On January 1st, 2022, we asked if 2022 would be continuation or progress. The main issue was the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on society, on travel on our daily life. But then the 24th of February happened and that changed the complexion of 2022 entirely.
When Russia invaded Ukraine not only did it start war with all its atrocities and disasters there, it had effects on the entire world. This lead to an energy supply and energy pricing crisis, which lead to an ongoing inflation crisis. Combine this with an extremely warm summer and a very cold week or two in December and you realise 2022 wasn’t the best of years.
While the concerns or panic over COVID eased, monkeypox (mpox, MPX) appeared, creating a new health scare. It is under control now, but, at least in Belgium, it showcased latent homophobia authorities. It’s okay to be, as long as you conform to heteronormative expectations of having a long-term partner and no-one on the side. Unfortunately, this is reinforced by conservatism within the official LGBTQIA+ organisations in Belgium.
Also, the Queen died. Who’d have thought Elizabeth II would die at such a’young’ age…
A crisis which isn’t getting enough attention is the general staff shortage. Surely, at least in Belgium, separate sectors complain about not finding people to do the jobs: health care, education, child care, public transport, industry (as in factories)…
But somehow managers, politicians and other policy makers don’t see it as a whole.
What strikes is the most staff shortage stricken sectors are those with work hours outside the traditional office hours. The Monday to Friday, (more or less) 9 to 5 jobs.
It’s not a real surprise. People have FOMO. Fear of missing out on quality time with friends and family. And that quality time is mostly after work and school and in weekends. So regularly working weekends is not popular and working real early in the morning or late in the evening or at night is to be avoided.
And with in some geographic areas quite a demand for employees, people have the choice not to work those irregular hours. Who can blame them?
Because let’s face it, that public, these citizens, these consumers who don’t want to miss out on the public entertainment events and the private events with friends and family have gotten accustomed to continuous, evident service. People want trains earlier and later in the day, more trains on weekends, shops open seven days a week, …
But working those hours? No, no. These consumers have become so accustomed to continuous service they don’t realise anymore real people work for their free time. They take it for granted. There is no consciousness or awareness.
Lack of awareness
And this smugness, this lack of appreciation and even this lack of basic awareness demotivate those who do work odd hours and weekends.
“But they chose that job, didn’t they? They knew the conditions”, we hear you say.
Yes, but not their entourage. We could write an essay on how much of a free choice a job choice is. But don’t forget the pressure of friends, lovers and family. When you work alternative hours and you can seldom say yes to invitations, people sideline you and forget you. That pressure is real, is painful and is also tone deaf.
So it’s time the desk job people from all levels – as this in not a management level issue only – awaken from their dream. Do not take service for granted. That time has passed.
It’s time to value properly the effort and social and societal cost of working when ‘standard’ jobs are off.
The trope goes “the many unemployed should just work”. Firstly, there aren’t that many unemployed as people think there are and secondly the sectors with high staff shortages are often sectors where you need to be physically and mentally in good shape. Quite a few so-called inactives suffer from diseases, injuries or other physical conditions which bar them from being a nurse, a train guard, a train driver, a construction worker, a caterer or a child carer. To name a few examples.
In Belgium a new(ish) group of inactive people has been targeted and stigmatised as being unwilling to work: women of migrant background and specifically muslim women who wear an headscarf. While there is a culture of the stay-at-home mom in these communities, one should not underestimate the unwillingness of employers and consumers of women with headscarves on the work floor.
But we think it’s too easy to just point at the inactives. The citizen-consumer should ask himself, herself, themselves the question “why do I don’t want to this job?”
If the answer is you don’t want to lose on life quality and work-life balance, you are not alone. In fact, you are so much not alone, not enough people are willing to work outside office hours and this creates holes in the continuous service you expect.
Staff shortages in real life
In 2022 we experienced the consequences of these staff shortages. We went to airports earlier to have more time to go through the check-in and security process.
During our England trip, which we will be blogging about very soon, breakfast time was limited. We had to book a time slot COVID style so the human resources could cope. As a matter of fact, we altered our whole England trip because railway strikes had made our original plan involving the Caledonian Sleeper impossible.
This brings us to 2023. This year will be again a year with energy, inflation and staff shortage crises which will thwart your travel and other free time plans. And that’s not a pleasant message.
There will be more industrial action. Also known as strikes. So be prepared for your flight or train being cancelled due to a strike.
“If people don’t want to work there, they should just quit”, we hear you say. That’s exactly what’s happening. For decades airline companies and to a lesser extend railway and other public transport companies have counted on the fandom of (potential) employees.
“They want to fly, so they’ll do it at whatever working condition.” Not anymore. People are done with this exploitation. Their entourage pressure them too much. See above.
So, we as travellers and consumers will have to cope with the unexpected, with ever changing conditions.
You could get angry at the striking employees. Because it sucks not being able to do what you planned to do. But you could ask yourself “why am I not doing their job?” and realise everyone wants fair working conditions, a healthy work-life balance and being taken seriously as a human being. Not only by management, but also by society at large.
We have many plans for 2023. Some are very firm, as in booked and paid for. We are looking forward to those as you are looking forward to your plans. We’re not better than you.
But at the back of our mind we know the world is much more unstable as it was in 2019, pre-pandemic, and that for so many reasons. Industrial action, war in Ukraine, Qatar and gas supplies, China and Taiwan, climate change, inflation. The list goes on.
But life continues.
Have a great 2023. Enjoy yourself and let others enjoy themselves too.