Aww, the bosses are missing their eager-beaver work force

Uh-oh. The workers aren’t working as hard as they should..

Employers across the country are worried that workers are getting less done — and there’s evidence they’re right to be spooked.

In the first half of 2022, productivity — the measure of how much output in goods and services an employee can produce in an hour — plunged by the sharpest rate on record going back to 1947, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The productivity plunge is perplexing, because productivity took off to levels not seen in decades when the coronavirus forced an overnight switch to remote work, leading some economists to suggest that the pandemic might spark longer-term growth. It also raises new questions about the shift to hybrid schedules and remote work, as employees have made the case that flexibility helped them work more efficiently. And it comes at a time when “quiet quitting” — doing only what’s expected and no more — is resonating, especially with younger workers.

That certainly is troubling to employers. This article tries to answer why, and the journalist sets off on a quest to find the causes. I’m not going to discuss the answers at all because they’re garbage, but I instead browsed the article to see who they talked to.

“professor of economics…”

“Tech CEOs…”

“Microsoft chief executive…”


“founder of Career/Life Alliance Services…”


“chief operating officer…”

“economist Lawrence H. Summers…” (Fuck Larry Summers)

“lead economist…”

“chief economist…”

“chief economist at the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise…”

“senior economist…”

“many economists…”

Wow. That reporter sure spent a lot of time on the phone & email talking to people about why workers were in a slump. There’s talk about burnout, and the pandemic, and the recession, and the labor shortage, and workers setting more boundaries, and “quiet quitting”, but I noticed that someone was missing. There’s someone — a lot of someones — nobody talked to.


Gosh, that’s a peculiar omission. You try to find out why worker productivity is down, so you go talk to the employers to try to figure out why, and you get a lot of fuzzy, vague answers and shrugs. I wonder why?

My personal answer would be that what I’ve experienced and learned in the last few years is that I don’t like managers and tech CEOs and bosses and economists and think tanks and executives and good goddamn, fuck Larry Summers and why the hell do journalists still talk to him? It’s clear to me now, at last, in my old age, that capitalist businesses and institutions don’t care about workers except as hands and brains and eyes to be exploited to make money for the middle men and executives, and that very little of the vast profits management makes will trickle down to the people who do the work. Instead, they’ll use that money to buy politicians and found new companies that will find fresh ways to squeeze blood from the masses. Oh, you brought home a few pennies from a day’s work? Then you can afford to spend them on insurance and health care, those executives love to wring out your pockets, too. What’s this? You need a place to live? All the houses have been bought by landlords, who are eager to raise your rents. And if anyone notices they’re being gouged, well, we’ll distract them with lurid tales of drag queens reading children’s books and trans people using the bathroom and black folk protesting the denial of their rights and if that’s not enough, we’ve got a well-armed paramilitary police force staffed with bullies and haters.

That’s my answer. The system is so broken that the curtain hiding the machinations of the CEOs and big money executives is in tatters, and we are starting to see how our labor is stolen by the people we used to trust to manage our workplace, our communities, our country. Why should I work harder? Any extra effort is going to gain me nothing, because it’s going to be siphoned off by some asshole in a suit with a McMansion and a vacation home and an overpriced car and a condo in Cabo, paying private school tuition to keep their kids away from my kids, all built on my faith and trust and confidence in the system.

Well, guys, my faith and trust and confidence have been blown to flinders in the last few years. You’re going to have to find some other sucker to play your con game. I suspect a lot of workers are feeling the same way.

But you won’t know because you don’t talk to them.


  1. Dunc says

    So, let me make sure I’ve got this… “[P]roductivity took off to levels not seen in decades when the coronavirus forced an overnight switch to remote work“, but “[i]n the first half of 2022 productivity […] plunged by the sharpest rate on record”? Hmmm, I wonder if there could possibly be some relationship here… For example, did bosses start seriously trying to coerce people back into the office during 2022?

    Nah, it’s a complete mystery. I guess we’ll never know.

  2. flex says

    capitalist businesses and institutions don’t care about workers except as hands and brains and eyes to be exploited

    Which is exactly what I tell my reports, and why I recommend they don’t stick around in one company for >20 years like I have.

    I believe that makes me a lousy manager.

  3. F.O. says

    The system is fucked.
    How do we change that?
    How do you change the culture of an entire society, when you don’t control the media or the education system?
    When most people still cheer for the system that is crushing them, or are apathetic?

  4. jo1storm says

    @1 Dunc

    My thoughts exactly.

    “Step 1: We give a great thing to our workers and productivity soars.
    Step 2: We take the great thing away and productivity keeps rising.
    Step 3: Profit!”

    When in reality step 3 goes: Productivity drops lower than before introducing the great thing.

  5. Allison says

    I’m reminded of the Chinese phrase / movement Tang Ping (“lying flat”) An offshoot of that is what’s called “bai lan” (“let it rot.”)

    Marcus Ranum (over at “stderr”) keeps talking about “burn it to the ground,” but maybe “let it rot” is a more effective tactic.

  6. raven says

    Instead, they’ll use that money to buy politicians and found new companies that will find fresh ways to squeeze blood from the masses.


    The perennial and latest target of the GOP is once again, Social Security and Medicare.
    Because these are wildly popular programs that work well and almost everyone in the USA will use them when they get old and sometimes before then.

    Which makes no sense in even economic terms.
    These programs are self funding!!! They don’t cost the US government anything.

    Why the fate of Medicare and Social Security is a midterm issue
    BY BRETT SAMUELS – 10/31/22 6:00 AM ET

    Much of the focus during this election cycle has been on a proposal from Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the head of the Senate GOP campaign arm, released in February. The 11-point plan to “Rescue America” included a proposal to sunset government programs every five years, meaning lawmakers would need to vote to extend Medicare and Social Security.

    Biden on Thursday also cited comments earlier this year from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who suggested funding for Social Security and Medicare should be approved yearly through the budgeting process.

  7. raven says

    The GOP has been trying to kill Social Security since it was enacted in the early 1930s by Roosevelt.
    The GOP really is coming for your freedoms and your Social Security and Medicare plans.

    George W. Bush made a major effort to kill Social Security in 2005.
    FWIW, the GOP never says they are going to kill Social Security by lethal injection or hanging.
    They are always going to “reform it”.
    Or “privatize it”.
    Or make it “voluntary”.
    It’s a combination of Orwell’s Newspeak and plain old lying.

    In Bush’s case, his attempt was too obvious and it failed.
    BTW, we already have privatized Social Security type plans and they are widely used.
    We call them 401(k) plans, IRAs, Roth IRAs etc..

    February 2005 – Republican President George W. Bush outlined a major initiative to reform Social Security which included partial privatization of the system, personal Social Security accounts, and options to permit Americans to divert a portion of their Social Security tax (FICA) into secured investments.

    Social Security debate in the United States – Wikipedia › wiki › Social_Security_debate_i…

    Why the 2005 Social Security Initiative Failed, and What it … › research › why-the-2005-…

    Sep 21, 2007 — Bush designated fundamental Social Security reform as his top domestic priority. This was anything but an impulsive decision. As early as his …

  8. says

    Ah, so “quiet quitting” means doing only what’s expected and no more.
    In other words, doing only what they’re actually paying you to do. What a concept.
    Of course economists believe workers can do more. Easy! They just need to use their Invisible Hands, right?
    If Republicans have their way, I’ll be looking for work in my late sixties, having not worked for several years, despite multiple health issues & pain, risking exposure to a debilitating virus after they’ve eliminated any effort at mitigation, and do all this without access to health care.
    Or die, I guess.
    The hilarious part is they want me to vote for this.

  9. KG says

    PZ may well be right, but my hunch is that a significant factor is Long Covid. The USA has had over 1 million Covid deaths. That’s going to mean several million, at least, suffering from ongoing effects such as fatigue, muscle weakness and “brain fog”, particularly as people contract Covid for the second, third… nth time. The latest variants are less lethal than the original, let alone Delta, but much more transmissible and immune-evasive. It appears that every time you’re infected, there’s a risk of long-term damage, although we’re still short of information on what damage, and how much risk.

  10. robro says

    Talking to managers is ok because managers are workers…I’m a former manager and I never worked harder. Also, managers work directly with their workers, so they know. But yeah, talk to workers. Talk to everybody.

    I’m a worker now and I can tell you there’s nothing quiet about the rumbling over hybrid work schedules and productivity expectations among the workers. It’s loud and clear.

    Some of the push from the execs for RTO is absolutely bonkers. The organization I work for has staff in San Jose, Austin, and India, so we generally meet via a web conferencing software. For people in Austin to meet with people in India and San Jose at the same time, the meeting has to be around 7:00-8:00am/pm PT (or an hour earlier starting next week) right in the middle of the commute hour in the Valley. Kind of tough to effectively join a meeting while driving or riding a commuter bus, and the bus is particularly problematic when the meeting is about secret stuff that other people on the bus aren’t disclosed on. Plus Internet access on a moving vehicle rumbling through the hills on somewhat remote freeways is spotty at best.

    Oddly, when I first started working for this company in 1984 I met one of their star developers at his home where he showed off his new home office…there’s nothing new about work from home in the tech industry. I appreciate it doesn’t work for all businesses (medicine), but here’s one industry that could easily make the shift.

  11. says

    Nobody seems to remember that the ‘baby boom’ was followed by the ‘baby bust’ so that as boomers retire there are fewer productive workers available to take their place. Thus productivity HAS to decline simply because of demographics.

  12. nomuse says

    Well worth remembering that we are NOT over COVID.
    People are still getting sick. People are still masked up and distancing and washing — which are not at all bad things. So many, many businesses are closed, especially convenient mom-and-pops for things like groceries and toilet paper, public transit discontinued multiple routes and haven’t put them back in, banks are on limited hours, schools are in a constant state of “are they open this week or not?” and everything costs more.
    So…now that “everyone is back at work” we can go back to normal and expect everyone to be just as productive? With key people having left and never came back (taking with them their knowledge), now that everything ELSE in your life from groceries to kids is taking longer and costing more…oh, but raise your salary? Why would we do that?
    Added to the anger is that half of the management and other upper divisions are still on flexible, working from home half-time, safe in an office away from the crazy maskless customers the rest of the time, and, oh, they all got a bonus as “incentive” or something.
    Smaller staff, the supply line issues are still with us, basically the job is already harder. The workers would be hard-pressed just to do what they were doing before COVID (which was barely survival anyhow, for too many). Now they are expected to do more work for pay that stretches a hell of a lot less far (essentially, for less money)?
    Big surprise that even the most motivated are feeling like maybe just turning in the minimum required and going home.

  13. bcw bcw says

    As productivity is just incremental GDP over employment you have to be careful about any claims about the actual trends in productivity during a period of huge swings in nominal employment and production not driven by the economy. A lot of maintenance and supply operations and their costs were deferred during covid shutdowns which are now coming due. Inventories were used that are now being rebuilt. As you pointed out, the reporter had a story to sell about workers slacking off and went only to those sources that would give him quotes to support that. @11 also has a point about demographics.

  14. says

    Exactly. Where I worked for nearly 30 years we enjoyed a high degree of autonomy in our work. It would come in and we’d schedule it according to need and priority. We would also generate our own projects to keep productive when things slowed down. We generated our own budgets and not only kept within them, we were cheap to run because we knew what we needed to operate and where to get it at the right price. Then new management came in. They first brought in their own executives who needed their own staff funded by making many existing staff redundant with the loss of corporate memory. For the new executive to justify its existence we no longer ran our own budgets and purchasing. Everything had to be justified with mutliple price quotes and when ordered had to be approved by one of the new managers. End result more time chasing supplies, writing budgets and getting consumables etc thorough the management roadblocks. Yet more losses in productivity. With ever increasing staff turnover we had to do exercises in getting jobs done by other providers. End result more time spent processing paperwork and getting orders through management and finally checking that the external provider had done things to specification. It always took longer and cost more and productivity dropped further. Then they brought in the consultants and the decline really accelerated. The consultants recommended that operations be relocated to a new site on cheaper land and the relocation could be financed by selling off the existing high value site and costs would be reduced farther when staff who didn’t want to uproot their lives took a redundancy payout resulting in staff losses of over 75% so that all that was left of the corporate brains trust were the imbeciles who thought all this up. My section ran a services lab and i had the job of managing the design and relocation of new premises. Luckily there was another facility which had vacant space we could convert so with a combination of relocating equipment from our old lab and buying new furniture we could do the job for less than $100k. So management called in the consultants to examine our proposal after charging 10s of thousands for their report they concluded that our plans would actually cost over $350k, a figure management wouldn’t accept. The consultants were of course incompetent and didn’t have a clue and I used their own figure to show that and insisted the job could still be done for around $100k. Six months later management caved and went with our plans. The delay cost us a bit more but it was all done for just under $110K. I retired and things are an even bigger mess with yet more mergers, downsizing and new managers. They still don’t talk to the workers.

  15. Pierce R. Butler says

    … productivity took off to levels not seen in decades when the coronavirus forced an overnight switch to remote work…

    Long ago somewhere I read that, in general, studies showed productivity improved with just about any change in working conditions – which definitely makes it harder to figure out what works better and why.

  16. blf says

    robo@10, Based my own experiences, [t]alking to managers is ok because managers are workers […] managers work directly with their workers — LIAR. In all cases, MULTIPLE times, I’ve have teh slime use what I’ve said against me, or misrepresent what was said. In both situations (lies and misrepresentation, again multiple times), there hasn’t been a consistent opportunity for correction; instead, a massive amount of absurd claims, ALWAYS presented without evidence. On one particularly memorable occasion over two decades ago, when I insisted on some evidence — a very simple request for the units on a XY-graph — I was told by the manager that was (these are direct quotes, not paraphrases) that was ridiculous, disruptive, and unhelpful.

    A sensible person — which a priori excludes manages — might argue these claims of consistent incompetence does not apply to all managers, or is a reflection on myself, or is false, or so on. However, a sensible person — which again a priori excludes (most) managers — also appreciates evidence and makes sensible suggestions. This is the weak point in my claims-from-experience: Two (exactly two) managers I’ve had did appreciate evidence and would make sensible suggestions but both also lied, misrepresented, and denied the opportunity for correction.

    One manager’s lies were the reason I quit (my resignation letter saying so was disbelieved). Another’s lies were part of the reason I quit.

    I nowadays insist on meeting the relevant teams (plural) excluding all managers before taking on a job. This is to learn both what the job really is and how obnoxious / clewless the managers are. On my instructions, my lawyer insists on a contract which includes a severely escalating set of fines for delays or similar (excepting situations clearly outside their control), misrepresentations or lies, insufficient or inadequate preparation or documentation, various obfuscations, etc.

  17. seachange says

    #13 bcw bcw

    QFT basic business statistics interpretation wisdom

    Although, it is fun doing pro-worker rhetoric, even if the fake-news reporters aren’t listening.

  18. says

    As Raven thoughtfully pointed out, “These programs are self funding!!! They don’t cost the US government anything.”
    The politicians who want to destroy them are just thieving parasitic predators.
    In addition, as a worker, I busted my assets at jobs and I PAID INTO social security and medicare for almost 6 decades. If these political miscreants think they can steal that, I and a few million others will be very tempted to retaliate.

  19. JoeBuddha says

    Fortunately, as an independent contractor, I didn’t deal with managers much except for getting assignments. I’ve been coding for almost 50 years, and cut my professional teeth programming embedded assembler, so my coding style is different. Easy to read, but sometimes hard for clueless managers to follow. As long as it worked, that’s what they cared about. Besides, if they got unbearable, I’d just get another job in a month or so. I normally interacted only with fellow coders.

  20. flex says

    My company has an employee retention committee without any worker representation.

    They have no clue why people are leaving.

  21. felixmagister says

    I am reminded of a joke, allegedly of Soviet origin: “We will keep pretending to work as long as they keep pretending to pay us.”

  22. unclefrogy says

    this particular story and the constant din against social security and health care are connected, they share the air of resentment, sometime out in front like much of the anti-health care propaganda, other times like this anti-labor I mean anti worker distortion it is a little more subtle.
    The message that is implied is, look you are hard working and honest and those others are taking your money from you, why are we supporting them they want your stuff and they are doing nothing. It is no different then the “wealth-fare queen” argument it is just a little more subtle but the message is still very clear. It is a distraction a misdirection from where the money goes, from where the power actually resides, it controls the conversation away from the powerful and toward the powerless , keeping the powerless arguing amongst them selves.
    there is no good end that way however, it is a dead end, it is putting your self in a corner with no exit

  23. flange says

    Employers wanting workers to come back to work, so they can make sure they’re actually working.
    Law of Unintended Consequences for butthole employers.

  24. jrkrideau says

    @ 16 Pierce R. Butler
    That’s the well known “Hawthorne effect”. The results are a bit dubious though I have heard of an informal replication in Ontario (personal communication, not published as far as I know.).

    It may be the behavioural equivalent of a placebo. After something like 100 years we still are not sure.

  25. says

    Wow, sure is a good thing the Democrats are such bulwarks against this. Imagine if Obama had offered to cut Social Security and Medicare as part of his Grand Bargain, which only failed because Republicans were too racist to cut a deal with a black president! That would have been outrageous — the Republicans would have gotten everything they wanted and have been able to quite truly blame the Democrats for the disaster! It would have meant that Obama was nothing but an incompetent empty suit whose sole talent was campaigning! Almost as outrageous as if Bill Clinton had been in talks with Newt Gingrich to do the same when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke and the Republicans decided they didn’t have to bother negotiating with Democrats at all. If both of the previous two Democratic administrations had actively tried to cut those programs, I’m sure the party would have held them responsible for it, just like they held Bush responsible for the Iraq war, right?

  26. bionichips says

    Best definition of an entrepreneur:

    I take you to the beautiful mansion by the ocean with the yacht parked outside and say “you see that beautiful mansion? With the yacht?” You see the luxury cars parked outside?” “You see the wonderful tennis courts and pool?” And have I told you about the ski chalet in Colorado?” Someday if you work really, really hard – all of that will be mine,”

  27. bionichips says

    That said, I was a SW developer and worked hours only medical residents work. At some point I said “F that – 2 failed companies and what did I get?” No more. And left work after 10 hours (light in my day in my field) – and you know what? I actually got more work done. Thought of the solution on the way home or at home. More hours does not mean more productivity.