Work and well-being in a post-pandemic world

Has the way we work changed for the better post-pandemic?

Three years have passed since the global lockdowns of COVID-19. Gone are the days of commuting every day into the office, boundaries between home and work-life are viewed with respect instead of disdain, and overworking yourself to the point of exhaustion is no longer seen as a virtue. 

However, dig a little deeper behind the surface and it appears that these progressive tenets are slowly being reversed. Workers in various industries don’t feel valued at all. Quite the opposite: they feel overworked and underpaid. What happened? 

  1. Economic collapse

The pandemic and subsequent economic crash – cemented by the Ukraine/Russia conflict- has impacted company expectations of their employees. For companies that were able to sustain themselves through the pandemic, there’s a concerted effort to keep costs low and productivity high. This has resulted in a heavier emphasis on the “pull yourself up from the bootstraps” notion of the past, and a reinforcement of company needs over individual needs. 

Discourse around remote work seems to have taken a u-turn; notably the most wealthy have been the most vocal. Take, for example, Elon Musk’s declaration that “remote work is morally wrong” and that workers need to, “Get off the goddamn moral high horse with the work-from-home bullsh*t.” This was shortly after an email in June 2022 from Musk warning his employees that they would be fired if they didn’t spend a minimum of 40 hours at the office a week, anything less would be “phoning it in.”

Best-selling author, Malcolm Gladwell, during his appearance on the “Diary of a CEO” podcast made the bold claim that working from home was psychologically damaging,

“It’s not in your best interest to work at home. I know it’s a hassle to come into the office, but if you’re just sitting in your pyjamas in your bedroom, is that the work-life you want to live?”

Fans of Gladwell were surprised at his contradictory remarks considering his highly publicised “disdain for office work. “I hate desks… Desks are now banished,” Gladwell – who has worked remotely for approximately 20 years – told the Guardian.

And who can forget Kim Kardashian and Molly Mae’s irrespective but similar disdainful comments regarding modern work attitudes with one claiming that ”nobody wants to work these days…get your fu**ing ass up and work!” and the other claiming that we all have the same hours in a day as Beyonce to become prosperous. 

Each of the people above has faced backlash for expressing a narrow-minded perspective of the average modern worker, justifiably so. The cost of living has been so astronomical -from food prices and power bills to travel costs and childcare- that wages of the pre-covid era simply aren’t enough. 

Quite simply, the average worker can’t afford to employ the same amenities and staff as Musk, Kardashian, or Beyonce that would allow them to devote as much time and energy that some companies deem acceptable. 

  1. Misunderstandings and misalignment

The misalignment between workers and organisations has been evidenced by global strikes and protests; from mass civil union strikes in the UK and the WGA strikes in the US, to the ferocious protests in France after the retirement age was raised. 

Statements from the entrepreneurs quoted above negate that a majority of people are already working hard; they are sacrificing child milestones, working multiple jobs, and pushing through mental and physical issues to make ends meet. Ironically these are the same people that wealthy corporate executives rely on to be able to maintain a work-life balance.  

The events of COVID-19 meant facing the fragility and unpredictable nature of life on a shared conscious level. Thoughts about whether the happiness of the present was worth trading for the happiness of an unknowable future came to the forefront.

Balance is necessary to the equilibrium of human beings but for many, it feels as though only a select part of society is worthy of it.

  1. Old habits die hard

After times of crisis, it’s not unusual to compartmentalise fear and uncertainty in order to return to what’s familiar, even if what’s familiar isn’t necessarily comfortable.

If we place the familiarity principle in the context of work relationships, it’s easier to understand why some people find it difficult to leave organisations that refuse to adjust to the progressive landscape; the discomfort of entering the unknown can outweigh the dissatisfaction of the current situation. 

Pushing for change

The push for autonomy, value, and balance doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. The “no sleep” and “hustle hard” verbiage of pre-COVID has an air of anachronism now that a majority of the population has adapted to a different way of working. 

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