HomeJobsThe workplace is transforming because workers want good jobs, not just jobs

The workplace is transforming because workers want good jobs, not just jobs

Date:

Related stories

CIF NorCal basketball roundup: No. 1 Pinewood girls fall to No. 16 McClatchy, O’Dowd rolls

Girls basketball NorCal Division I No. 16 McClatchy-Sacramento 66, No. 1...

Damien boys basketball team cruises past St. Augustine in CIF State regional opener

SAN DIEGO — Going into Tuesday’s CIF State Division...

CIF NorCal basketball regionals: Tuesday’s scores, updated matchups

NorCal basketball regionals Boys Open Division Wednesday’s games No. 5 Modesto Christian (27-5)...
spot_imgspot_img

Ingrid Vilorio, 42, knows what it means to fight to make a job into a good job.

Vilorio, a fast-food worker at a Jack in the Box in California, is one of the people reshaping work culture from the inside out. She’s gone on strike for better staffing, quarantine pay, and paid sick days. She said it’s the “best thing” she could have done.

“It didn’t just change my work life or the conditions in my work, but I also then was able to start learning about my rights as a worker,” Vilorio told Business Insider in Spanish, speaking through a translator. “It’s not just my boss who has rights — but I have rights.”

Vilorio is one of the workers forcing a transformation of work through striking, unionizing, and demanding better. Despite threats to job security such as layoffs, the rise of return-to-office mandates, and the prospect of artificial intelligence taking over jobs, workers have realized what’s akin to letting a genie out of the bottle: Their jobs don’t have to be just jobs. They can be good jobs.

That’s a reversal from the past 50 or so years of work, said Rob Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the director of the Project for Middle Class Renewal, as well as the author of the forthcoming book “What Work Is.”

Beginning in the 1970s, jobs began deteriorating, Bruno said, citing research. Wage growth has stalled since then, what’s been termed “quiet fleecing.” Workers were disaffected and unsatisfied — and the decline continued from there. It wasn’t just about morale: Material benefits were sliding, too. Pay didn’t keep pace with productivity, and pensions and time off slowly began disappearing.

But within that dissatisfaction there was one key nuance: While people did not like their jobs, they still valued work itself.

“What I think has happened nationally is we’ve seen this resistance to work that is soul-crushing and mind-numbing and body-breaking,” Bruno said.

That appeared in the job shifting of the past three years, as well as the resurgent interest in and support of organized labor. The push to make jobs back into careers, and good jobs, is just beginning. And if it continues at this pace, it may reshape the workplace for decades to come — especially, Bruno said, with the soon-to-be dominant Gen Z rethinking how work fits into their identities.

“A quality job isn’t just 40 hours with overtime, with healthcare benefits, with decent pay. Unionization is strongly correlated with people feeling their jobs are better,” Bruno said. “But I think it is all of these other social, psychological, value-based aspects of what it means to work in society, and the kind of work that actually contributes to a quality life.”

The idea of a comfortable job that can provide a worker with enough money to live happily, or support a family, all while providing some meaning to daily work might sound familiar. It’s the concept that underpins the middle class in America, that group of workers meant to be tucked in between the jet setters and those striving to move up in the world.

Too bad the middle class has been shrinking for decades.

“The last four decades we have seen a gap between growing productivity and stagnating worker wages,” Julie Su, the acting secretary of labor, told BI. “And we’ve also seen just the massive gap between CEO salaries and frontline worker pay.”

But that’s where Su, and the Biden administration, is trying to step in. Coming out of the COVID-19 emergency, workers realized they didn’t want to just be called essential — “they want to be treated as essential,” she said. That drive comes alongside the Biden administration’s stated desire to build out the economy from the bottom and middle, rather than through trickling down gains from the top.

“One of the things that’s very powerful at this moment is the sense of solidarity between and among working people,” Su said.

For instance, the Treasury Department found in an August report that middle-class workers had been falling behind with more debt, more expensive houses, and increasingly pricier college education. That same report found one thing that could reverse that inequality: unions. Americans have been increasingly embracing labor unions, with support skyrocketing over the past 15 or so years, Gallup polling found.

For some workers, that labor resurgence is paying off: Look no further than the economic wins racked up by the United Auto Workers in its unprecedented strike, powered in part by messaging on the disparity between how much CEOs and firms are making compared with their workers.

That newfound willingness to push back has also touched workers across the economic spectrum. For those in traditionally high-earning, white-collar roles, friction came when firms ordered them back into the office.

“What we found was that those workers pushed back and said, ‘Well, no, actually we don’t have to,'” Bruno said. Indeed, BI has spoken with several workers who quit rather than return to the office — some for new and better jobs and others just to avoid getting yanked back in.

Of course, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for every worker pushing for more. Bosses are still seizing back power with layoffs or strict return-to-office mandates, and union membership is at a record low. The red-hot labor market that’s helped enable some of these changes is cooling down, especially as low-wage workers see their wage gains begin to temper.

Even so, there’s been what Bruno called a “national consciousness raising” around what a quality job is. For employers who want to retain their workers, or lure in Gen Zers — who helped drive the Great Resignation and the union boom — it might pay to listen up.

And just hiking pay isn’t going to cut it for workers anymore. The Worker Voices project, a research venture from the Federal Reserve Banks of Philadelphia and Atlanta, asked 170 workers and job seekers without a college degree what a quality job meant to them.

While compensation was important, the participants said they wanted jobs that offered flexibility, engagement, enjoyment, and a manageable workload, Keith Wardrip, the senior community-development research manager and advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, told BI.

They wanted to be treated well and feel like they had job security, Wardrip added.

“There are opportunities in this research and in our findings for employers to potentially consider how they can not only improve the hiring process but also how they can improve their retention of talented workers,” Wardrip said.

And thinking toward a future full of quality jobs is a message workers are taking to heart. Vilorio, the fast-food worker in California, said that in 15 or 20 years, she hoped the new people entering her industry would know “there was a group who fought for them to have the wages and benefits that I hope one day they have.”

- Never miss a story with notifications

- Gain full access to our premium content

- Browse free from up to 5 devices at once

Latest stories

spot_img

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here