Yes, during a years-long pandemic, productivity is down

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By , Audacy

When the monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report was released Friday, it showed that total nonfarm payroll employment had increased by 263,000 the previous month and that the unemployment rate had decreased to around 3.5%.

However, this news came on the heels of another BLS report indicating productivity in the U.S. dropped by 4.1% in the second quarter of the year, as well as reports about the “quiet quitting” phenomenon. This term, which refers to doing “your job, nothing more, nothing less,” gained popularity on TikTok, according to KYW.

Stories about “quiet quitting” follows others about the “Great Resignation” as the U.S. and the world continues to crawl out of the grip of a pandemic that claimed more than 6.5 million lives worldwide, including more than 1 million in the U.S.

“Trauma and grief and loss really impact productivity, and people’s ability to concentrate and to be resilient,” said DeLisa Alexander, an executive vice president and chief people officer for IBM’s Red Hat, according to a Fortune article published just a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the World Economic Forum, “all else being equal, if 4.5% of workers have had their productivity compromised as a result of their grief, that means that up to $942 billion of productivity and business growth has been directly affected by grief.”

Apart from people mourning loved ones lost to the pandemic, many millions of people have battled the virus themselves since it started in early 2020. Overall, the most recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that more than 96 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the nation as of Saturday.

In June, the CDC reported that one in five American adults who contracted the virus was still battling “long COVID” or symptoms that persist after the infection clears. These include a wide range of symptoms such as tiredness and fatigue, fever, cough, dizziness, difficulty breathing and stomach pain.

By this August, the Brookings Institute estimated that as many as 4 million people were out of work due to long COVID and 16 million working Americans were suffering from the condition. Yet, even as people in the U.S. are still dealing with the impact of the pandemic, many are more concerned about other factors impacting the economy.

According to McKinsey & Company survey results released Sept. 30, most North Americans were concerned about inflation rather than COVID-19 when it came to the economy.

Remote work became more common amid pandemic-related lockdowns and some workers have been able to continue working from home, cutting down on commute times and possible exposure to infection. Still, Pew Research Center data released in February found that the majority of U.S. workers (60%) don’t have jobs that can be done from home.

Julia Pollak, chief economist with ZipRecruiter, said that a feeling of listlessness has also impacted workers after unsettling experiences in recent years, including layoffs, according to a Friday NPR report.

“Once you’ve had that sort of Ecclesiastes moment of thinking everything is futile and pointless, how do you get people believing that hard work pays off again?” she said.

Even as the country struggles under the weight of pandemic-related blows to mental health, physical health and economic security, the BLS reported “notable job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality and in health care,” fields last month.

President Joe Biden also expressed optimism in the American workforce Friday during a National Manufacturing Day Speech in Maryland.

“All across America, we’re proving ‘Made in America’ isn’t just a slogan, it’s reality,” he said, mentioning recent investments in domestic manufacturing. “We’re proving that our best days are ahead of us, not behind us.”

Additionally, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has hinted that the pandemic could be over soon, but it has not yet officially ended.

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