Award For Best Entry In Fed Beige Book Economic Report : Planet Money : The Indicator from Planet Money Restaurant owners washing their own dishes? Shipping containers changing all prices mid-delivery? The rise of the spooky, surf-happy employee? It's the Beigie Awards!

The Beigie Awards: From Coasting To Ghosting

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SYLVIE DOUGLIS, BYLINE: NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE")

ROBERT SMITH, HOST:

Adrian Ma.

ADRIAN MA, BYLINE: Robert Smith.

SMITH: I know everyone's super excited to have you on board here at THE INDICATOR. And I know you're new and everything, but did anyone mention something to you about what you're wearing - the dress code?

MA: What, this? You don't like the tuxedo.

SMITH: The tuxedo - (laughter) no. The tuxedo is awesome. The cravat and the top hat is a little bit much. And what's that behind you? What's that thing you're carrying?

MA: Oh, a red carpet.

SMITH: OK. OK, I get it. A certain obscure economic report from the Federal Reserve just came out clearly.

MA: The Beige Book.

SMITH: The Beige Book - for those who don't know, it's basically a collection of little economic anecdotes from the 12 different regional parts of the Federal Reserve. And, Adrian, you probably heard rumors that we make a big deal out of it here and do a fake award show and everything.

MA: Wait; hold up. The Beigies are fake.

SMITH: Oh no, no, no, the show and the tuxedos are fake. But the award is as real as it gets. Take it away, sir.

MA: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Beigie Awards. I'm your host, Adrian Ma.

SMITH: And I am a severely underdressed Robert Smith.

MA: It's OK.

SMITH: The September Beige Book just dropped. And, Adrian, I'm going to say the economy is getting weird. It's getting weird out there.

MA: Yeah, so many interesting quirky stories in this month's Beige Book.

SMITH: From restaurant bosses washing their own dishes to shipping containers stranded at the docks to the strangest new economic term we have ever heard, the Beigies this month have it all. We'll rip open the envelope and announce the winner right after the break.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MA: Welcome back to the Beigie awards. I'm your beige tuxedo-clad host, Adrian Ma.

SMITH: And I'm Robert Smith. The September Beige Book was a treat, and I know it sounds a little self-obsessed. But as I was reading it, I could have sworn that the 12 different regional Feds were writing it just for us. They know we love these oddball stories, and this report was filled with them.

MA: The big themes in this Beige Book were pretty clear. The economy is still expanding, but workers are harder to find. Prices are going up, but the delta variant is mentioned over and over again as a drag on the full reopening of the country.

SMITH: So we have these expansionary forces and these constraints, and where those two clash together - that is where the award-winning entries lie.

MA: Our second runner-up is the Philadelphia Fed for writing this evocative sentence in the Beige Book. Quote, "the ongoing lack of workers has forced smaller retail and restaurant owners back to the register, the kitchen and the dish room."

SMITH: Think about it. Bosses elbow-deep in sudsy water, scrubbing pans - my how the tables have turned.

MA: Look. I used to work as a server, so I get that joke. But, you know, smaller staffs mean everybody, not just the owners, is working harder, so that's the second runner-up. The first runner-up goes to the Cleveland Fed for a dramatic tale of inflation.

SMITH: And I'm quoting here. "One freight hauler was told by a truck producer that all of the 2022 orders were being canceled - canceled - and repriced because costs were changing so quickly."

MA: Like, oh, our mistake; we meant to charge you a lot more.

SMITH: Unbelievable - but as we were judging the Beigies this month, there was one entry, one Federal Reserve Bank that delivered an even better anecdote. The only problem - they won last time. And so we had this big debate. Should we allow repeat winners?

MA: It is unprecedented, but I'll allow it.

SMITH: Woo (ph), let's do it.

MA: The September Beigie goes to...

(SOUNDBITE OF ENVELOPE TEARING)

MA: ...The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

(APPLAUSE)

SMITH: And here to accept the award on behalf of the Atlanta Fed is...

ADRIENNE SLACK: Well, I am Adrienne Slack, the regional executive for the New Orleans Branch of the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank. And you could have knocked me over with a feather when I opened my little virtual envelope this afternoon and saw that we won the Beigie Award.

MA: And for the second time - the Atlanta Fed is basically the Meryl Streep of the Beigies.

SMITH: So normally, I'm a pretty hip guy. I know the slang that the kids are using these days, but you introduced a term in your entry in the Beige Book, which I had never heard before. And I'm just going to read this here. Restauranteurs noted concerns over ghosting coasting - ghosting as in when my friends don't text me back - ghosting - and coasting, like when you're riding a bicycle and you stop pedaling, and you just kind of fly down the hill. So what does ghosting coasting mean?

SLACK: So what it means is the employees come to work. And the restaurant industry in particular, it can be a tough place to work. It's very demanding. And as individuals that haven't necessarily worked in that industry before realize that, they realize they may not want to work in that particular job for very long, so they coast along through the onboarding process and training process, if you will, for a few days. And then they just ghost the employer and don't show up. And I'm hearing this from multiple contacts. Again, not just in the restaurant industry, but I hear it in manufacturing as well.

SMITH: Ghosting coasting - because we did read in other parts of the Beige Book that some people are getting significant bonuses for coming on board. Pay is up. We've seen that in all the districts at the Fed. And you can make a nice chunk of change in a week or two and, you're saying, not do anything, not learn how to work the fry machine.

SLACK: Yes, yes, and that's exactly what they're doing. So what that has the restaurants and the manufacturers thinking about is, how do we make our industries more attractive for the workforce? How do we address the reasons behind this ghosting coasting? So it's really about retention.

MA: We made some calls around the Atlanta district to see how employers were thinking about this, and we found this employment agency called Hire Dynamics.

I don't know if these are just, like, rumors. But, like, are the businesses you work with, like, worried about people ghosting?

JON NEFF: Ghosting is real. Unfortunately, it's becoming common. I would say turnover right now is at a fever pitch.

MA: Jon Neff runs Hire Dynamics. He says this huge tilt in the labor market has forced his company to operate differently than it used to. He says they spend a lot of time now advising employers on things like what wages or working conditions they should offer to be competitive. And more than ever, he says, they're trying to suss out what workers really want.

NEFF: Yeah, meet them in person. Get to know them personally, what motivates them. And also, are they truly committed?

MA: I mean, it's almost like you've always been in the business of being a matchmaker, but now you're also a relationship therapist.

NEFF: I like that, Adrian. Yeah, I - a relationship therapist and empathizing, right? But I've quickly followed with, here's some things that we together need to be thinking about.

SMITH: And this is why we're starting to see some things out there in the job market that were once unthinkable, like the recent news that Amazon will pay for college tuition for its warehouse employees just to keep them around.

MA: And Adrienne from the Atlanta Fed - she says she heard of one restaurant group that's considering offering down payment assistance on homes for workers who stick around a while and don't ghost, which, Robert, just remind me to look up where that restaurant is.

SMITH: (Laughter) Two times in a row for the Atlanta Fed - we asked Adrienne whether she was worried about her colleagues at the other regional feds, if maybe they would be - I don't know - a little intimidated next time.

SLACK: There's always room for a little healthy competition within the Fed. And so what I'd really like to take the opportunity to do is just throw the gauntlet down to the other 11 districts...

SMITH: Ooh.

SLACK: ...To stop the three-peat (ph).

SMITH: Oh, look at this. A dynasty is about to happen, people. We need great anecdotes out there for the next Beige Book.

SLACK: They all have them. I have faith in them.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SMITH: Ooh, that music means we are out of time. I'm Robert Smith, never ghosting.

MA: And I'm Adrian Ma, never coasting. Thank you for joining us for this edition of the Beigie Awards. They were produced by Brittany Cronin and fact-checked by Kaitlyn Nicholas. THE INDICATOR is edited by Kate Concannon and is a production of NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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