When I started thinking differently about the place of work in my life, in spring 2020 – not quite the “before time,” but before we realized how much the coronavirus would affect us, or for how long – there was obviously a lot of ink spilled on the subject of work, and of (so-called) “work-life balance”.
Back then, my perspective felt divergent. When I saw articles extolling the potentially greater productivity of workers who didn’t have to commute, they pissed me off. Who gave employers the idea that they could usurp the incremental productivity of people freed from the (unpaid!) work of commuting? That’s our time. It’s my time.
Now my thoughts feel less unique. The tone has changed. Pandemic or no pandemic, it seems a heck of a lot of people are happier being at home, alone or with their pets or their real families rather than their “work families”; having the flexibility to do what they need to do when they need to do it; maybe even getting more done in less time; not having to dress (or spend!) for success. Perhaps, not confronted on a daily basis by the strivers and the supervisors and the persuaders and the influencers in the office, we started to feel like our unmediated and unjudged selves a bit more. Hence, the “Great Resignation,” the national wave of “take this job and shove it.”
I know everyone’s waiting for this to all be over, but the ex-historian in me knows we could still be closer to the beginning than to the end. Just today there’s news of a worrisome new variant. I’m curious to know whether this reckoning of work will persist: will people continue to demand flexibility, to value their time more than their money; will they–those who can–excuse themselves from the frantic race? My kids aren’t beguiled by the kind of corporate overwork I unfortunately subjected myself to for so many years. Maybe they’re right, and we’re just figuring it out belatedly?