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A Rude Awakening Is Ahead for Young Employees

A Rude Awakening Is Ahead for Young Employees

A recession will hand the bargaining power to their bosses.

By Daniel E. Greenleaf, WSJ

July 4, 2022 11:05 am ET

Workers of a certain age and attitude will have to reckon with the coming recession. Rising inflation and a market downturn guarantee layoffs. The days of expecting employers to be grateful for your application will be gone soon.

People who started work in the past dozen years are about to experience their first tough job market. Younger employees—not all, but many—will need to make more realistic demands of the workplace.

The last recession ended in mid-2009 with unemployment at 9.5%, about 2.5 times what it is today. Anyone who finished college since 2010 has known mostly good times in the job market. The same is true of many who entered the workforce directly from high school. There was competition, but it was for employees rather than jobs.

Workers’ expectations changed, along with their willingness to do hard work. A hot job market gave employees an unrealistic sense of their irreplaceability. At our call centers, absenteeism and attrition climbed. We found less loyalty among technical staffers, who often jumped employers for a slight increase in salary or a change of scenery.

We couldn’t find the committed workers we needed here, so we looked offshore. Today, 70 people work for us in Bangalore, India, and there will be more than 120 by the end of the year. We’ve found the same level of talent as in the U.S., but with turnover this year of less than 5%. And by reducing labor cost, the shift allowed us to reward motivated U.S. employees with more money.

A motivated employee is willing to come into the office. This requirement runs contrary to the postpandemic work-at-home revolt, but it creates the best experience for the patients we serve, boosts team morale, and helps our employees develop professionally.

I don’t mean to sound like a curmudgeon. As a father of two young adults with strong work ethics, I know there are plenty of wonderful young employees out there. Still, fellow CEOs often tell me how hard it is to recruit and retain employees who want to learn and grow on the job and then stay long-term.

Job security will again take precedence over job hopping. Surging prices and a wave of layoffs would give younger workers a newfound appreciation for their paychecks. Workers will feel fortunate to commit to a company and think about moving up rather than moving on. They’ll think more about what they can do to improve the customer experience and less about what they don’t feel like doing.

A recession will be a rough way to learn this important lesson, but employees and employers will be better for it.

Mr. Greenleaf is president and CEO of Modivcare, a healthcare services company based in Colorado.

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