I am known to write with palpable bias about the perils of social media and extended screen time. About the brainwashing perfectionism and bragging in the narcissistic posts. About the pros and cons of virtual meetings and remote work. Now it’s time to examine the evolved norms that are resulting from the lengthy global pandemic. In particular, as they relate to work and careers.
Our beliefs and mindsets are established and challenged by our experiences. As Covid immunity rises, case counts fall, and there is evidence of re-emergence, the societal puzzle is altered and it seems the pieces may no longer fit together. And some are even missing.
Nineteen months after shut down, there is no such thing as a return to the office as though you had been on a long vacation. Tentative openings have protocols. Back to work and to the commute is often optional, or at the very least, part-time. What’s being called the great Pandemic Pivot has workforces depleted, the hospitality industry gutted of its hourly employees, and people questioning more than ever whether their work aligns with their values and lifestyle choices. The reverberations are endless, alarming and exciting.
It turns out that those employers, previously resistant to requests for work-from-home opportunities, were needlessly distrustful. We now have a mental health crisis that is in part the result of employees working too long hours. Being available without setting boundaries. Picking up the slack as resignations mount and there is a dearth of talent. Corporate leaders now have proof that most people are intrinsically motivated and perhaps more mature and independent than they once believed.
Another revelation that has emerged is the “shecession.” Despite progress in many sectors, women still bear the responsibility for the majority of caregiving, homeschooling, and household management. And only the very few with corner offices, have executive assistants. I watch with interest how organizations are trying to meet their diversity and inclusion targets. And I observe with skepticism the desperate measures of surprise promotions, fast-tracking, and “skipping the line” that occur when metrics negate merit. The school of hard knocks and trial by fire has many beaten and charred bodies.
In a recent conversation with two female mid-career millennials, they shared that being in meetings, on-camera from the torso up, gave them a sense of empowerment. Regardless of position or title, each face on the screen had equal space. They were protected from the unspoken appraisal of their wardrobe, hair, and body shape that was always sensed when walking into a meeting. Without that initial experience of judgment, they felt more energized and confident.
The downside of the flat screen workplace is the waning of loyalty. This may well be another wave in the pandemic. Long-time employees, previously committed to their team, their leader, their organization, are feeling detached. Without social connection, physical sharing of space, and spontaneous comradery, they are more willing to move for a different experience, more flexibility, or more money. I am witnessing less emphasis on career, more thoughts about work and lifestyle blends.
I suppose this is the next wave. One of lingering, likely ever-present Covid cases, a reluctant and disrupted workforce, and business being anything but as usual. The rise of mental health considerations resets on work-life balance, and the exploration of values and vocational alignment, are in my view, the next frontier on humanizing the corporate world. This generation of workers is speaking, leaders must listen.
At least, that is my experience.