Amid a return to semi-normality, there’s a lot of talk about what the post-pandemic workplace should look like–for instance, how many hours of labor per week and how flex-time might better revolve around the diversely-configured lives of employees.
Bryce Covert addresses some of these concerns in a guest essay in the NYT: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/20/opinion/covid-return-to-office.html
Covert suggests that many have learned something during the past 15+ months of working from home, meeting with coworkers over zoom, and coping with job pressures on one hand while the other hand is engaged in child care, remote school, disinfecting for ourselves and those in our social bubble, and so on. The biggest lesson, perhaps, is that the culturally-mandated daily grind–eight hours a day five days a week at the office–isn’t the only, or possibly, best way to return to work.
The author acknowledges that not all of us were juggling work responsibilities from home in the same way during the COVID crisis. Some, in fact, found themselves struggling to find enough to do–either realizing that their positions weren’t quite as demanding as they once thought after commute time and other time wasters were no longer part of the routine or finding it hard to make ends meet, as they faced layoffs and reduced hours.
Simply put, the pandemic separated much of the population into two groups: those who worked their regular hours plus some as they accommodated the particular challenges of doing their jobs remotely and those who would have given anything for a secure position or more hours needed to survive. Of course, other “groups” were/are also in the mix, but Covert–alongside Susan Lambert, the expert she cites–considers how we might balance out the workload a bit more equally. Rather than encouraging workforce “overachievers” (individuals logging 45+ hours a week), why not reduce their workload to provide more stable employment to those in need of a better job and enough pay to support their families?
Might we all be a bit happier?
It’s a profound question that, frankly, is difficult to answer. I think that beyond what’s expected of us on the job (i.e., the pressure to clock so many hours and to demonstrate tangible deliverables), some people thrive on work. The more, the better. There’s a kind of rush that comes with taking on yet another task and seeing it through to completion.
At the end of the day, I think we need to ask “why we work” and how our answers shape how we define what we do to etch out a living.
I currently hold down multiple jobs. I am a professor of writing at a university, manage my family’s grain farm in Illinois from Birmingham, AL, and care for my soon-to-be 85-year-old mother. On a given day, I might split my time between a doctor’s office visit with Mom, a classroom full of students, and phone calls with grain elevator managers and crop insurance reps.
Today is a case in point. I spent the morning with Mom before working my way through a stack of farm mail. This afternoon, I devoted a couple of hours to jotting down notes from a new book on grain marketing that I hope will help me to make more strategic decisions about selling our crop of corn and soybeans. After dinner, I’ll get back to work on my book, a labor of love in two senses: I love to write and I love the subject matter about which I’m writing (our family’s farm and how it has influenced my perspective on the world).
Most of us work because we have to. Without a paycheck, we can’t afford the basic necessities or any of the nonessential luxuries that we tell ourselves we can’t live without. But I think our world would be a better place if more of us found satisfaction in the work we do, however long the hours might be.