Could The Omicron Variant Cool Down The Hot Job Market?

For the last twenty five years I’ve noticed the steady trend of hiring slowing down during the holiday season. There’s an implicit universal understanding that it’s socially acceptable to take it easy starting around Thanksgiving Day. 

Vacation days and long weekends are taken. There’s a renewed focus on family and friends. It’s a time to enjoy the season and put work on the backburner. The malaise lasts up until about a couple of weeks into the New Year. 

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. As you notice your boss and other decision makers aren’t around, it’s logical that you can disappear too. Hiring grinds to a near standstill. The Human resource professional is out of the office and unavailable to schedule interview times. When she returns the hiring manager is away. Then the applicant says he’ll be unreachable until mid January. The stop-and-go clunkiness makes it exceedingly challenging to recruit, interview or make offers to candidates.

This specific season seemed as if there would be a great deal of ‘revenge travel.’ Feeling that we’re at the near end of the pandemic, families booked trips to get away or see family and friends who they haven’t seen in person for almost two years. 

The sudden unwanted introduction of the Omicron variant may derail travel plans and throw cold water on the hot job market. We’ve seen this play out with the original Covid-19 outbreak and again when the Delta variant emerged. In both instances, the initial response from businesses was to fire or furlough workers and put job openings on hold. 

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Due to the uncertainty surrounding this new virus strain, it’s reasonable for companies to take a wait-and-see approach. Management wouldn’t want to spend the time, money and energy to bring a new person onboard, invest in training them, only to later let them go in a few weeks. It’s easier and expedient for the leadership to say ‘let’s wait until the New Year—see what happens with the Omicron variant— then make a decision to start hiring again.’

A candidate who currently holds a job, but seeking something better, may also elect to place their job search on hold. She doesn’t want to be the ‘last one hired and first to be fired.’ Similar to management, they’ll wait out the holiday season, enjoy the time period, and reevaluate the job market in mid-January.

There are other factors at play too. Recently enacted travel bans on people in parts of Africa, initiated by President Joe Biden, supply chain disruptions, rapidly increasing inflation and the possibility of enhanced mask-wearing and vaccination mandates, lockdowns and public school closures may distract both companies and individuals from interviewing. Executives may feel that if the variant turns out to be really bad, the economy and stock market could take a hit, and the job market may appreciably  slowdown. 

Another variable is that businesses are still figuring out their return-to-office plans. The surge of the Delta variant made many companies push back their programs and focus primarily on hybrid and remote work models.

If a company told their people to return to their offices either on a fulltime or hybrid basis, their plans could be scuttled. It wouldn’t appear fair to make people commute into a big city that could be impacted by the original Covid-19 virus, Delta variant and the new Omicron strain. 

These factors present too many risks. Business leaders will conclude it’s better to wait than risk alienating employees and potentially subjecting them to potential health hazards. It would be much simpler—with less legal liabilities— to allow everyone to continue working remotely and place a freeze on hiring until there is greater visibility.

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