(This article originally appeared in the Washington Times)
The Great Resignation. Labor disruption. Worker grievances. Ghosted interviews. Higher pay demands. More benefits. More paid time off. Less days in the office. Same day pay. Help with student loans. What millennials want. What Gen Z wants.
For the past two years it’s been all about the worker, right? 11 million job openings. Low unemployment. Higher minimum wages. More rights for the disabled. More rules for the discriminated. More power for unions. More regulations from OSHA. Overtime rules. Worker classification rules.
It’s been a great ride for the American worker. But, like everything else, the good times never last forever. So heed my warning, employees: You’re about to hit some headwinds. And for employers, this will all be a grand opportunity.
An economic downturn has already started and I’m expecting many of my clients to start feeling the effects by the fall or at the end of the year at the latest. When downturns happen, companies cut overhead. And when they cut overhead, they cut employees. It’s already happening in the tech industry, where thousands of jobs have already been eliminated. And it’s coming for the corporate world. Just wait.
Job offerings are already being rescinded.
During the 2009 recession, companies laid off more than 9 million workers. Typical recessions often result in similar rounds of layoffs. That’s because even though no one likes a recession, companies do see an opportunity. They know that a recession is a perfect time to cut the fat that’s built up over the years. They couldn’t do this during the pandemic because it would’ve been bad PR. But the pandemic is mostly over and there’s fat to be cut. Those unproductive, unhappy and unreliable workers who have lingered on the payrolls are going to be first on the chopping block. They know who they are. And so do their bosses.
Many companies — including a significant number of my own clients — aren’t waiting for a downturn to get rid of the unskilled deadweight. For the past year, they’ve been heavily investing in technologies that exist only to eliminate people. Workflow. Automation. AI. And definitely robots. Lots and lots of robots. Don’t believe me?
Ask the executives at Chipotle, who are replacing workers with tortilla chip-making robotic arms. And the restaurants that are using new robots with eyes and arms to serve customers and make food. Or ANYbotics, which is selling four-legged robots that perform inspections on structures. There’s a waiting list for Boston Dynamics’ Stretch robot, which replaces warehouse workers.
Amazon is putting robots to work alongside humans and replacing delivery drivers with drones. Walmart and Chick-fil-A are doing the same. Dry cleaners are replacing workers with self-service cleaning technologies. Hotels are replacing workers with self-service kiosks. Oh, and there’s more.
A Houston-based company called Rugged Robotics has developed a robot that eliminates workers by printing building layouts on the floor of construction sites, so that the workers that are still employed know where — and where not — to build.
A farm tech startup called Iron Ox is selling robots to farmers that can tend to plants, scan for issues and adjust for the amount of nutrients and water. Factories across the country are doubling down on automation. Nurses at a Virginia hospital are finding themselves replaced by a robot called Moxi, a 4-foot-tall machine that ferries medication, supplies, lab samples and personal items through the halls, from floor to floor.
The Association for Advancing Automation reports that orders for workplace robots increased by 40% in the first three months of 2022. Axios says it’s the “summer of robots.”
Hey workers … can you read the writing on the wall? Let me make sure you do: The good times aren’t going to last forever. And the ones that are costing the most, have the least amount of skills and criticize the loudest are going to be the first to go. Just wait and see.
My advice? Heed my warning. Stop complaining. Cut the whining. Put aside your side gig. Lose the bathrobe and show your face in the office. Keep your nose to the grindstone. In other words: Shut up and work harder. Because whether it’s a recession or technology your job — particularly if it’s a relatively unskilled job — is in jeopardy. Employers want to prove that you’re delivering a return on their investment because it’s their job to generate profits for their companies and it’s your job to do your job.
It’s been great times for the workers. But just wait and watch. Because those good times will soon be ending. No one wants an economic downturn. But most of the clients I know will use it to take back control of their workforce by keeping the people that are most likeable and the most profitable.