The Largest Migration of Workers Out of Corporate America Is Happening & Industries Are Not Ready For It

Jeff Harry
7 min readJun 30, 2021

Dear CEO’s & Top Fortune 500 Executives,

The decisions you make in the next 3 months will determine the success of your company for the next decade.

This is the canary in the coal mine message that attempting to return to a pre-pandemic normal where you expect staff to ignore the fact that we just experience a once-in-a-century pandemic may lead to you becoming as irrelevant as Blockbuster Video.

We are witnessing the largest migration of the U.S. Labor Force out of Corporate America since the Great Depression. Are you ready for it?

The signs are there.

What does this communicate to you?

A New Movement Lead By Gen Z Is Happening

Naomi Osaka withdrawal from the French Open for mental health reasons juxtaposed with Amazon having 150% turnover in their Warehouses, according to the NY Times, shows the massive gap between the priorities of workers (I.e., mental health over money) vs. corporate executives (I.e., profit over people).

Many companies are attempting to address a broken arm problem with a bandaid solution. They fail to realize that Naomi Osaka represents an entire generation willing to prioritize their own mental health over a 9 to 5 job. Gen Z is now leading a movement that millennials and even Gen Xers are following, not tolerating management’s pre-pandemic rushed approach to getting back to normal.

Why is this happening?

There is a quiet, new labor movement evolving in America after workers, employed and unemployed, have had a year to reassess. With so many new options to make money outside of the standard 9 to 5, workers are much more willing to walk away. For too long, many staff felt underpaid, undervalued, under-utilized.

85% of the workforce felt disengaged at work before the pandemic, so think about how bad it is now.

What Questions Should You Be Asking As A Leader?

What happened to the loyalty of employees before the pandemic? Have they gotten lazy?

If that is the question you are asking, you are approaching this all wrong.

Do Not Use Shame To Get Your Employees Back To The Office

Corporate shaming your staff into coming back into the office is a horrible idea. The approach by some of the big banks into shaming their staff to return to work is only going to backfire in the long run. You either will have staff that will resign because the Boomer approach of “You should be lucky to even have a job” mentality will turn them off from coming back to work…or worse, you’ll have staff that will come back that will carry a heavy amount of bitterness, which will be apparent in their work.

As a leader of your company, you have to ask yourself, what happened during the pandemic?

Ask your staff: Was trust built or lost during this pandemic?

For example, American Airlines received a $5.8 billion bailout during the pandemic and still cut 19,000 jobs. Now it blames canceled flights on a “labor shortage & turbulence.” How obvious can the gaslighting be?

How many companies:

  • Lost the trust of their staff by keeping them out of the loop on major decisions that affected their lives, yet expecting employees to perform at the same productivity level ignoring all the personal and mental health challenges that their workers might be going through in a once-in-a-century pandemic?
  • Furloughed staff or expected employees to work in dangerous conditions during the pandemic (I.e. Elon Musk wanted staff to come back to the office in June of 2020)
  • Did not have their leadership checking in with their staff regarding their own mental health or what was happening with their families, coming off unempathetic and cold?
  • Have not provided their employees a quality reason why they need to come back to the office?

Ask your leadership team: What work is currently not getting done where we need people back in the office?

Leaders, are you hearing your staff’s concerns and taking action? Or are their comments falling into a black hole never to be addressed?

Reasons For Coming Back To The Office

Why do you need staff to come back to the office? Do you have a strong reason?

Company Line: Well, we are more productive in the office.

Is that true? I’ve spoken to many organizations where their staff is more productive, more efficient, and happier working from home. Many have stated that their mental health is better working from home and others, who have dealt with toxic work situations, say they don’t have to deal with as much of the drama. Many People of Color I’ve spoken to said that the level of code-switching they have to do in comparison to being in the office is huge, which has greatly improved their mental health.

Company Line: It’s company policy.

Do you think that is a valid enough reason to have everyone come back? We have always done it this way, so you have to come back sounds like a Boomer antiquated approach to management, as if you are a parent saying “you have to do it because I told you so.”

I recently spoke to someone who works for an organization where they had their most profitable year yet while people were working from home. How are they capitalizing on this? Forcing everyone to come back to the office. Talk about a blow to morale. Now, some staff is considering leaving which will result in them probably having their least profitable year. Do you see how this can be counterproductive?

Do you understand what you are asking your staff to sacrifice by having them come back to the office, especially if they have been productive and happier at home?

At a minimum, you are asking your staff to pay $5750.00 to come back to the office. When you factor in commute time which they aren’t typically compensated for, the gas or public transportation costs for an entire year, not including losing at the very least 250 hours/year commuting back and forth, this is a massive perk they are losing. That is money, time, and the additional stress of commuting that they have to add on that they didn’t realize they experienced before the pandemic. That’s lost time with family, friends, sleeping in, or just having the freedom to do what they want.

Your perspective might be that “well, we have always done it that way, so suck it up and do it again.” What you fail to realize is that people are awakening to a different reality where they are questioning what was done before because it is an antiquated way of thinking.

In 2019, the average commute for a worker in America for an entire year was 225 hours or 9 whole days. And for what? So, their manager can keep a close eye on them? So, that they can build camaraderie in the office? Sacrificing 9 days of your life sitting in a car just for the good of the company is asking a lot, especially when they haven’t seen the company go above and beyond for them during the pandemic.

Recognizing The Context We Are Now In

The reason we can’t just go back to normal is that over 600,000 people have died in the U.S. because of COVID. Over 4 Million people have passed away worldwide due to this pandemic. Pretending as if we just didn’t go through this once-in-a-century pandemic, and “going back to normal,” would be an insult to anyone that has died and the families that have suffered from this ordeal. Because of all this death, people are logically asking themselves:

  • What is really important?
  • How do I want to spend the brief amount of time I have while being on this planet?

So, if they have to give up 2500 hours/year to work for your company, you better, when they know they only have a finite amount of time on this earth, you better treat your staff with a certain level of care?

Solutions are available.

Some CEOs like Dan Price at Gravity Payments have already been able to figure it out.

As a leader, you are now at a crossroads. You can go the way of Jeff Bezos Amazon where they have 150% turnover in the warehouses, and communicate to all their staff they are replaceable.

Or

Choose the The Tony Hsieh of Zappos approach to leadership and prioritize your employees over everyone else.

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Jeff Harry

Workplace Positive Psychology Play Whisperer / Helping Fortune 500 Companies Build Psychologically Safe Workspaces Through Positive Psychology & Play