WORKERS DON’T FEEL QUITE AS POWERFUL AS THEY USED TO - Kanebridge News
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WORKERS DON’T FEEL QUITE AS POWERFUL AS THEY USED TO

Fears of an economic downturn are shaking some people’s career confidence, driving them toward stable jobs—and even back to offices.

By Callum Borchers
Fri, Jun 17, 2022 3:19pmGrey Clock 3 min

Becca Smith will be back to work in no time.

Laid off from her sales position at a startup a couple of weeks ago, she says she’s received more than a dozen inquiries from recruiters in response to a LinkedIn post about her job loss.

Yet something has changed since the 40-year-old Indiana mother started at her former employer last summer. Back then, she was determined to work from home—and felt sure she could get her way. She also had the confidence to join a fledgling business amid a roaring economy.

No more.

“I will give priority to larger, more-established companies for this job search,” says Ms. Smith, whose old company was venture-funded and cut about one-third of the team to conserve cash. She adds she’ll consider reporting to an office part time. She’d also like her next job to involve selling a product customers need even in bad times, rather than a luxury that could get cut from the budget when money is short.

Though the labor market remains tight and many people still have leverage to negotiate high salaries and remote accommodations, some are bracing for a day when things won’t be so great. As unemployment claims tick higher and business leaders like Elon Musk try to reassert their in-office dominance, workers are showing a little less swagger and looking for more stability than they did just a few months ago.

It’s a strange limbo. Working conditions are about as good as they’ve ever been for many people, and office workers’ complaints can seem petty by historical standards. (Imagine your 2019 self griping about being required to work in an office a few days a month.) Yet a loss of total remote freedom, coupled with sobering economic forecasts, can make it feel like workers’ power is slipping away.

Some companies sense the change and are wresting back more control over how much they cater to employees.

Boston Properties Chief Executive Owen Thomas says his tenants are growing bolder about office callbacks. The national office occupancy rate hit 44% last week, according to an estimate by Kastle Systems, which tracks building-access-card swipes. That’s the highest since the onset of the pandemic.

Employers’ fear that workers will flee for other jobs if told to return to their desks is beginning to subside.

“Some companies are doing layoffs, and that puts pressure on people to get back to the office and stay closer to the senior leaders,” says Mr. Thomas, whose firm is among the largest commercial landlords in several major cities.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said repeatedly that she doesn’t expect the U.S. economy to fall into another recession. Such reassurances wouldn’t seem necessary if not for credible concerns, however, and it might not take the R-word to spook workers.

Career coach Phil Rosenberg says his calendar is filling up with clients who worry it’s now or never—or not for a while, at least—to snag a job with the pay and flexibility they want.

“People are trying to land before the next downturn,” he says.

Luis Caballero, one of Mr. Rosenberg’s clients, says he’s relieved to be starting a new position as a marketing executive next month.

He left a large company in late 2020 with a big enough severance package to support his family for two years, by his estimate, and initially wasn’t in a hurry to find his next long-term fit. Why would he have been?

“Companies were desperate for senior leadership,” says Mr. Caballero of the record numbers of workers who have quit or switched jobs over the past 12 months. “Several friends of mine were writing their own ticket.”

Mr. Caballero, 50, took what he describes as a short-lived “rebound” job last year but quit in February. Searching anew, he says the market“was not the gold mine I had heard about.” Many high-level roles paid less or had heavier workloads than he anticipated.

Mr. Caballero says he accepted an offer that met his expectations—with one major compromise. He’ll drive 10 hours round-trip from his home in Arizona to an office in California, staying over a night or two, to satisfy a requirement to work in person a couple of days a week.

Taking a new job can be risky in the event of a downturn. Some businesses take a last-in-first-out approach to downsizing. As the pandemic fades, companies that grew quickly when people were mostly homebound could cut back as life normalizes. Peloton, Netflix and Carvana already have laid off staff this year.

“If I’m a job seeker these days and I’m smart, I’m considering the business: Is it a business that just developed because of Covid?” says Stacie Haller, a career counsellor at ResumeBuilder.com.

For now, though, the labour market still favours workers, especially in certain industries, she says.

Competition for talent remains intense in biotechnology, with candidates often able to pick among several offers, according to Jean Sabatini, head of staffing at Tango Therapeutics in Cambridge, Mass.

Tech workers, too, enjoy considerable bargaining power, though some have been humbled by the sector’s volatile stock-market performance and shrinking venture-capital pool in recent months, says Allan Jones, founder of an HR software startup in Los Angeles.

The hiring dynamic for most of the past two years has been “bonkers,” he says; prospects frequently Zoomed into job interviews with a confidence bordering on arrogance and scoffed when told that Mr. Jones’s company, Bambee, is office-centric.

Lately, the conversations have changed.



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Milestone birthdays and anniversaries, weddings, and graduations are momentous life occasions that some like to mark with large and elaborate celebrations.

And the deep-pocketed set are still in catch-up mode after a party-throwing standstill during the pandemic that went on for many months during the height of the lockdowns and social distancing. Bashes since then have become ever more extravagant and experiential—mere get-togethers, they’re not.

Hosts are also seeking any excuse to throw an event and having parties with the same “wow” factor for far less significant reasons, or for micro-occasions as they’re called, and even “just because,” according to luxury event planners who work with this elite set.

Colin Cowie, a planner based in New York and Miami who regularly orchestrates multimillion-dollar gatherings and was behind Jennifer Lopez’s and Ben Affleck’s wedding, calls it the “event revolution.”

“Large-scale events have become the norm,” Cowie says. “The wealthy, who are used to celebrating their life moments in a big way couldn’t do anything during the pandemic and are now going all out for anything they host.”

His company, Colin Cowie Lifestyle, plans 30% more events today than pre-Covid and has a lineup booked for the next two years. An example includes an upcoming million-dollar dinner party in the Hamptons simply to socialise with friends. It’s an affair with free-flowing Dom Perignon, centre-cut filet mignons, and unlimited caviar.

Colin Cowie Lifestyle plans 30% more events today than pre-Covid
Calen Rose

Other high-end planners also attribute the rise of over-the-top celebrations to a “live life to the fullest” attitude that’s become prevalent in the last few years. But they say that these parties aren’t necessarily about spending more than before—rather, they’re increasingly creative, thoughtful, and, with respect to weddings, longer.

Lynn Easton, a Charleston-based planner, says that her typical wedding used to span two days and entailed a rehearsal dinner plus the wedding itself. “Now, it’s a five-day bonanza with events like a groomsman lunch,” Easton says.

Easton also plans glitzy milestone birthdays such as one for a 60th where the host flew 60 friends and family to a private island. Dinners were multi-hour affairs in various locations around the isle with the showpiece being a five-course meal where the food was presented on dishes that were hand-carved in ice.

Another planner, Victoria Dubin, based in New York and Miami, says that, in a new precedent, the weddings she’s tapped to design kick off with striking welcome meals. She recently planned an al fresco rehearsal dinner at the Brooklyn pizzeria Roberta’s that recreated a Tuscan garden. Elements included potted herbs, lemon trees, vintage olive oil cans, ceramic plates, and table cards presented with palm leaves in limoncello cans.

Another planner, Victoria Dubin, recently planned an al fresco rehearsal dinner at the Brooklyn pizzeria Roberta’s that recreated a Tuscan garden.
Aletiza Photo

Pashmina shawls hung from chairs to keep guests warm, and freshly baked pizzas and Aperol spritzes were in ready supply throughout the evening.

Stacy Teckin, the groom’s mother, hosted the party with her husband, Ian, and says she sought to pull off a dinner that made an impression on their guests. “The wedding was delayed because of Covid, and now that we had the chance to celebrate, we wanted to go all out,” Teckin says. “I’m not sure we would have done that before.”

In another example, acclaimed planner Norma Cohen threw a wild safari-themed bar mitzvah for a client.

A four-day wedding in Paris where the ceremony was in a historic chateau and the host paid for guests to stay at Hotel Crillon
Norma Cohen Productions

The memorable occasion transpired at Spring Studios in downtown Manhattan and saw 400 guests be transported to the African plains: Details included mammoth replicas of wildlife such as giraffes and elephants, servers in safari themed attire, and entertainment dressed like giraffes. The event was one of several over-the-top parties Cohen’s arranged recently.

A four-day wedding in Paris where the ceremony was in a historic chateau and the host paid for guests to stay at Hotel Crillon, one of the city’s most luxurious properties, also ranks high in Cohen’s memory.

Then there’s a destination party in London that Cohen planned for a client who was turning 40. It as a six-day affair with dinners at swanky spots such as Cipriani, the Arts Club, and Cecconi’s at Soho House. The finale was Lancaster House, a mansion in St. James, where guests were entertained by cabaret dancers from the famed Ibiza club Lio Ibiza and feasted on prime rib and lamb chops and imbibed on Krug champagne.

“People today don’t want to host events,” Cohen says. “They want experiences that take you away to a different place and make you forget that the real world exists.”