John O’Connor

If it’s any consolation, you no longer walk alone. At least, not on the labor front.

The challenge of finding and keeping qualified workers is rapidly expanding beyond the boundaries of long-term care. In fact, staffing nightmares now seem to be the norm in almost every low-paying industry. And frankly, a few where the pay really isn’t so meager.

How bad is the nationwide staffing crisis? This bad: The Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking job quits in 2000. The worst month ever recorded was also the most recent, August. That’s when 4.3 million Americans up and left. August also marked the sixth consecutive month of astronomical quit rates.

And while there are roughly 10.7 million job vacancies nationwide, many and perhaps most of the 7.7 million available unemployed Americans do not seem to be in much of a hurry to fill in the blanks.

Various reasons for this odd juxtaposition are being cited. Many would-be workers are both burned out and emboldened by the current seller’s market, some observers insist.

Somewhat related is that it is suddenly employers who are on their heels. As a practical matter, that means employees are in a better position to demand higher pay, perks, training, advancement and other enticements.

Others say the quitting trend does not have a single key driver. Rather, it is the inevitable residue of decades of relatively declining wages, higher prices and the hassles of trying to manage daycare needs, transportation and miserable workplace conditions — especially for those in the shallow end of the labor pool.

If any of these explanations sound awfully familiar, they should. They are pretty much the same themes long-term care operators have been hearing for years, if not decades.

But unlike many of the new targets of what amounts to a general strike, long-term care operators have at least figured out how to stay in business. Well, at least most of them have.

That’s not to say the workarounds have been pretty. Temporary staffing, hiring of the unqualified and virtually untrainable remain rampant challenges throughout the eldercare spectrum. (I know, not at your facility of course. But trust me, such things do exist.)

So what’s going to happen? My guess is that one or two things will likely play out at the new sectors suddenly feeling your labor pains.

The first is that current market conditions will eventually change. Given the cyclical nature of our economy, that is all but certain. As to how soon the next reversal might occur, I have no idea. Nor, for that matter, does anyone else.

The second is that the current malaise among workers will continue, more or less. As a result, the quality of work being performed across the service sector will likely deteriorate (as only the most desperate will take jobs). Operating costs will also rise, if only to offset higher labor costs. We can also expect to hear millions of dissatisfied customers complaining bitterly about the high price of lousy service.

That too, may sound awfully familiar. So yes, there will likely be misery ahead. But at least you’ll have some company.

John O’Connor is Editorial Director for McKnight’s.