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Clear, Simple, and Wrong
Complex problems seldom yield to simple answers.
Quote of the Moment
For every complex problem, there is a solution that is clear, simple, and wrong.
| H. L. Mencken
In one of its most dystopian moves yet, Amazon is introducing tiny booths where its overworked warehouse employees can momentarily escape a job so grueling, many employees say they don't feel like they have enough time to even use the bathroom.
Maybe they should put a toilet in the ‘AmaZen’ booths, instead.
In The Business Lunch May Be Going Out of Business, Brett Anderson reports on a follow-on impact in US superstar cities due to the hollowing out of downtown offices. Many pricey restaurants providing power lunches on corporate expense accounts are cutting lunch service or closing altogether.
Most of the high-end restaurants struggling with the shifting economics of lunch are in cities that experienced record job growth in the decade after the Great Recession of 2008, said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president and director of research for the National Restaurant Association. “That economic expansion,” he said, “stimulated the development of more restaurants, in particular independent operations that catered to the city worker crowds.”
Recent numbers, however, don’t augur a quick return to pre-Covid conditions. Some 47 percent of diners who work from home go out to lunch less frequently than they did before the pandemic, according to the restaurant association.
Lunch reservations in the first four months of this year at restaurants with an average check of more than $50 were sharply lower than during the same period in 2019, according to data from the online reservation service OpenTable. They fell in Washington (by 38 percent), New York City (38 percent), San Diego (42 percent), Philadelphia (54 percent) and Chicago (58 percent).
Anderson talks with a number of restauranteurs who wonder if lunch service can ever be profitable again, and a number of power brokers who wax nostalgic about the shift away from doing business -- and establishing connections -- while breaking bread.
What will fill that gap in a world of distributed work? There is no app for that, yet.
What Is Happening In New York City? An Administration In Freefall.
This story hits close to home since I live 60 miles north of New York City.
In Why New York’s City Workers Are Quitting in Droves, Dana Rubinstein and Emma G. Fitzsimmons report on NYC’s struggle to replace a startling number of departing municipal workers:
Interviews with nearly 20 current and former city workers suggest several key reasons behind the city worker shortage: a bureaucratic and lethargic hiring process that makes it hard to quickly fill vacancies; a job market that, in many cases, offers more lucrative and more flexible private-sector options; a pandemic-era hiring freeze that was largely lifted by November, according to the state comptroller’s office; and, according to the city, a rule that an agency can only hire one worker after two have left.
Many also cited Mayor Eric Adams’s campaign to compel city workers to return to the office full time, a stance that was reinforced in late May. “While hybrid schedules have become more common in the private sector, the mayor firmly believes that the city needs its workers to report to work every day in person,” Frank Carone, the mayor’s chief of staff, wrote in a memo to staff.
Mayor Adam is trying to counter macro trends with his bully pulpit, but holding onto a five-day workweek plus 100% time in the office is a recipe for a disaster for the city and its residents. This is a doom spiral that will accelerate unless the Mayor relents.
At the end of March, the city had 446 fewer municipal employees than it had at the start of the month, according to previously unreported data acquired via a Freedom of Information request. In the previous month, the city had a net loss of 581 employees.
The 7.7 percent staffing vacancy rate — the percent of budgeted positions that remain vacant — vastly exceeds the 1.5 percent figure in March 2019 and in March 2020, as well as the 1.2 percent in March 2014, three months after Bill de Blasio became mayor.
Rob Poole, a former project manager at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, left for a private-sector job opportunity in the same field that offered significantly more pay. He said that many co-workers had quit before him, causing his workload to balloon.
New York City has around 300,000 workers and is the largest municipal workforce in the United States. A 7.7% vacancy means that over 23,000 municipal jobs are vacant. How many others are having to do the work of coworkers who have jumped to the private sector? Probably an additional 23,000 workers, or many more. And we have to expect that a lot of them are eyeing the door.
The Mayor’s intransigence on in-office work is rapidly heading the city toward disaster. Many city leaders oppose this state of affairs:
Some elected officials and union leaders, including Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate, have called on Mr. Adams to allow city workers more flexibility. On Friday, Mr. Williams again called on the city to offer a hybrid work option as coronavirus cases rise again.
“My office is working remotely currently, and when we return in person, it will be on a hybrid schedule,” Mr. Williams said.
There seem to be other serious workplace problems simmering in the Adams administration as well:
[A] city official who recently left said that Mr. Adams and top officials in his administration had created a work environment where independent thought was discouraged, and obedience to directives was valued.
Uh-oh. That’s worse than the push for the back-into-the-office policy.
Sounds like NYC is going to need someone who can move the city into the 21st century, and it’s unlikely to be Mayor Adams. Whoever takes over after Adams is going to have an enormous mess to deal with.
How many other U.S. city and state governments are going through this attrition? I bet it is happening in all the superstar cities, exactly at the time knowledge workers — who are increasingly likely to operate on at least a hybrid work model, if not fully remote — are departing for the remote suburbs. A vortex of mutually reinforcing trends that spells chaos for New York City.