Workplace upper hand

Picture of John Denslinger
John Denslinger is a former executive VP Murata, president SyChip Wireless, and president/CEO ECIA, the industry’s trade association. His career spans 40 years in electronics

In the face of a changing economy, John Denslinger encourages employers to value the people they have; employees to maximise their productive; and new hires to be flexible.

Office productivity in the American workplace is second to none. For years, tech companies invested heavily in computational power, interactive systems, decision tools and global communication links allowing worker productivity to soar. That trend continues today as companies accelerate investments in cloud services and massive data storage to capture billions of vital data points from digital mining, IoT inputs and AI applications. One might say it’s the perfect blend of man and machine with data-driven decision making, enhanced response to market and customer changes, integrated feedback loops, unlimited diagnostic tools and easy accessibility for the mobile user. 

Tethered to the office was understandably the daily norm for generations. All that changed when Covid shutdowns shuttered offices. Employers were forced to rely on home-based workers for survival. In a way, the shutdown gifted an unexpected entrepreneurial opportunity to remote workers. In that time, workers (particularly younger generations) developed a different view of work. Empowered with more control over daily schedules employees settled into a comfortable blending of home and family care with work. It’s no wonder career decisions value this benefit so highly. 

In the quest for talent, who has the upper hand. Is it the employer or employee and why does it matter? Competing for talent remains a challenge. If published figures are right, hiring remains hot. Over the past 12-months, the professional and business services sector (most pertinent to our electronics industry) added 1.1 million jobs according to US BLS records and there remains more than 10 million job openings as overall demand continues to out-pace supply. It would seem employees have the upper hand and potential leverage over salaries, benefits and working location. 

A survey of 1,500 managers by Robert Half, State of US Hiring, revealed 31 per cent of employers will allow new hires to live anywhere. So, on the issue of workplace, where do employers and employees stand? Employers talk hybrid but seem to favor all workers returning to the office. Loyal employees seem to prefer a mix of office time and some remote. Potential candidates seek work balance, quality of life and favorable locations before considering new jobs. Dave Fisch, CEO of Ladders Inc, a professional search firm, remarked that 68 per cent of job seekers search for remote only opportunities. Growing companies need to acquire talent, but companies also need to build trust, satisfaction and loyalty among existing employees keeping them competitive to market conditions. Again, the upper hand seems to line up with employees. Hybrid and remote working models will prevail. 

However, change is in the wind. Wages are increasing but trailing inflation. Two consecutive quarters of negative GDP, confirms we are in a recession. The Federal Reserve’s inflation reduction rate hikes are effectively dampening demand. Some tech companies are signaling cutbacks and layoffs. Others are simply resorting to ‘quiet firing’ selectively moving individuals out. The job market is about to shift. 

The Fed may actually hold the biggest hand in the workplace debate. It judges its counter-inflationary progress on several metrics with unemployment being a key. The current rate sits at a low 3.7 per cent. As predicted, the Fed prefers to talk ‘soft landing’ and not a target unemployment rate that sufficiently thwarts inflation, but some studies suggest it may take a 6 per cent rate to break the current inflation cycle. High unemployment doesn’t bode well for anyone. 

Employers: value the people you have. It’s costly to replace talent lost. Employees: be productive. New hires: be flexible.