How to Use Labor Shortages to Your Advantage

How to Use Labor Shortages to Your Advantage

Labor shortages? With a 6% unemployment rate? On the heels of a recession and global pandemic? Seriously?

Seriously. If you’re like me, you’ve seen the signs hanging in almost every restaurant, coffee shop, and gas station window you’ve walked past. “Now hiring! Check our website for details!” But there’s something off about them. Usually such signs have a cheerfully neutral tone. But these are radiating powerful desperation stink.

“We’re hiring! Like, SERIOUSLY hiring. Literally every role is open! Do you want my job? You can have it! We have signing bonuses. If you show up all five days your first week, I will give you my cat. Don’t get me wrong, I love my cat like a son—but if someone doesn’t help me bus these tables, the fabric of my reality will unravel all around me lol.”

When employers are desperate for employees, they’re weak. And when they’re weak, you are strong. You can use this moment as an opportunity to claw back lost ground.

But situations like these have been super rare in recent history. Honestly, unless you’re a Boomer or older, this really hasn’t happened in your lifetime! (Yes, to my eternal surprise, BGR does have enthusiastic Boomer and Silent Gen readers. We salute you—the few, the proud, the kickass—for enduring our 90s pop culture references and ageist hissy fits with grace and poise.) Younger readers will be forgiven for not knowing how to take advantage of it.

So that’s what we’ll teach you today! C’mon, finance, let’s get fin~nancial!

Dafuq is a labor shortage?

Speaking of 90s pop culture references…

If you’ve never read our classic article Labor Shortages ARE the Father of American Business Ethics, Maury Povich Confirms, please go do that now. No one reads it because it’s Historical and Highly Boring, but it’s honestly one of my prouder moments.

tl;dr: Labor shortages are ~96% of the reason America became known as “the land of opportunity” in the first place.

Labor was in such high demand (and short supply) that it stretched the fabric of society. Unlike most European countries, there wasn’t an accessible underclass of landless, impoverished, desperate people ready to sell their labor cheaply just to survive. We had to build ours by systemically kidnapping people who were minding their own business, both nearby and on the other side of the planet.

Even if you set aside all the ethical and moral horrors of enslaving other humans (and you should not), it’s absolutely stunning to consider what would drive such behavior from a logistical perspective. Imagine wanting a roast beef sandwich real bad, and deciding the best way to go about it is to drive to an Arby’s seven states away and kidnap and torture its staff. The fuck is wrong with you, America?!

So yeah, go read that article if your interest is piqued. And thanks to you, I may soon be able to stop laying awake at night asking myself “Why is no one reading my highly silly labor history article, when it slappeth like the most cacophonous of thicc-azz thighs?”

Is there a labor shortage now?

Sorta? Not really. But also yes. It’s complicated!

In a way, there is a constant labor shortage in America, in the sense that finding amazing job candidates is always challenging. Three quarters of employers claim they have a tough time finding job candidates.

Before I rip into this, I’ll first reach deep within myself to find a postage stamp-sized scrap of compassion for large businesses.

We’re actually gearing up to post a job listing for a part-time assistant. So I get it! Piggy and I have worked like two very determined but fungus-addled ants to build BGR granule by granule all by ourselves. The thought of handing someone a list of our passwords and saying “sally forth, answer some Big Business Emails and don’t read all our old G-chats” breaks me out in THE COLDEST of cold sweats. It’s always stressful to find people you can trust, no matter the context.

And in general, the American labor market is so complex and specialized that there will always be areas where demand far outpaces availability. This is especially true in an era where rapid technological advancement is creating new jobs and specialities all the time. And it tends to take our educational systems a decade or two to course-correct and offer more trainings in high-demand fields.

“Wahh, wahh, no one wants to work for ha’pennies anymore!”

… But that’s as much credit as I will give to big employers on this point. Because I also have a less sympathetic read on the situation.

Uh, yeah, employers are having a tough time filling roles at the compensation levels they’re willing to pay! Because the compensation they’re willing to pay is deplorable, and has been for years!

If there is a true labor shortage, employers will raise the amount they’re willing to pay. That’s all there is to it! I don’t buy into the whole “this looks like a job for tHe fReeeEEEeee mArKeT” thing. But in this case, I think libertarians and conservatives who say this would be correct! If something is valuable and scarce, it rises in price. That’s the market working exactly as it should.

If labor is valuable and scarce, the price of labor should rise. And the price of labor is an employee’s actual salary.

So what if salaries aren’t going up?

The only proof of labor shortages I accept is MO’ MONEY

If businesses complain about a lack of job applicants without adapting and changing their compensation offers, then they’re just whining. The process may take longer than they like, but the system fundamentally works for them.

And I think that’s what’s happening now.

Sixteen million Americans moved because of the pandemic. Many of them left high cost of living cities, moving to more affordable suburban and rural areas. Lots of us moved in with friends or family to save money, share childcare, and ease other logistical hardships. This sudden shift drastically cut the number of people stuck in expensive cities who have no choice but to take multiple low-paying jobs to stay afloat.

Additionally, not everyone is vaccinated yet, so some people can’t or won’t work until all danger passes. And the reopening of schools before businesses has left some unable to work due to childcare challenges. There’s just a lot going on to disincentivize returning to work, for very sound and understandable reasons.

Government cheese pairs well with this whine

Obviously, pandemic-related relief had an impact too.

Extended unemployment, eviction moratoriums, direct stimulus payments, and other support was inadequate… but it wasn’t nothing! For many, unemployment did indeed pay better than the jobs they’d been breaking their spirits and bodies doing in The Before Tymes.

Some have interpreted this data as “angry emoji, angry emoji, nobody wants to work anymore, they just want to smoke weed and collect unemployment from BiG gUbErNMiNt!” To which I say: No shit, Sherlock, who the fuck could blame them!?

The value of the stock market climbs ever higher, and landlords grow ever richer, while the federal minimum wage is still $7.25 per hour, and there is no more blood to be wrung from this stone. Like the dwarves of Moria, greedy businesses and shareholders have dug too greedily and too deep. Now it’s time for some things to change.

I am a servant of the Middle Class, wielder of the Labor Shortages. You cannot pass. Dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udun!

Frankly, I think it’s hilarious that they’re crying about a situation they created and profited off of for decades. Their tears taste as sweet as the finest peach schnapps stolen from a parent’s liquor cabinet in the headiest, happiest days of high school.

How to turn labor shortages to your advantage

In summary: signs point to this being more of a traffic jam than a true labor shortage. I suspect it’s hella temporary.

If wages rise, I’ll actually believe the labor shortage hype. And I won’t sweat it a bit! The scales have been tipped against labor for so incredibly long that a robust correction could only improve the lives of everyday people. You know: the people who would be earning a minimum wage of $24 per hour if we lived in a just society driven by anything other than reckless greed.

I’m not confident that this situation will last for very long. So if you want to use it as an opportunity to gain back some power, I would do it soon.

Here are some actions you can take.

Ask for a raise

57% of people have never asked for a raise in their entire lives.

Piggy and I see this statistic and transform into magical girl soldiers to do battle against it. If you’re part of that 57%, and you don’t use this rare opportunity to better your situation, we’re going to punish you in the name of several planets.

We have soooooo many guides to help you handle the raise conversation:

Ask for a title change

This is a great “compromise” if your employer claims they can’t afford to give you a raise right now. (And maybe they truly can’t, if you work in a hard-hit industry.) Ask for a more impressive title. It’ll read like a promotion on your resume, regardless of whether you actually got more money or not.

Ask to make remote work permanent

This is the easiest one, man. Flexible work from home makes employees happier, raises workplace productivity, and save companies SHIT-EATING FUCK-TONS of money on real estate.

I can’t overstate this point enough. Think of the money saved on electricity, utilities, property taxes, groundskeepers, custodians, security guards, food vendors, and so much more.

It’s a win-win-win for everyone. And it will probably never be easier to get a “yes” than right now, when the systems we improvised during the pandemic lock-down feel so routine and normal.

Ask to change your focus

A lot of people adapted to the stressful realities of the pandemic by “taking one for the team.” They selflessly picked up the slack by changing their hours, workflows, duties, and expectations. Now is a good time to reevaluate those, and push extra duties away if you don’t want them. Doubly so if nothing about your pay or title will grow to reflect your fine work.

Let’s say you have six ongoing work tasks, and you really hate one of them. You can set aside time with your boss to ask, “Can this be automated? Rotated? Reassigned to someone else? Skipped altogether?” Make it your boss’s problem to solve. If they don’t, stop investing hard work going above and beyond for some chucklefuck who feels entitled to use you.

Change jobs

Maybe you asked for some of the above and were turned down flat. Spoiler alert: it’s because your job sucks and you should move on. Sorry!

Maybe you already know you work for a rotten employer. (FWIW, I think a company’s pandemic response will give you a pretty good shorthand for what’s good or bad about working for them!)

Now is a fine opportunity to move along. Frozen hiring practices are unthawing quickly, and it’s much easier (and more profitable) to negotiate with a new employer over an existing one.

Life is too short and too precious to spend working hard making life slightly easier and more comfortable for scumbags. Take the risk and quit.

Change careers

If you’re currently a project manager and you’re going out for senior project management roles, no explanation is needed. But if you’re putting in applications to be a forest ranger, you might encounter a bit of understandable confusion.

Normally, if you’re doing a total career 180, you kinda need to build a story around it that future employers will buy. But good news: that shit’s been waived this year. It’s a tumultuous time! So many people relocated or reevaluated what they want to do in life. Nobody needs much backstory to justify a big shift right now. It’s a fine time to pursue your interests, sans any kind of continuity. Frankly, it’s overrated.

You could answer any question about your plans and motivations by shrugging and saying “The pandemic gave me a lot of time to reflect—and I’ve decided this is what I want!” You will sound like the confident and eminently hire-able candidate you are.

Fuck off

If, for some reason, you don’t feel like you can do any of the above, let me suggest one more thing.

Have you tried fucking off?

I went through a phase during the pandemic of basically trying to get fired. This involved doing as little as I possibly could. I dragged my feet on everything—skipped meetings, missed deadlines, archived emails without responding to them. I just has so few fucks left to give, and I made a conscious decision that work couldn’t have them anymore.

You know what happened?

… Nothing.

No reprimands, no lectures, no pay cuts, no perks withheld. If my bosses noticed, they didn’t see fit to even comment on it, let alone admonish me for it. It was the shoulder-shaking reality-check I needed.

Piggy has been open about her initially miserable but ultimately joyful mid-career crisis. I think this was my turn. I needed to reorient my relationship to work. Which I kinda did by shoving it as far away from myself as I could, woo-hoo! It worked; I feel much better now. And it reminded me of the good advice I easily give to others, but struggle to absorb myself:

Fear of punishment is not a true source of motivation.

Perfectionism and overachieving at work is not a true source of self-esteem.

We’ve said it before, and lo, behold as we say it again: your bosses are not your parents! Coworkers are not your friends! Your workplace is not your family! A job is not your life!

If all else fails, try giving less of yourself to this passing institution which is of such little consequence. Save the best of yourself for yourself.

Fellow bitches: how’s the market out there? If you have interesting stories about taking advantage of labor shortages, renegotiating in your current job, or hopping into a new one, we want to hear them! Spill the deets in the comments below!

12 thoughts to “How to Use Labor Shortages to Your Advantage”

  1. I’ve been at my current job for over 5 years and they have only gotten shittier to the employees as their revenue has increased. I’ve been looking for something else and currently have an interview with Google tomorrow for a contract specialist position at a data center. How do you use the labor shortage to your advantage in an interview? Or is Google exempt from this because they are so desireable to work for? Or ARE they desireable to work for?

    1. Velouria: Good luck! Re: Google, it depends on what you mean by desirable. PM me on Twitter @Shirki and I might be able to help/discuss.

  2. In December, I switched to being a contract worker instead of an employee–which for sure has it’s downsides and you should know what you’re getting into before you do it! But I’m a tax accountant, and pretty confident in my money handling prowess (with oh-so-much thanks to the Bitches, of course). I negotiated a pay-raise that more than covered the value of my lost benefits, and now my husband and I are travelling around, seeing some mountains, and for sure smokin weed evry day. And now that my corporate office is talking about bringing everyone back in, I’m exempt from the conversation. I almost never work more than 6 hours a day, and even if we move back home, there’s no way I’m going back to the office, except for the lit Christmas parties. So yeah, long story short, NOW is the time to negotiate working from home permanently! Don’t wait and see if your employer will sell the office building

  3. I quit my all-time-worst day job in February 2021, after 2 years of torture. ‘Twas not the job for me. Now I’m tutoring and running online classes for kids learning from home. (I started doing this very part-time in the spring of 2020, and grew my client base after I quit.) Self-employment is not entirely rainbows and butterflies, but it is *majority* rainbows and butterflies! I have time to be a person! I have time to take courses in tutoring and hone my skills. Orton-Gillingham training here I come!

  4. Oh my goodness. This is a great article my son just shared with me. In less than 10 yrs, I want to retire. I am done going into the office from 8 to 5. I mean DONE. If I have to go into office full time again…I will stick a pencil in my eye, just so I won’t have to. There is no need to be somewhere 9 hrs a day, if your job is done. Ridiculous to have to stay when we can be home doing laundry or cooking a nice dinner. Thanks for the article.

  5. LOVE this article!!! I was sent home on Leave at the beginning of the pandemic (working in hotels for those sweet, sweet travel benefits) and almost as soon as they could bring me back they did. Then last week they gave me a $2/hour pay raise for “sticking with it” and “being so flexible” with everything, as many employees did leave to move somewhere more affordable. But catch me making almost $20 an hour to sit at a desk and talk to the like, 6 people staying in our hotel at any given time.

  6. I absolutely love this! Great advice, love the writing style. Made me laugh a few times too which I wasn’t expecting!
    Hope everything is now going well with your 9-5 or are you still doing the whole CBA thing? I’m too curious sometimes.

  7. I love this article. I did the part about fucking off. I didn’t get laid off but I got a pay cut, my health insurance costs increased, etc etc and now they won’t stop talking about how we should be prepared to come back into the office five days a week and only be allowed flexibility in extreme circumstances. I was already looking for a new job before the pandemic because I NEED to work from home (major depression and continued work on processing a traumatic childhood amirite), but this past year has really made me reflect on how exploitive my employer and this whole field is. Leaving it and untying my identity from it is going to be a process. Anybody have any tips on how to protect myself psychologically while I have to skill up to get a new job, find a new job while working the job I have now, reassess my self concept, and potentially have to go back into the world? <3

  8. I work for a stably funded non-profit that successfully (and justly) committed to no layoffs or salary cuts during the pandemic. Unfortunately, that came at the cost of raises – both merit and cost of living. I was hired just over a month before the pandemic at the upper end of their advertised range (we love an advertised range) and above par for an associate position in the industry, I’ve been pretty content (especially because it’s my first real salary and literally double what i was scraping together as a freelancer). But now I’ve learned a shit load of new skills and garnered a sparkling reputation as someone everyone wants to work with and I’m starting to feel antsy. I’ve just moved across the country and been able to keep my position but change role within the company, but not to one I really wanted (that role doesn’t quite exist yet, and I’m nervous I’ll miss the window when it does). There doesn’t seem to be a culture of promotion from associate level in the org and I don’t want to be “stuck” too much longer. But, I’m not sure if I’ll even stay past next summer so it all feels abstract.

    I feel really lucky still and I don’t think I would get a better deal anywhere else, but I’m definitely using to the time to drink a lot of virtual coffee with people I’m impressed by and think about where I want my career to go.

  9. Would now be a good time to rejoin the labor force though? Or would that just go against this faction of people quitting that kinda looks like a strike in a lot of cases?

    1. I’m actually leaving my job in the fast food industry because of this. I have huge anxiety and applying for jobs is really stressful, but I can’t stay any longer.

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