Whether it's the “Great Resignation” or the “Great Reallocation,” here's what you need to know about the pandemic's lasting effects on the workforce. Photo via Getty Images

The pandemic has altered many aspects of American life, but perhaps none as much as the way Americans work – or, if they work at all. One startling phenomenon resulting from the pandemic is a massive exodus of people leaving the workforce. On average, around 4 million employees quit their jobs each month in 2021, with resignations accelerating toward the end of last year and hitting a record 4.5 million in November.

These mass departures have created an imbalance in the labor market. As of December 2021, there were 10.9 million job openings in the United States, but only 6.3 million unemployed workers. This imbalance has contributed to the supply chain issues that have plagued many industries, as well as to some of the wage and price inflation we are seeing. Inflation has been rising while our labor force participation rate has plummeted to 61.9 percent, back to around where we were in the mid-1970s. In other words, only about 3 out of 5 working-age adults are actually working.

Embedded in the resignation data are really two types of people: those who are leaving the workforce permanently, and those who are leaving their current jobs for better, or more flexible, work. If the former group refers to a trend dubbed the “Great Resignation,” the latter is more aptly described as the “Great Reallocation.” Although fundamentally different, both trends tell us something important about the ways in which American work life has changed in the wake of the pandemic.

Workers permanently leaving the workforce may be doing so for a variety of reasons. Pre-pandemic, America was already in the Baby Boomer retirement cycle. So, for many people who might have been a year or two away from retirement before the pandemic, the fear and uncertainty resulting from COVID-19 simply delayed those plans. But with 2021’s stock market gains, and retirement accounts flush with cash, many people felt secure enough to pursue the retirement they put off during 2020’s uncertainty.

Another subset of people leaving the workforce likely did so out of a legitimate fear of COVID-19 or, on the flip side, because of burgeoning vaccine mandates. As Americans learn to live with COVID-19, and with many vaccine mandates being struck down or withdrawn, some of these workers will return to the workforce, while others will opt for retirement to avoid these issues. Additionally, with the advent of virtual school across much of the United States, many parents felt pressure to either quit working and stay home with their kids or quit an in-person job to find a work-from-home job.

Still another subset of workers—primarily those in lower-wage jobs—chose to stay home because government subsidies stemming from the pandemic equaled or, in some cases, exceeded their expected earnings from work. Since those subsidies largely ended, many of these workers have been looking to reenter the workforce. However, with the rise of artificial intelligence algorithms pruning resumes for “fit” with certain jobs, a significant employment gap on a worker’s resume could create problems for many who are now seeking work. In any event, many workers looking to get back in the game could benefit from having an expert optimize their resumes so they are attractive to the gatekeeper’s new electronic eye.

Another group of workers resigned to start their own businesses. From January to November 2021, nearly 5 million new businesses were created in the United States. This represents a 55 percent increase over the same period in 2019, which was a boom year right before the pandemic.

The workforce gap stemming from the “Great Resignation” has substantially increased employee bargaining power. In an effort to bridge that gap, employers have been engaged in a war for talent that will continue or, absent a market disruption, even intensify in 2022. In this tight labor market, employers have been realizing that there is a competitive advantage to recruiting talent away from competitors. Wages are up, with no downturn in sight. In November of 2021 alone, pay was up 3.2 percent for employees remaining in their existing jobs. But, for those employees who switched jobs, pay increased 4.3 percent, revealing an advantage to employees looking to “upgrade” their positions. To attract employees, employers are not only offering higher wages, but also, other enticements like signing bonuses, retention bonuses, private offices, and hybrid or fully remote working arrangements.

The pandemic also changed employees’ perspective on work. People became introspective and reevaluated their wants and needs. With so many forced to work from home at the onset of the pandemic, and the overall success of working from home, the flexibility that accompanies working from home has now become ingrained in people’s psyches. Many now prefer or demand jobs with greater flexibility. The success of the work from home phenomenon has also caused several employers to embrace nationwide recruiting of remote workers. These employers greatly benefit from mining a nationwide talent pool and their employees love being able to live where they want, work from home, and still receive great pay. Now, if you want to live in a cabin in Montana or a beach house in Florida, you can do that and still get Silicon Valley pay.

Given the pandemic-driven new market realities, a few things have become clear. First, work from home, to a greater or lesser extent, is here to stay. Second, whether employees work from home or at a business, if we hope to solve supply chain problems, get products back on shelves, and stem the tide of inflation, we need to get Americans back in the workforce. Third, for those considering going back to work, there is no better time than now.

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Scott Nelson is a Houston-based partner at Hunton Andrews Kurth focused on labor and employment.

Maintaining employee engagement can be tough this time of year even pre-pandemic. Here are some tips and considerations from a local expert. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: How to keep your employees engaged during the holidays

Guest Column

When you combine standard holiday distractions with a year of prolonged and intensified stress, it can result in an exhausted team and real employee engagement (and productivity) problems for your business.

So, what can you do to minimize the impact of this year's holiday slump? It starts with understanding why employees tend to disengage during the holidays.

Reasons your employees are less engaged around the holidays

While employee engagement is something to be focused on throughout the year, the holiday season can be a particularly challenging time. Pre-pandemic, common distractions included holiday parties, upcoming travel plans, and the pressure to find the perfect gift.

This year, travel and large holiday gatherings will likely take a back seat to burnout, pressure to keep family safe, and a different kind of shopping stress (like factoring in delivery times), which could pull employees away from work commitments.

Plus, the business gets busier. While not every business is seasonal, the end of the year tends to be a busier time for many companies, especially for those whose fiscal year matches the calendar. For these companies, the arrival of the holiday season can be an abrupt reminder that they only have a few days left to accomplish the year's goals, meet their annual quotas, or close out requests they've been meaning to get to throughout the year.

We also have the arrival of flu season. When you combine cold and flu season with a very contagious coronavirus, you can be looking at sidelining even the most dedicated employee for days or even weeks. And, unlike vacations, employers have a much harder time planning for illness.

There's also the end of the school session. Working parents are looking forward to spending quality time with their family, and prior to time off from work, they may still need to make childcare arrangements during the workday, the cost of which can be burdensome at the holidays.

Ideas for boosting employee engagement around the holidays

Even though the holidays can compound workplace stress, there are effective strategies you can put in place to minimize the impact of any holiday-related slumps:

Plan ahead. The single most important thing employers can do to prepare for the holiday season is to plan ahead. If you haven't already, make sure you have all PTO requests in. Forecasting for a lighter staff or arranging additional coverage and adjusting timelines for projects during the holidays can help you meet year-end objectives without intensifying the strain on your already stressed team.

Be flexible and understanding. It's important to try to be as accommodating as you can (within reason). Between potential illnesses, family responsibilities, and added financial burdens, employees will appreciate a little more flexibility and understanding during the holidays. Allowing employees to adjust their schedules or even work overtime to complete projects can build morale and have a positive impact on your bottom line. If you can't accommodate employees' requests, communicate early, and keep an open dialogue to help them understand why. Loyal employees want the company to succeed as much as you do.

Encourage employees to stay healthy. We've all come to understand that more than ever this year. Keeping any wellness programs in place (online or otherwise) can make a big difference. To help keep your staff healthy, happy, and productive during the holidays, you can:

  • Host a flu-shot clinic or encourage employees to get one from their healthcare provider
  • Provide general tips and education about the importance of getting enough rest
  • Make sure common areas are cleaned thoroughly for those present in workplace facilities

Embrace the holiday spirit. While it may not be appropriate for every employer to focus on a specific holiday tradition, ignoring the holiday season isn't going to improve engagement. In fact, a little holiday cheer is exactly what most of us need this year. Even if your team is fully remote you can host intentional, inclusive activities to help employees decompress and encourage camaraderie and collaboration.

Show appreciation for your employees. A little extra employee appreciation or recognition is always needed and welcomed. Your team has worked through some very difficult times in 2020. Celebrate their successes with (if possible) an end-of-year bonus, a complimentary meal, a meaningful gift, or simply a kind email or handwritten note. The holiday season is a great opportunity to show your appreciation for all of your team's hard work. It can be a much-needed reset for what we all hope is a much-improved 2021.

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Susan Crowder, senior HR adviser at Houston-based G&A Partners.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston startups raise funding, secure partnerships across space, health, and sports tech

short stories

It's been a new month and a few Houston startup wrapped up November with news you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, three Houston startups across health care, space, and sports tech have some news they announced recently.

Houston digital health company launches new collaboration

Koda Health has a new partner. Image via kodahealthcare.com

Houston-based Koda Health announced a new partnership with data analytics company, CareJourney.

"This collaboration will aim to develop benchmarking data for advance care planning and end-of-life metrics," the company wrote on LinkedIn. "Koda will provide clinical and practice-based expertise to guide the construction of toolkits, dashboards, and benchmarks that improve ACP programs and end-of-life outcomes."

Koda Health announced the partnership in November..

“Beyond the checkbox of a billing code or completed advance directive, it’s important to build and measure a process that promotes thoughtful planning among patients, their care team, and their loved ones,” says Desh Mohan, MD, Koda's chief medical officer, in the post.

CareJourney was founded in 2014 in Arlington, Virginia.

"I'm hopeful next-generation quality measures will honor the patient’s voice in defining what it means to deliver high quality care, and our commitment is to measure progress on that important endeavor," noted Aneesh Chopra, CareJourney's co-founder and president.

Sports tech startup raises $500,000 pre-seed investment

BeONE Sports has created a technology to enhance athletic training. Photo via beonesports.com

Houston-founded BeONE Sports, an athlete training technology company, announced last month that it closed an oversubscribed round of pre-seed funding. The company announced the raise on its social media pages that the round included $500,000 invested.

Earlier in November, BeONE Sports completed its participation in CodeLaunch DFW 2022. The company was one of six finalists in the program, which concluded with a pitch event on November 16.

Space tech company snags government contracts

Graphic via cognitive space.com

The U.S. Air Force has extended Houston-based Cognitive Space’s contract under a new TACFI, Tactical Funding Increase, award. According to the release, the contract "builds on Cognitive Space’s work to develop a tailored version of CNTIENT for AFRL to achieve ultimate responsiveness and optimized dynamic satellite scheduling via a cloud-based API.

The $1.2 million award follows a $1.5 million U.S. Air Force Small Business Innovation Research award that the company won in 2020 to integrate CNTIENT with commercial ground station providers in support of AFRL’s Hybrid Architecture Demonstration program.

“The TACFI award allows Cognitive Space to continue supporting AFRL’s vitally important HAD program to help deliver commercial space data to the warfighter,” says Guy de Carufel, the company’s founder and CEO, in the releasee. “CNTIENT’s tailored analytics platform will enable HAD and the GLUE platform to integrate modern statistical approaches to optimize mission planning, data collection, and latency estimation.”

Houston airport powers up new gaming lounge for bored and weary travelers

game on and wheels down

Local gamers now have a new option to while away those flight delays and passenger pickup waits at Hobby Airport.

Houston's William P. Hobby Airport is now one the first airports in the country to offer what's dubbed as the "ultimate gaming experience for travelers." The airport has launched a premium video game lounge inside the international terminal called Gameway.

That means weary, bored, or early travelers can chill in the lounge and plug into15 top-of-the-line, luxury gaming stations: six Xbox stations, five Playstation stations, four PC stations, all with the newest games on each platform. Aficionados will surely appreciate the Razer's Iskur Gaming Chairs and Kraken Headsets, along with dedicated high speed internet at each PC station.

The Gameway lounge pays homage to gaming characters, with wall accents that hark to motherboard circuits Crucial for any real gamer: plenty of sweet and savory snacks are available for purchase to fuel up on those fantasy, battle, or sporting endeavors. As for the gaming console stations, players can expect high definition screens, comfortable seating, and plenty of space for belongings.

Make video games a part of your pre-flight ritual. Photo courtesy of Gameway

This gaming addition comes just in time for the holiday rush, when travelers can expect long lines, delays, and are already planning for extended time for trips. As CultureMap previously reported, Hobby will see a big boost in travelers this season — the largest since 2019. Now, those on a long journey can plug in, decompress, and venture on virtual journeys of their own.

Texan travelers may be familiar with Gameway; the company opened its first two locations at Dallas Fort-Worth Airport. The buzzy lounge an industry wave of acclaim: Gameway was awarded Best Traveler Amenity in 2019 at the ACI-NA Awards and in 2020, voted “Most Innovative Customer Experience” at the Airport Experience Traveler Awards, per press materials.

Two new locations followed in 2021: LAX Terminal 6 and Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The first of Gameway's Ultra lounge brand opened in September at Delta's Terminal 3 in LAX.

Gaming culture is a way of life in the Bayou City , which hosts Comicpalooza, the largest pop culture festival in Texas, and is home to several e-sports teams, including the pro esports squad, the Houston Outlaws.

A delayed flight never seemed so ideal for gamers flying out of Hobby. Photo courtesy of Gameway

“Gameway is the real reason to get to the airport early,” said Co-Founder Jordan Walbridge in a statement. “Our mission is to upgrade the typical wait-at-the-gate experience with a new stimulating, entertaining option for travelers of all ages.”

Here's guessing Hobby might just see an increase in missed or late flight arrivals — as travelers simply must beat those big bosses, solve puzzles, or win sports matches in the lounge.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.