Michael Scott from “The Office” is the world’s worst boss. In one of the sitcom’s funniest scenes, Scott is hosting a ridiculous orientation for employees from a merged Dunder Mifflin branch, when one employee tries to quit on the spot. Scott refuses to hear of the resignation and instead fires him because the company can’t have “quitters,” a decision that costs the company an unnecessary severance payout.
These days, my conversations with local CEOs have been all about quitters, or more specifically, how they can attract and retain a team in the midst of labor-market turmoil. Let’s fact facts: Something big is happening. In August, more than 4.3 million people quit their jobs and in September, another 4.4 million did the same, all as job openings remained near record levels. So what can a CEO do to navigate these challenges and develop strategies around talent, compensation, acquisitions and overall growth? Well, consider a few ideas from some insightful new books.
Look Deeper: Much of the current labor-force disruption started pre-pandemic, and now the so-called “new normal” is taking shape and changing the social contract that defines the rights of citizens, government and businesses. So argues, New York Times writer and professor Alec Ross in his provocative new book, The Raging 2020s. Ross argues that a focus on shareholder value above all else has led to monopolies, short-term thinking, international race-to-the bottom tax policy, erosion of worker rights, and a breakdown in civility and community. We now need a greater focus on stakeholder capitalism. I found much of this compelling and Ross’ data-driven observations definitely will make you think.
Look Harder: Yes, our social contract is changing, and so is the labor force. The pandemic has hastened retirements, slowed immigration, and reduced labor force participation for women especially. Many U.S. economists are predicting a long and continuing labor shortfall. Time for a second look at those who need a second chance. In Untapped Talent, investment strategist Jeffrey Korzenik makes the sensible case for hiring talented and motivated people burdened with a criminal record. All too often, returning citizens are painted with a broad brush and denied employment, housing, benefits and basic opportunities long beyond their completed sentences. Giving capable people a chance to work is part of every social contract, and after all, we are all more than the worst thing we have ever done.
Look Ahead: Going forward, global market forces and the labor supply will reflect a realignment of the how we think about work. This is the future and it is rooted in the past. People want better pay, meaningful work-life balance, and a sense that what they do matters — to them, their co-workers, their families and their communities. In American Made: What Happens To People When Work Disappears, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Farah Stockman chronicles the lives of three hard-working people (one of whom has a criminal record) laid off from a manufacturing plant that had anchored an Indiana town for decades. Seems to me that economic justiceand contributive value are inextricably linked and this book proves the point. You will recognize these people and their all-too-familiar stories.
In the end, we need to recognize the connectedness of work and wages to community, hope, and progress. We need to think about possible solutions, and we should do that, as Michael Scott would say, “as ASAP as possible.”
Authors & Innovators is an occasional column by Larry Gennari, a transactional lawyer, law professor, and chief curator of Authors & Innovators, an annual business book and ideas festival. Gennari also teaches Project Entrepreneur, a business fundamentals bootcamp for returning citizens, at BC Law School.