The Pandemic-iversary Might Make You Want a New Job

If you’re thinking it might be time to switch jobs, you’ve got plenty of company. Those executives who are making news for departing Goldman Sachs, Amazon, Citigroup and Disney are only doing what lots of peons wish they could. A November survey by an HR firm found that 64% of U.S. workers were interested in changing jobs.

The temptation may be especially strong right now for a few reasons.

First, we’re approaching the one-year anniversary of the WHO declaring Covid-19 a pandemic and lockdown orders sweeping the globe. Anniversaries often bring a desire to change jobs, although usually these are work anniversaries, birthdays and class reunions. Maybe now, the pandemic-iversary is having a similar effect.

There may also be some pent-up demand for change; earlier in the pandemic, when the economy was so uncertain, it was natural to hunker down. Some itchy-footed employees may have put off their job searches until “after the pandemic.” Now it seems clear there’s no point in waiting.

Because the economy, for professional workers, is chugging along fine. Companies in unscathed industries are still hiring. For those earning more than $60,000, the employment rate is up nearly 3% from pre-pandemic levels. (It’s a different story for those earning less than $27,000. For this group, employment is down 21%.) Also, since the start of the pandemic, Americans have saved an extra $1.3 trillion (and counting), perhaps giving job-seekers the financial cushion they need to make the leap.

Saving has come easy, because there’s not a whole lot to spend money on. (Netflix or Hulu? Takeout or … takeout?) Yes, some people have moved; some have gotten divorced. But most of us have not. So changing jobs may seem like the only way to break the monotony.

Another reason for restlessness: unsettling changes in corporate culture. Remote work has not been equally kind to all companies. Working from home can accentuate aspects of company culture that employees aren’t wild about.

For example, it used to be challenging but tolerable to work for a company with too many meetings. (Many of us secretly enjoy meetings, even if we gripe about them; we like socializing — and, let’s be honest, hearing ourselves talk.) But Stanford researchers have confirmed that video meetings are more tiring than the in-person variety, and don’t provide the same social rewards. If a too-many-meetings company has become a too-many-Zoom-calls company, employees might decamp for a place that more skillfully embraces remote work.

The past 12 months have also stripped away the perks from many professional gigs. It used to be that, in exchange for long hours, people in fields such as sales, advertising, consulting, finance, law and tech enjoyed work travel, plush offices, catered lunches, on-site yoga, company tickets to sporting events, the Friday beer cart. Those have all gone poof. Some might now feel spurred to look for a job where the work itself is more intrinsically interesting or meaningful.

And let’s not underestimate burnout. Professionals are now burdened with more work than before. In one survey, almost 90% of workers said their workplace well-being had declined, most often because of increased job demands. (Loss of human connection came in a distant second.) Remote workers put in three more hours a day, according to one early estimate. By December, 70% were working on weekends and 45% were clocking more hours during the week, the Society for Human Resource Management reported.

In some cases, this extra work may be a response to rising demand. But in many cases, it happens for no good reason. One way to stop it is to get off the merry-go-round and find a new playground.

For managers worried about retention, the solutions are obvious — if not always easy to pull off.

Managers often have more influence over their employees’ work lives than they realize, and can mitigate burnout by, for example, cutting the number or duration of meetings and establishing (and politely enforcing) norms around email responsiveness. A boss who avoids weekend emailing — and reminds Slack-happy colleagues to cool it on nights and weekends — can help employees regain control over their time. Some organizations have responded to employee burnout by giving people early-release Fridays, four-day weeks or once-a-month long weekends. Concerned bosses can also encourage people to take time off (and show them it’s really OK to do so by taking time themselves).

Then there’s all the stuff good managers are supposed to do during normal times: offering praise; talking with people about their career development; making sure work feels appropriately challenging, meaningful and interesting; saying thank you. (Just please, don’t show up at people’s houses.) All those good-management basics become more important in a crisis. Even — or especially — if that crisis goes on for a year.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Sarah Green Carmichael is an editor with Bloomberg Opinion. She was previously managing editor of ideas and commentary at Barron’s, and an executive editor at Harvard Business Review, where she hosted the HBR Ideacast.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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