Musk’s not wrong: People really are less willing to work post-pandemic—and Covid handouts could be the cause

Elon Musk has arguably been white-collar workers’ loudest critic, accusing remote workers of “pretending to work” and the American workforce of “trying to avoid going to work at all” in the aftermath of the pandemic—but as it turns out, he might be right.

New research from the world’s most senior central bankers has found that people really are less willing to work. The Bank of International Settlements (BIS) said “workers’ preferences have shifted in favor of fewer working hours” since the pandemic.

While Musk has generally blamed the West’s unwillingness to work longer hours on workers’ sheer laziness, the BIS has blamed the phenomenon on Covid handouts.

The economists found a direct link between countries that gave citizens the biggest handouts during the pandemic in the States, Canada, and the U.K. and worker’s willingness (or lack thereof) to work.

“In addition to being held back by health concerns, [workforce] participation has been recovering more slowly where pandemic-related fiscal support was larger,” the BIS concluded. 

No-strings-attached support was detrimental

In Britain, 11.7 million employees were furloughed during the pandemic at a cost of £70 billion ($88 billion) to the government. Similarly, the American government spent trillions of dollars on its job-saving Paycheck Protection Program. Meanwhile, the Canadian government splashed out $83.5 billion on the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program.

Such schemes temporarily paid workers while work had dried up and, according to the BIS, the no-strings-attached support has left people disillusioned with work. 

While most countries’ workforces have recovered to the levels they were at pre-pandemic, the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. are exceptions to the status quo. 

In Britain, for example, there were 191,000 fewer people in jobs in June this year compared to before the pandemic, according to the Office for National Statistics. Plus, those who do have jobs are working less than they were pre-pandemic; The average work week is around one hour shorter today than in 2019.

“There has been this apparent change in the attitude towards work and the way we think about work and the labor market,” Hyun-Song Shin, the head of research at BIS, told The Telegraph.

Musk: Longtime WFH critic

Musk has long been a critic of the post-pandemic workforce, especially those who continue to work remotely. 

The billionaire made it his first order of business to end Twitter’s “work from anywhere” policy when he took its helm (before rebranding the social media network to X) last year. 

He has also taken the same approach at his other companies, SpaceX and Tesla where he wants workers in the office for at least 40 hours a week because he doesn’t believe remote workers actually work. 

“All the Covid stay-at-home stuff has tricked people into thinking that you don’t actually need to work hard,” he wrote on X, last year—and he hasn’t changed his tune.

Earlier this year, Musk, praised his Chinese workers for “burning the 3am oil” and not leaving the factory for the likes of going to sleep, “whereas in America people are trying to avoid going to work at all.”

He’s also told remote workers to “get off their moral high horse” and that they’re detached from reality and giving off “Marie Antoinette vibes”.

X responded “busy now, please check back later” to Fortune’s request for comment.

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