This is an expanded version of an article submitted to LinkedIn in response to a provided writing prompt to discuss the rocketing trend of employees opting to quit their jobs in lieu of returning to a physical office.
Have you heard? The working world is about to get shook. Fourteen months ago, many of our employers sent us home for a while as the pandemic settled into our office and public spaces. This coincided with many of our schools sending our children coming home for a while as their academic paths became protected from a coming virus. As a while comes to an end, there have been an influx of articles, studies, and predictions on how that break from normalcy would affect our students. What was missed in many of those articles, studies, and predictions was how that return would affect our workplaces.
Throughout the end of the 2020 academic year and the entirety of this one, we’ve gotten emails daily – typically in packs – from our school district with tips and tricks for navigating the oddity that was social distance learning. As my masked child stepped off the bus for the last time two days ago, he brought with him a wave of relief that we didn’t even know we were expecting. Since then, we have felt lighter – as if a space in the worried parents sector of our brains has been retired. I suppose that feeling is most common among we mothers – us who have spent endless hours offering chances for our children to thrive (sort of) in strange circumstances. Well, now what? What will be our legacy when we no longer have to make an upside down world seem super chill and casual?
For me, the familiarity of my job nestled around me each morning like a security blanket. From the get go (or the end go?), my company developed a heightened attitude of we’re in this together. I know that makes me one of the lucky ones. I know many people whose companies were not only unable to keep them employed, but eventually had to shutter their doors for good. I know many people from my own company who were let go – victims of dwindling economic resources affecting our bottom line. Each time layoffs were announced, we were assured that that was probably it or you’re probably safe now. A potential pink slip propelled many of us into high performance mode while leaving us with a humming what if zipping through our heads for nearly two years.
As the economy begins to emerge from its slumber, so does the list of possibilities that many of us have kept stowed away. There will likely be a second awakening – this one focused on our aspirations list with the the addition of a few new bullet points that many of us had never included before. It’s as if that feeling of survival has implanted a sense of confidence into our formerly murky future plans. As we struggled to stay put – both within the job force and within our homes – we had time to really think about all the things that we might change if.
If we make it through this, we will take that frivolous vacation we’ve always wanted to take. If we make it through this, we’ll return to academic life for a degree we wish we had gotten. If we make it through this, we’ll pick up that hobby we’ve never had time for. If we make it through this, we won’t go back to the nearly forgotten hustle and bustle. If we make it through this, we’ll flip our career path on its head.
We have weighed the perks of our current positions against a new set of values born via confinement. We have seen that life is fragile and short – some more closely and tragically than others. We have re-discovered the things that really mattered to us before; before forgetting them was made easy by chaotic lives. We have worked hard to figure out the balance of work-from-home life with being-home life and we like it. Our discovery of a new way to have it all thru combining virtual time at the office with physical time with our families, with our covid pods, and, now, with our missed extended circles. The rat race has been cancelled replaced with a move back to punching out with a lack of guilt or a feeling of needing to be in two places at once.
If we make it through this, we’ll make some of the changes forced on us in solitude permanent parts of our lives. If we make it through this, we will be brave. If we make it through this, we will jump…where before we would have remained safely still.
Corporate America is already hearing whispers of a great migration. As companies sound the call for their employees to dig out their dusty badges and swipe back in, an unexpected response of thanks, but no thanks is being returned in lieu of actual bodies. Companies are being left to stammer a come back, or else only to be met with I will take the ‘else’. Employees have found that that role is now secondary to what is really important. The corporate world is quickly finding it’s position on the priority list has been shifted down.
If we make it through this, I’ll never go back.
And if has arrived.