Sometimes work takes a backseat to current events
We're human. We feel things.
News from the other side of the world began to appear in my feed. First that Russia had invaded Ukraine. Then, that Ukraine was fighting back. People began to flee while others stayed to defend their country.
Finally, the headlines began to reflect what we all knew was happening: war.
It’s not the first time that I’ve felt helpless about a situation and it certainly won’t be the last. When such a massive world event emerges, it’s hard to know what to do. I’ve felt unsettled. Do I… go about my day? Do I reply to emails and pretend that nothing is going on? Do I assume that people on the other end of my communication feel the same way?
One of the last times that I was paralyzed by the news was on January 6th, 2021. Watching the attack on the U.S. Capitol was horrifying. I got an alert during the day that told me something was happening. I turned on live TV (a rarity for me) and kept it on for hours. It was jarring not knowing how the situation would end.
Ukraine, a much more violent attack, has been spread over several days now but evokes similar feelings of not knowing.
How employers respond during times like these speaks volumes. It can be “We care about how you’re feeling” or “we only care about us and the impact on our business.”
The pandemic broke the barrier of trust between many employers and employees. The distrust had been bubbling beneath the surface for years as employees worked long hours for mediocre pay and dwindling benefits. The often-repeated mantra was, “You should be grateful that you have a job.” And in return for loyalty—no matter what the personal cost—was the promise of stability.
No wonder there has been such a backlash, in the form of The Great Resignation (including my own). Layoffs, furloughs, and reduced pay removed the illusion of job security. Granted, most companies could never have foreseen such a disruption to their business models but still… The distrust festered as companies refused workplace flexibility to parents struggling with kids at home, ignored the mental health impacts of the pandemic, and demanded the same results.
It’s a sign of a toxic work environment to insist that “everything is fine” when it’s clearly not.
I know that feeling.
In July of 2020, the CEO of the company I worked at expressed frustration at below-average sales results, a tred that started at the onset of the pandemic. It had been four months, why weren’t people “used to the pandemic” by now, he wondered aloud in a meeting.
I replied that our lives were still disrupted. We were told that “a few weeks” of lockdown would be enough to curb the spread of coronavirus, and it didn’t. Millions of parents were still juggling kids at home, meaning they might not be working traditional hours. Separation from loved ones fueled isolation and loneliness. Many people, myself included, were simply trying to survive the day. It was understandable, therefore, that purchasing and implementing enterprise-wide software might not be a high priority for prospective customers.
That was one of the moments when I realized how little he cared. He lacked empathy in a situation that didn’t impact him directly. He had no children at home and his pandemic experience was one of boredom. “Why haven’t sales results returned to normal?” Because. The global situation has not returned to normal.
My experience was not unique. It’s no wonder that 46 percent of employees who left their jobs in the past 6 months cited the “desire to work with people who trust and care for each other” as a reason to quit, according to a survey by McKinsey.
And the care needs to be genuine, far more than lip service paid to “take care of yourself.” Employers that truly care understand that life exists outside of work, whether it is a personal situation or one that affects us all.
In the News: NYC Mayor decries remote work
New York City mayor Eric Adams continues to rail against remote work. New York, like many cities, has seen an economic impact as a result of remote work, from fewer people eating out to reduced demand on services like dry cleaning.
Yet Adams’s approach — “you can’t stay home in your pajamas all day” in unappealing. Why trade comfortable clothes for office attire and a long commute?
Instead, leaders should examine other ways to revitalize their cities, including the rethinking of office spaces, coworking options, or new delivery services.
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