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The Entire World is Short Staffed

The Entire World is Short Staffed

“The entire world is short staffed right now; please be kind, please be patient,” (Various Sources). I saw this sign posted at a deli in my neighborhood this weekend, as one girl – the owner’s daughter – frantically tried to keep pace with orders at a griddle where 2 years ago there were two experienced cooks.  I used to be in and out of there in ten minutes, but now wait times are about 25 minutes, and the price has gone up two dollars.  Our personal ponds are still dealing with the ripple effects of the COVID-sized rock that was thrown into them last March.  

Calm may yet return, though not just yet, I’m afraid.  As I write this blog, I’m sitting next to my preschooler who is “very angry” about daylight savings time, and “doesn’t WANT to go back to sleep” – the point being that it’s very easy to be frustrated by change that affects us directly, yet is beyond our control.  The purpose of this article is not a political one, though we are at about a year and eighth months since “Two Weeks to Stop the Spread” – my point is, like the sign in the deli suggested, please give businesses some time to adjust.

Aside from service issues, pricing is everyone’s main complaint.  Between staffing issues and logistical, supply-related ones, the price of everything has gone up – in ways few could have imagined.  In the months after Hurricane Katrina, the shrimp industry in our country suffered huge hits – far lower supply and very difficult logistics – while trying to keep up with the same demands. However, that was a localized issue and corporate fish production companies were able to pivot to international sources to meet their demands until the “ripples in the pond” had calmed. This time, with things like shipping and trucking feeling the crunch, the effects are being felt on a much wider scale – and will take much longer to return to normal.  Working in our commercial department has given me a bird’s eye view in much the same way as my old personal lines position did in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy. The crisis itself gains a face, a family, and a familiar story that unfortunately becomes more familiar due to repetition.

One of our customers who operates a funeral home expressed his frustration with rising costs to me, as the cost of embalming chemicals and other industry related products has risen steeply: “People come to me when they’ve lost someone they cared about, they’re already hurting, how much am I supposed to charge them for a funeral service?”  Another customer, a restaurant owner, explained that she’s gone from checking in at tables to doing every job in her establishment on different days, from washing dishes to operating the grill, to bartending.  A drywall installation company’s owner decided that after losing two workers, it was the right time to bring his oldest son into the business and start teaching him personally, since he was now back in the field anyway.

Sometimes the insurance itself can also be an additional cost – but carriers are not immune to staffing issues either. An underwriter at a very well-known carrier recently confided in me that about half of their customer service team had quit at some point over the last twenty months.  This could be caused by the isolation of working at home, lack of regular support, and possibly the feeling that “maybe I don’t want to field complaints from agencies for the rest of my life, I want to change my career and see the world!”  Insurance carriers, faced with the possibility of losing vital staff, increased pay levels – albeit to a shrinking work force. Higher pay helps to attract career changers but conversely, those new hires still need to be trained, which takes time – AND increases the time required to complete the job.  (Your call really IS important to them, and will be answered in the order it was received).  Also, that extra pay for the workers has to come from somewhere.

Many “Essential Workers” have found themselves compelled to do their jobs under increasingly difficult circumstances, while being compensated as if nothing had changed. Remember, if costs of materials and products go up, no matter how good your products or services ARE, you can only ask so much of your customers before they find an alternative route.  Work, however, still needs to be done, and in some fields, the customer doesn’t have much of a choice.  Health care and related fields bore the brunt of these disruptions early on – especially in outlying areas like medical supply or mental health. A personal friend who drove medical supplies to schools in NYC was quickly redirected into a new role of transporting COVID tests to a lab multiple times per day (and on extended hours) after schools shifted to remote only.  And while a well-meaning bureaucrat might mandate that “nobody in our hospital will have to work more than 45 hours in any week!” a care worker would likely laugh at this plan and respond “What are we supposed to tell the patient? Just sit tight and don’t do anything?” Especially in the early months of the pandemic, it wasn’t uncommon for direct support professionals to work upwards of 50-60 hours a week, in facilities that saw some of the highest infection rates anywhere.  Eventually the grind takes its toll and patience can easily fly out the window. No matter how good your motor oil is, any engine is subject to wear and tear. 

So, what can we do? We can’t always do much to solve the problem itself, but we can help struggling businesses out by not adding to their list of issues.  Is a 25-minute wait at a restaurant REALLY worthy of a 1-Star review online?  Everyone knows the price of paper towels is up – do you really need to badmouth your local grocer on social media? Who knows what they paid to bring them to you? Check elsewhere first, and you may find out things are the same all over and your anger is misguided.  Finally, please support local businesses over large corporate ones whenever possible; charity begins at home – buying local helps one of your neighbors to pay their rent instead of going toward more corporate advertising and marketing campaigns. Just remember that your call IS important and WILL be answered as soon as possible. Please be patient, and please be kind.

Allan Block Insurance, Professional Service with the Personal Touch

We are located in Tarrytown, NY, in the heart of Westchester County, a key business district just north of New York City. We write auto, home, renters, condo, co-op, personal, business, life and group insurance for clients locally and in NYC, CT, NJ, PA, MA and many other states. For more information or answers to your insurance questions, please contact us.

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