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U.S. worker output sees the biggest drop since 1947

Employers across the country are worried that workers are getting less done, but a number of factors are behind the slowdown.

US manufacturers fought through pandemic chaos in October
Inflation, supply shortages and labor turnover continued as headwinds to US factories' momentum. — © AFP/File DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS
Inflation, supply shortages and labor turnover continued as headwinds to US factories' momentum. — © AFP/File DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS

Employers across the country are worried that workers are getting less done, but a number of factors are behind the slowdown.

Productivity is the measure of how much output in goods and services an employee can produce in an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and in the first half of 2022, productivity in the U.S. plunged by the sharpest rate on record going back to 1947.

However, the plunge in productivity is perplexing because productivity took off to levels not seen in decades when the coronavirus forced an overnight switch to remote work in 2020-2921,

In 2021, the Washington Post reported at that time that the country was seeing a surge in worker productivity as companies and customers embraced new technologies, making it easier for Americans to produce more with fewer workers.

Credit was given partly to Congress and the White House for taking steps to make significant investments in physical and digital infrastructure, and partly to the coronavirus pandemic for forcing rapid and widespread adoption of the digital economy, robots, and artificial intelligence.

So it is understandable that employers and economists are questioning what the devil is going on today. Productivity is strong in manufacturing, but it’s down elsewhere in the private sector, according to Diego Comin, professor of economics at Dartmouth College.

Some have speculated that “quiet quitting,” a term popularized on TikTok to describe workers that refuse to go above and beyond for their companies, is among the key reasons for the dropoff, reports Business Insider.

But the coined phrase, “quiet quitting” is just that and it is not a new one, according to a recent Gallup Poll. So it wouldn’t explain the recent productivity decline. 

Burnout is high and engagement is low

Mentions of burnout are up 42 percent in employee reviews on career site Glassdoor, compared with 2019 data, said chief economist Aaron Terrazas. Mentions of overwork are up 12 percent.

Employees have always taken sick days from time to time, but this went into hyperdrive during the pandemic. And it makes sense that a workforce that has to take more sick days is less productive than one that doesn’t.

But a number of people also suggest that with the labor market today, many workers are quitting to go to higher-paying jobs. This leaves a company to make a new hire and train that worker, something that is often expensive.

Since the pandemic started, “the link between hard work and reward has been broken” for many workers, said Sinem Buber, lead economist at ZipRecruiter, resulting in “curbed ambition.” Workers are probably encountering more leniency about producing fewer goods and services because it’s too hard for employers to replace them.

“People are missing their work hours, they’re showing up late for their shifts, but companies can’t do anything about it because they know it is so hard to replace those workers right now,” Buber said. “Back in 2019, the policy was one strike and you’re out, I’ll get a better person to do the job. Right now it’s 10 strikes, maybe you’ll be out.”

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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