Employers, take note: Your work-from-home talent are reevaluating their lives after a year of sheltering in place. They are ready to take chances, challenge norms, follow dreams, and explore options. White-collar workers have been emboldened after a year of immobility, uncertainty, and involuntary frugality. While fortunate enough to have kept working through the pandemic, they have been surrounded by terrible news in a static environment, which is enough to cause anyone to reassess goals.
As a result, we are seeing dramatic life changes among the securely employed. As Kevin Roose writes in a recent New York Times article, “a daredevil spirit seems to be infecting even the kinds of risk-averse overachievers who typically cling to the career ladder.” Many of these workers have amassed savings through stimulus checks, increased work responsibilities, expanded benefits, restricted lifestyles during COVID-19, and a bullish stock market. Now that a reemergence is imminent—a post-pandemic world on the horizon—typically cautious employees may regard a return to normalcy as less reassuring and more threatening to their quality of life.
Career changes are becoming more common, as are long sabbaticals from work to travel or pursue an independent venture long postponed for the sake of job security. Roose cites a recent Microsoft survey that found 40 percent of workers around the world are seriously considering leaving their jobs within the year. As unemployment figures improve with a recovering economy, employers may find themselves facing greater turnover and increasing demands from workers eager for change.
Working from home during the pandemic demonstrated that an unconventional work arrangement is possible, and for many, returning to an office seems unnecessary. Employers may have to accommodate a variety of working conditions in order to sustain morale during this transition period. “Flexibility” may be the key word in job descriptions as organizations seek talent to fill new positions. Tailored benefits, greater allowances for work-life balance, and hours that conform to a worker’s personal schedule may all be factors that entice job candidates in this new climate of reevaluation. As Roose notes, many tech companies are already trying to appease their disenchanted workforce: “LinkedIn recently gave the majority of its employees a paid week off, while Twitter employees have been given an extra day off per month to recharge under a program called #DayofRest.”
Employers should not look at these changes as necessarily threatening. The enforced experiment of remote work during the pandemic was not ideal for anyone, but if nothing else, it showed that even the most basic concepts like an “office” have elastic properties that can serve the bottom line of a business in multiple ways. Twitter may discover that an extra day off per month results in redoubled efforts upon return, more than compensating for whatever productivity was lost in a day’s absence. Reframing a job under new conceptions of the workday and the workplace may dramatically increase engagement and head off massive departures, avoiding the substantial expense of turnover.
I recommend being sensitive to this mood of discovery and change. Embrace it by exploring the ways in which a unique demand from a worker can serve your productivity if you simply show you’re open to making accommodations within reason. You may find that a sympathetic, substantive response to an individual employee’s desire can ultimately become a cultural attribute that draws talent your way.