Sat. Oct 23rd, 2021


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It can not be guaranteed that a meeting with a group of managers of the manufacturing companies is a surprise, but I was recently in a meeting that did exactly that.

The managers come from a mix of businesses. Some made cars, one made fertilizer, others steel or glass or perfume.

All present were upset about the Covid-related shortage which is everything from computer chips to Ikea mattress. The lack of workers in what was called the Great Resignation was also severe.

What was more striking, however, is what was said about the prospective shortage of employees, especially younger ones, once the pandemic ends.

“We need to revolutionize the way we play a role in manufacturing to appeal to younger generations,” said a CEO of a global company with thousands of employees. ‘If we do not do that, we will not have a workforce to manufacture our products.

Most staff at this establishment did not have the luxury of worrying about being able to work from home. They did shift work on a production line in a hot factory. Isolation was common, as was staff turnover at a time when, as the CEO said, “there are so many other options”.

Factory owners encountered a crisis in staff long before Covid struck. Studies as far, as 2018 predicted that US manufacturers will run a shortage of 2.4 million workers by 2030, mainly due to the problem of “negative perception”.

But when I sat in that meeting, I was reminded the council Joe Biden recently offered when asked about labor shortages that U.S. businesses have struggled to find workers: “Pay them more.”

Would that help, I asked the manufacturers if they would just pay young people more? Not as much as you might think, I was told.

As one person puts it, payment is obviously relevant, but it is “absolutely not the kind of incentive it has been for older generations for decades and we cannot rely on it”.

The driver said that was already the case millennial workers, the oldest of which turns 40 this year, but was even clearer among the so-called Generation Z employees born since 1997.

The idea that pay is not everything is not new. The influential American psychologist Frederick Herzberg showed in the 1960s that pay rates are a ‘hygiene factor’ that does not promote job satisfaction itself, but prevents dissatisfaction – just as good hygiene does not cause good health but causes disease when it is lacking. .

Yet, if the attitude to pay changes, it will have serious consequences for employers, and not just factory owners.

It would also talk about the major re-evaluation of working life that spurred the pandemic for some employees.

A striking American of more than 15 million people has left their jobs since April, and 40 per cent of employees in the US, Australia, UK, Canada and Singapore say they are at least ‘somewhat inclined’ to be within the next six months to quit, a McKinsey report last month.

Worrying about employers, nearly two-thirds of those considering leaving say they are ready to get a new job.

Paying, payment was not the main reason for jumping off a ship. The three most important factors that people mentioned felt that they were undervalued by their organizations, or by managers, or that they did not feel like they belonged.

So, what’s the answer? Several executives mention more autonomy, more recognition, more flexible hours, better holidays and everything that has made work life more enjoyable in general.

I suspect they are right, especially after talking to a 34-year-old Briton named Sophie Munn, a digital marketer at the consumer goods group Unilever, last week.

Four years ago, she was about to marry a schoolteacher who had two months off when she decided to take advantage of Unilever’s unpaid leave plan.

This allows UK staff to take up to six months and return to their old job or similar role, without leaving their pension plan or losing other benefits.

As a result, Munn’s planned honeymoon of three weeks turned into two months’ journey, from Bali to Borneo and California, which made her feel grateful and strong about the importance of payment. “Salary is important,” she said. “But I want to lead my life.”

pilita.clark@ft.com



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