My friend who works in an emergency room as a physician assistant recently told me that she's ready to collapse. Instead of seeing from 26 to 30 patients a day, she now sees 44. But the culprit isn't Covid - it's from her co-workers leaving and those positions remaining unfilled.
As the great resignation takes hold, workers across industries are sharing similar stories of burnout. U.S. labour productivity rose 2.3% in the second quarter, but what's really eye-popping is that evidence suggests the number went up as fewer workers did more. Most employees are working more hours each week compared to pre-pandemic times, especially in health-care and other service-oriented jobs. So what can those employees who don't have the luxury of quitting or feel obligated to stay do when they feel crushed?
The most logical place to start is by talking to an employer, many of whom are probably loathe to lose any more people. Coming to the conversation armed with explanations of how better conditions such as time off or increased compensation are likely to result in increasing performance or employee retention is crucial. Employers should also know that high-cost, embarrassing mistakes are soaring following burnout and can be prevented with more staff. If that doesn't go anywhere, then at the very least, workers should be sure to take the vacation and sick leave they've already accrued.
If employees feel that the conditions they're working under cross the line to being unsafe, they can file a complaint with their local Occupational Safety and Health Administration office. Keep in mind the conditions must violate a specific standard or pose a hazard. If they're concerned that they aren't being compensated properly for hours they've worked, they should contact a Wage and Hour Division office.
For some workers, there's also the option to unionize. Frito-Lay union workers recently won their demands to end forced overtime. Research shows unions have historically been the impetus for employees to receive more paid time off for holidays and vacation as well as more generous retirement benefits. And unionized workers are more satisfied at work. Not surprisingly, as union membership has declined, worker's pay has increased just 16% while productivity has jumped 60%.
But unionizing is hard and often met with pushback. Last year, some Amazon.com Inc. warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, tried to join the retailers union to pressure the e-commerce conglomerate to hire more staff to prevent injuries. More workers opposed joining and the initiative was defeated.
Lastly, those who are overworked should reconsider whether they truly have to or want to stay in their current job. For some, especially in industries such as retail, hotel, and food service, where the quit rates are especially high, quitting and finding a new job in the same industry could just mean more of the same. Some workers in understaffed fields with high demand, such as child care, could seek out new environments for their skills - such as providing care to one child in a home setting rather than at a daycare. Jobs in government and finance have lower quit rates, so those industries could be more promising for those open to or able to making a career switch.
But that'll just mean more burnout for those who stay behind.
Teresa Ghilarducci is the Schwartz Professor of Economics at the New School for Social Research. She's the co-author of "Rescuing Retirement" and a member of the board of directors of the Economic Policy Institute.
Disclaimer: This article first appeared on Bloomberg, and is published by special syndication arrangement.