The Washington Post recently published a study revealing that a third of all American workers under 40 – and a significant 22% of all US employees – are now seeking a new career challenge.
For some it’s because they, or a close family member, were taken ill during the pandemic. For others it’s because lockdown has led them to re-evaluate what’s really important and they’ve decided they want something different from both their work and their career.
As one law firm employee put it: “If you come out of the pandemic the same as you were, you’ve missed an opportunity to evolve and grow as a person, I just realised I needed to do better.”
The Post claims that the pandemic has created a ‘carpe diem’ effect where people have become acutely aware of how short life can be and are now questioning their life choices. In other words, Americans are fundamentally re-imagining their relationships with the workplace.
Research by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) takes this observation a step further, suggesting change is manifesting itself in a number of ways:
- Workers Feel More Powerful Than Ever: They want better conditions, better jobs, and better pay – they mostly want more flexibility from employers.
- Housing Costs Are Higher: In particular, locations where it’s possible to live away from major cities and still have access to them when needed.
- E-commerce Has Exploded: growing three times faster in 2020 than previously experienced.
MGI predicts that over a quarter of all office-based workers will now spend some time at home as workers come to expect greater flexibility. And it is not just in the US where attitudes are changing.
Just last week in the UK, for example, there was much debate about civil servants taking longer to return to the office than Government officials expected – with many workers claiming they don’t want to return, and that 2020 proved the business case for work from home (WFH).
When the 2020 UK HomeAgent Survey asked long term homeworkers why they work from home they gave three main reasons:
- To Achieve a Better Work–Life Balance by fitting work hours around their other daily commitments
- To Eliminate Time Wasted Commuting
- To Eliminate the Cost of Commuting
The survey was conducted prior to lockdown.
WFH is not the same as flexible working but they are often very close. Indeed, people who choose to WFH often do so because of the flexibility they gain to work the hours they want around their other daily commitments.
But for most employers who genuinely wish to embrace ‘flexibility’ it goes beyond just offering flexible hours. It’s about the culture of the organisation. It’s the ability to take a day off without needing to fake an illness. It’s about feeling that you are valued as a team member and knowing that the work you are doing is helping other people.
It’s not that American workers are throwing down their tools and having an existential crisis because they feel their work has no value.
In many cases it’s probably because they would be happy to continue in their job, but now want the ability to balance their family life and commitments with work and to feel genuinely valued by their employer.
The kind of ‘forced WFH’ we saw at the start of the pandemic was far from flexible. In this situation, employees were expected to match their normal office hours from home – a solid 8-hour shift from the living room.
WFH is an important component of the flexibility that many employees are now looking for, but it’s not the complete answer.