organizations are facing challenges in enticing their workers back or in recruiting new staff. Restaurants and bars across the Los Angeles area are now reporting difficulties in meeting recruitment targets - something that's not previously been experienced in the city.

Some attrition would have been expected of course - those who've faced up to a year without income would have been forced to look for alternate employment. A few have likely abandoned the service industry for good having found other jobs.

But there's a likelihood that some are fearful about whether it's actually safe to return to the workplace in spite of businesses opening up. The vaccine rollout is making good headway in the USA (more than 265 million doses have now been administered) but there are now signs that the rollout and the uptake of the vaccine is slowing down. NPR reports that one in four Americans don't intend on getting vaccinated.

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COVID-19 Vaccine Uptake by NationImage from Statista

Various state leaders are exploring different incentives to encourage the reluctant to roll-up their sleeves and to get their vaccination - New Jersey breweries are offering a free beer to those who get their shot in May (for example).

However, the declining uptake of vaccinations is giving many a reason to be fearful about returning to workplaces when they run the risk of being amongst those who haven't been protected against the virus.

Pressure from bosses to return

Many businesses have confirmed their intent to remain predominantly remote organizations permanently - Brian Armstrong, CEO of cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase has announced that they will be remote-first for good. Twitter announced back in October 2020 that it intends to do the same. Having proven that businesses can survive and even thrive with employees connecting from home, it seems sensible to at least provide that as an option for jobs that can be done remotely. For the service industry, that's not an option beyond offering takeout.

Some bosses are less convinced about home working too. In an Op-Ed piece from CEO of Washingtonian Media, Cathy Merrill, she spoke plainly about how she views homeworking. Obviously keen to encourage people back to the office, she mentioned the concept of invisible labor, and how employers are missing out on getting this work from their staff. Invisible labor is the intangible extra input that employees do besides the job they're paid for - training co-workers, mentoring other staff and doing random tasks that keep businesses running.

While Merrill is concerned that this work isn't being done, she went as far as to quantify it as around 20% of the benefit of paying employees. Her suggestion was that such a proportion of employment costs constitutes a reason to move some employees to contractor status where they no longer receive 401k contributions, healthcare and so-on, and are instead paid just to do their core work.

There's no suggestion of an immediate intent to do this, but it represents a somewhat sinister course of action - to force people back into the office to get more out of them than they're technically paid to do, or to radically change their compensation model.

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People sat around a laptopPhoto by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

The benefits of being back in work

While some companies are happy to remain remote, there are benefits to being in the office. Many need the social environment as a means of protecting their mental-health. Others need an escape from difficult circumstances at home and potentially from abusive spouses. Then there's the benefit of spontaneous conversations generating ideas.

The challenge seems to be in balancing individual fears over safety and the inevitable benefits of home-working that not having to commute and more time around family actually represent.

Is unemployment insurance making people too comfortable?

There is an argument that favorable unemployment insurance in some states, combined with the enhanced pandemic jobless aid payments of $300 per week until September are discouraging the jobless from seeking work. But this turns a long-term problem - unemployment - into something that's viewed through a short-term lens. Certainly the payments are welcome, but few would expect to live a comfortable existence for the long-term based on such payments running out eventually, as they will.

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Bar tender pouring winePhoto by Alexander Kovacs on Unsplash

We want to get back into a new normal

Many have weathered the pandemic, dreaming of the day when they can hug loved ones again, and eat and drink out with friends and family, but safely. While businesses are opening up again, it will take time for the more cautious people to gradually return, whether as servers in restaurants, or customers who tentatively return to eating out.

Just as some office workers will be keen to work in offices, others will be happy to carry on working at home - gradually a new point of equilibrium will be reached of course.

With many service industries now having a heavier reliance upon table service, it will take time for businesses to fill vacancies but soon enough a point of balance will likely be reached. In the meantime, it's an opportunity for the unemployed to find new work in the cities bars and restaurants.

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