Soaring rates of voluntary resignations, widespread labor shortages, and the ubiquity of "Help Wanted" signs put the "labor" back in the Labor Day holiday this year, as employers struggle to respond to a jobs market that seems, for once, to have given workers the upper hand.
Story after story blames current labor market conditions on "burnout," an occupational phenomenon the World Health Organization describes as a combination of symptoms that includes emotional exhaustion and reduced personal accomplishment. "Burnout — and opportunity — are driving record wave of quitting," the Deseret (Utah) News declared in August.
But what if the diagnosis — or rather, what we call it — is a symptom of the real problem? Naming the phenomenon for its toll on workers, rather than for the working conditions that drive it, skews our understanding of what's wrong and how to fix it.
The word "burnout" calls to mind a candle that's used up its wax or wick, a metaphor that blames individuals for lacking the stamina to handle stressful working conditions. It is also stigmatizing; no employer wants to hear a prospective hire left a job because they were "burned out."
Burnout implies weakness, and the typical solutions, reported in …
New dynamics are shaping the labor market, labor organizing and labor policies
Economists are scratching their heads furiously — why is there a labor shortage amidst high unemployment? Everywhere employers are posting “Help Wanted” signs but still face shortage of workers. Construction projects are stymied, retail shops are half-staffed and produce rots in the fields all because of a lack of workers. There is no fresh supply of “essential workers” who are surging into the job market.
The conservative view, that people don’t want to work and that the unemployment benefits are a disincentive, has been debunked by the evidence. An academic study analyzed the effect of cutting unemployment benefits (done in 26 states which are all but one led by Republican governors). On employment rates, the impact was negligible — only 7 of 8 people who were dropped from unemployment rolls actually gained jobs. But for households …
Labor Day got its start in the late 19th Century, when labor activists pushed for a federal holiday to recognize the many contributions workers make to America’s strength, prosperity, and wellbeing.
In addition to our usual picnics and barbeques, we should spend this day uplifting laborers who work in conditions in dire need of regulation — including those exposed to extreme heat or who work in hot environments.
Physical activity makes it difficult for the body to cool itself down, especially as temperatures and humidity rise. The effects can be dangerous, ranging from dizziness, nausea, cramps, exhaustion, and vomiting to faster heart rates and deadly heatstroke. Exposure to extreme heat can also exacerbate preexisting respiratory and heart conditions.
People who work in hot conditions are in special danger. Indeed, heat killed 815 workers on the job between 1992 and 2017 and seriously injured 70,000 more, according …