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Integra Realty Resources' 2022 trends report sees the economy at a moment of qualitative change in the world of work

Beyond the Job Numbers, ‘A Moment of Qualitative Change’

On its face, the observation that employment hasn’t recovered from the pandemic’s disruptions as rapidly as GDP is accurate. However, Integra Realty Resources reports, “it is not mere numbers that describe the employment crossroad we stand at as 2022 begins. It is more and more apparent that we are at a moment of qualitative change in the world of work.”  

With both blue- collar and white-collar jobs disrupted by COVID-19, “it seems inevitable the future will hold substantive change in the way work is performed,” IRR says in its Viewpoint 2022 report. “This means that real estate, where the jobs are done, will be changing substantively as well.” 

Even as much of the debate has focused on the question of remote vs. a return to the office, IRR notes two key factors still evolving: “the presumed shift from pandemic to ‘endemic’ COVID-19, and the impacts of competition on businesses weighting in-person work over Zoom work, or vice versa. For workers with options, we should not underestimate the degree to which anxiety over health risk will shape the pace of office utilization, as well as the way that businesses and real estate property managers will need to adapt to office workers’ expectations. “ 

If vaccinations continue making inroads on illness, anxiety will abate and the “new normal” will emerge more quickly, IRR says. Conversely, if the current death toll rises to one million or more, “expect white-collar workers to be slow to return to their offices.” 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover (JOLTS) report released this past November shows 10.4 million job openings overall, of which 1.8 million are in professional and business services, and another 1 million in predominantly office-using fields like finance, information, and entertainment.  

“So far, so good in terms of future employment growth,” IRR reports. “However, some 4.4 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs, and of these, more than 1 million were in office-dominant job sectors. Workers are being picky, and fully understand that a 4.2% unemployment rate enables them to be more selective in their job searches.” 

Nor is this strictly a white-collar phenomenon. About 3.2 million private sector job openings exist in manufacturing, trade and transportation, hotels and restaurants, and personal services. Voluntary separations (quits) totaled 2.4 million in the JOLTS report, “meaning that the blue-collar jobs in those sectors will show net improvement only very slowly,” says IRR. F 

More importantly, there are qualitative changes afoot which appear to be altering the character of work for many. Architectural and design firm Gensler has cited worker expectations for jobsite autonomy, privacy, flexibility and wellness support.  

For its part, the Harvard Business Review (HBR) reports a widening gap between the job environment that employees want and the ones their employers offer. HBR surveying identifies four key foundations for recruitment and retention in both blue-collar and white-collar positions: value, purpose, certainty, and belonging. “During this period of ‘The Great Resignation,’ these qualitative factors will define the job numbers,” IRR says. 

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About Paul Bubny

Paul Bubny serves as Senior Content Director for Connect Commercial Real Estate, a role to which he brings 13-plus years’ experience covering the commercial real estate industry and 30-plus years in business-to-business journalism. In this capacity, he oversees daily operations while also reporting on both local/regional markets and national trends, covering individual transactions across all property types, as well as delving into broader subject matter. He produces 15-20 daily news stories per day and works with the Connect team and clients to develop longer-form content, ranging from Q&As to thought-leadership pieces. Prior to joining Connect, Paul was Managing Editor for both Real Estate Forum and GlobeSt.com at American Lawyer Media, where he oversaw operations at both publications while also producing daily news and feature-length articles. His tenure in B2B publishing stretches back into the print era, and he has served as Editor in Chief on four national trade publications. Since 1999, Paul has volunteered as the newsletter editor of passenger rail advocacy groups (one national, one local).

  • ◦Economy
  • ◦Recruitment
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