Disappearing Act

Expert in organizational behavior explains why men are leaving the workforce in droves

Video by Roman Odintsov

Video by Roman Odintsov

Signs reading “Men at Work” used to alert drivers to be careful of roadside construction crews, but as trends show males exiting the workforce in large numbers, “No Men at Work” signs may soon be more appropriate. In recent months, men aged 30-44 have dropped out of the workforce at rates higher than other demographic groups, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The trend appears to be education-related; less educated men are particularly less likely to be employed, explained David Dwertmann, associate professor of management in the Rutgers School of Business–Camden.

David Dwertmann, associate professor of management.

David Dwertmann, associate professor of management.

“The pandemic caused many people in industries that require less education, like the hospitality and tourism industries, to lose their jobs,” said Dwertmann, an expert in organizational behavior and changing demographics in the workplace. “Many of the jobs in these industries are face-to-face. So, when restaurants closed and tourism was heavily disrupted, safe work from home was not possible, and jobs were eliminated.”

To compound matters further, the fields that experienced high job loss are also fields in which rehiring employees is more difficult. The net result is that current work rates are even lower than pre-pandemic levels.

Dwertmann explained that men in these jobs wanted the same benefits, such as flexible schedules and working from home, that workers enjoyed in other fields. Consequently, they decided to find work elsewhere. “They have instead taken on more duties at home, or work in gig-economy or under-the-table jobs, which are harder to capture in employment data,” Dwertmann said.

Dwertmann further noted that traditional U.S. work norms—more hours, less vacation time, and high retirement ages—appear to be shifting. American workers are now focused more on their personal lives, want greater flexibility, and are slowly shifting away from rigid gender norms that require women to handle most childcare. “The pandemic has accelerated some of these developments,” Dwertmann said.

Lower employment numbers are likely a consequence of employees’ waning emotional commitment to their jobs. In the same respect, workers’ decreasing identification with their occupations has likely contributed to lower workforce participation. Dwertmann notes, for instance, that he coauthored a qualitative study finding that immigrants struggled to connect to U.S. culture during the pandemic due to office closures.

Dwertmann believes the trend will worsen before it improves. Due to the aging population, the United States will continue to face a talent shortage in the workforce. Having existing workers that do not participate in the economy will only further increase pressures on organizations and social safety nets.

To offset these issues, Dwertmann posits, several steps could be taken to remedy the drop in labor participation for men.

“Creative solutions need to allow for more flexibility, such as remote work and more reliable scheduling,” Dwertmann said. “It also means generally providing employees with more dignity, which starts with improvement in management and leadership.”

Creative Design: Beatris Santos

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