Will Your Job Return?

A new government report suggests 80% of the pandemic job losses are temporary. But will people’s roles change?

The fear has been in the minds of millions laid off during the height of the pandemic this spring. And it is a fear that only grows as company executives discuss plans to trim their organizations for a post-pandemic world.

But a new government report suggests that contrary to talk of permanent job losses, more than 80% of COVID-related layoffs are likely to be temporary. In fact, other reports suggest significant rehiring is already occurring in some sectors at a little-noticed but impressive pace. “Most of the jobs lost due to the government shutdowns will come back when the economy opens up,” says Nathan Blain, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and the firm’s global leader of organizational strategy and digital transformation. “The question is: When?”

To be sure, the number of permanent job losses is expected to increase. Experts say that many organizations are taking a hard look at the roles they dropped—with an eye toward slimming down operations. Other leaders, meanwhile, are looking to speed up their digital transformation plans, which would also reduce staffing.

But a report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers said special government aid to companies and laid-off workers had greatly minimized permanent job losses and will allow companies to keep many layoffs temporary. Through July, about a third of jobs lost during the height of the COVID pandemic have been recovered, including about 50% in fields such as construction and the leisure and hospitality sectors. On the other end of the spectrum, industries including information, telecommunications, and publishing were still shedding workers.

To some degree, according to Jamen Graves, a Korn Ferry senior partner in leadership and talent consulting, the pandemic appears to have only accelerated a foundational shift in the nature of work. Remote work, for example, is fundamentally changing how organizations look at the value of each job and the best way to reward them. “It is too simple to look at the spectrum of jobs lost and forecast how many will return and which ones will fall away,” he says.

For his part, Blain says firms that have become more digital have given their leaders more confidence and motivation to accelerate broad changes in how their firms work with consumers—and what roles their workers will play in that. That will likely require leaders to focus more on greater worker agility. “People may end up returning to work, but their jobs won’t be the same,” he says.