The timeless Chinese expression “May you live in interesting times” has arguably never been truer. As the deadly coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the world, life has come to a grinding halt.
Beyond the ever-increasing death toll, the impact of COVID-19 on people’s livelihoods has also been devastating. Hiring freezes, furloughs, rescinded job offers, and mass layoffs have caused tremendous upheaval in most industries. There is hardly any country on the face of the planet where dismissals and salary cuts haven’t gone into effect.
COVID-19: The Aftermath
Since the outbreak of the disease, about 47 million jobs have disappeared in the United States alone. This has led to more unemployment insurance filings in the country than those witnessed during the Great Recession.
According to a recent report by Business Insider, hospitality giants Marriott and Hilton along with ride-sharing service Uber are just some of the big names that have had to let people go, announce furloughs, and curtail operations.
Till now, Hilton Hotels has eliminated 2,100 jobs while Uber’s announcements in May indicated closure of 45 offices and removal of more than 6,500 people. In mid-June, telecommunications behemoth AT&T laid off 3,400 employees and shut down over 250 stores.
Things have been just as bad on the other side of the Atlantic. In the European Union (EU), close to 400,000 people were sent packing from their jobs in April while Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic began the month of May by giving marching orders to 3,150 individuals on its payroll.
Furthermore, British Petroleum (BP) reduced its workforce by 10,000 in June while luxury fashion retailer Mulberry axed 25% of its global workforce a month later. Unfortunately, we may not have seen the last of this. With economists predicting another recession, there might yet be more layoffs in the pipeline.
Workplace Challenges In the Midst of a Pandemic
Professionals who were able to avoid the layoffs and furloughs have other challenges to deal with. In particular, for those who cannot work remotely, the biggest concern is exposure to the virus itself. There is also the small matter of being stuck in dead-end and unfulfilling jobs.
As far as exposure to COVID-19 is concerned, authorities in different countries have afforded certain protections to “at risk” workers. For example, private sector employees in the US can appeal for assistance under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). According to Ruben Garcia, who teaches labor and employment law at the University of Nevada (William S. Boyd School of Law), workers can refuse to return if they feel that their health will be compromised on the job.
In such a scenario, employers cannot take any action because the employees are exercising their “concerted activity protections” under the NLRA. They may hire other people for the same job but have no legal grounds to fire workers refusing to return for fear of contracting COVID-19.
But, if you are terminated for not showing up to work owing to safety concerns, then the local NLRA chapter will be on hand to help. You just have to contact them and file charges against your employer.
The National Labor Relations Act applies to all private sector employees, with domestic and agricultural workers being the only exceptions. The catch, however, is that you must have VALID REASONS to back your claim of feeling unsafe on the job. You cannot invoke these protections on the basis of general concerns about COVID-19.
Challenges for Women
According to a recent study by HR analytics firm Syndio, about 14% of working women are considering leaving their jobs during the pandemic. This is primarily due to the increased responsibilities that staying and working at home has brought about. Even though about 11% of men have also considered quitting over the same period of time, anecdotal evidence indicates that the coronavirus has affected working moms more than working dads.
Feel Like Quitting Your Job? Do This First
There is no denying that things haven’t been easy lately. And it isn’t exactly a good idea to make big decisions during times of high stress. So, before you decide that a career break is what you need right now, try the following approaches to see if something works out.
- Discuss things with your superiors
As surprising as this may sound, your employer will probably want you to stay. They would be willing to find a solution to your predicament rather than let you leave. So, discuss things openly with them and try to find a creative way out.
Consider going on leave or taking on a lesser workload for some time. Perhaps make some changes to your daily routine. You may end up making somewhat less money but the long-term benefits in terms of job satisfaction and fulfillment would be worth it.
- Give a thought to the finances
This is often a sticking point for anyone looking to walk away from an unfulfilling job. On top of that, there are now fewer vacancies and more competition. Besides, it’s not just the monthly paychecks (and benefits) that you stand to lose by quitting.
Re-entering the workforce after a break can be challenging even in normal times. So, think of the enormity of the task at hand. What would you need to do to get another good job during one of the toughest economic periods in history?
- Consult with friends and family
Always discuss such matters with the people closest to you. Sit down with your partner/spouse and frankly discuss the consequences of your actions. In particular, consider the potential impact on your finances in a worst-case scenario. Seeking the advice of a close friend is also a good option. At the end of the day, it’s about making a rational choice once all the pros and cons have been considered.
The Quest for Meaningful and Pandemic-Proof Work
Recruitment professionals have suggested the following tips. These will come in handy for laid off/furloughed individuals as well as those feeling unsatisfied at their current jobs.
- Locate companies that are hiring new people
Mass layoffs don’t necessarily mean that no one is hiring. Amazon and Walmart are just two examples of organizations stepping up recruitment efforts to cater to new demands created by COVID-19.
There are also industries that haven’t been hit as hard and are actually thriving. In particular, pharmaceutical companies such as Gilead (manufacturer of Remdesivir) and communication technology firms like Zoom have seen their popularity skyrocket in recent months.
Look for work within such industries. You will also be well-advised to find remote jobs. Platforms like Fiverr, Toptal, Upwork, and Virtual Vocations offer plenty of attractive remote working opportunities.
- Focus on developing new skills
With competition for jobs at an all-time high, simply sending out resume after resume might not be the best strategy. You need to convince employers of your value and what you bring to the table. Learning a new skill or two will certainly make you a more desirable applicant.
- Reach out to recruiting/headhunting agencies
Professional HR (human resource) companies offer services like headhunting, recruitment, business consulting, executive search, talent sourcing, etc. They are regularly in touch with organizations that have open positions. Finding suitable individuals for these roles is also among the responsibilities of an HR agency. So, don’t hesitate to contact them. They will be aware of most opportunities in your town/city.
Keep in mind that all this will not last forever. It might seem that way, but things will eventually return to normal. Until then, stay strong and remember to utilize the tips mentioned above to look for a well-paying job.
Focus on your professional network and ways of expanding it. Seek help from former colleagues and maintain regular contact with headhunters/recruitment consultants. They know about most available vacancies and can help you find a suitable role.
Times are tough but recruiters are in a unique position to help both employers and employees sail through this situation. Therefore, you should try to avail their services at the earliest.