What do you mean “back to work”? WTF do you think we’ve been doing?

By Kurt In Career Development On July 8, 2021

So let me get this straight, you expect me to get back into my business casual (if I can fit), hop in my car and joyfully endure the hour plus each way commute that I’ve largely forgotten about, park myself in my cubicle in our noisy and distraction filled open office environment, and… be excited about it!  For the same money?  And you’re calling that “back to work?”

Wait, what?  There’s an open position in my field and I should be “oh boy” excited about it!  Shouldn’t I be grateful that big-giant-corporation has seen fit to offer up this glorious opportunity with its average compensation, two week vacation, limited benefits, and endless hours?

Oh, and now you’re mad at me and don’t understand.  I’m ungrateful, don’t want to work, got spoiled by time at home, got lazy after being laid off and receiving stimulus payments?  Sure, that’s it.  Yep.  Talk about missing the forest for the trees!

We’re tired!

We need a break.  While you, politicians, CEO’s, and celebrity talking heads may have been mildly inconvenienced by the pandemic, stuck at your compound or confined to your yacht, perhaps feeling guilty because you couldn’t send Biff and Buffy to summer in Europe (with a rolling “R”) this past year, as is tradition; the rest of us have been holed up and working, seated on toilet lids with laptops on TV trays in the unfinished basement half-baths we converted into “offices” because they were the only places in the house that were quiet, occasionally.

For a lot of us, the last year and a half was a blur of fear, stress, and gymnastic level contortions as we learned how to manage WFH while living in extra close contact with our kids, spouses-partners, pets, and the pandemic – and no breaks!  And now, you’re (politicians and employers) in a big hurry for us to “return to normal.”  Well, “normal” has changed and based on a lot of the news lately, so have we.  During the pandemic, we discovered that not only could our jobs be done differently – with more flexibility and fewer physical or temporal tethers, but also that we could live with less or just live differently. Our normal changed.  Our priorities changed.  And, despite everything, we kept you afloat.  In fact, if the stock market is any indicator, we did better than keeping you afloat.

We remember the rat race you call normal.

We remember commuting.  We remember long hours at the office.  We remember endless meetings.  We remember business travel.  And maybe, we don’t want it back.  Maybe we want something different.  Or, maybe we just need some time to breathe after everything, perhaps some acknowledgement of what we all experienced, and how hard we really did work.

Acknowledgement?  Yes, acknowledgement of the extreme effort, sacrifices, and mental and physical difficulties that we endured.  A lot of people are just not ready to go from the stress of the pandemic directly back to the stress of work without time to decompress.  While politicians and employers are thrilled that the economy is roaring back to life, the rest of us are tired.  We’re not in the mood for anything to come “roaring back” really.  If anything, a lot of us would just like to put everything down for a minute (a week or two), step outside, take a deep breath, and try to relax.  There needs to be a gap here – a middle space between the pandemic and “normal” where we can gather ourselves and refocus.

Employers and politicians may want us to come rushing back to work but we need time to remember why we worked and lived like that in the first place.  Why were we doing it?  What were our values?  Material things?  Bigger, better homes, newer appliances and cars?  Career pursuit?  Are those still our values?  Has the pandemic changed us?  If so, what are our values now?

What if we don’t want to?

Maybe we can’t or simply don’t want to return to normal that way it was.  Don’t believe me?  Here are just a few of the headlines from the last few weeks:

I am seeing this anecdotally as well.  True confession: I’m not the person I described above.  I am a recruiter (agency owner) and part time writer who has worked from home for over 25 years.  However – big however, my clients are the employers who are struggling to fill jobs and I’m working on their assignments right now.  It’s not going well.

On one side, I’m talking to lots of candidates who are reluctant to make moves, who want more flexibility, work from home opportunities, and more compensation.  They are opting out in droves.  They are turning down offers.  Even early career candidates, those who are single, renting, 5-10 years out of college; the ones that are usually receptive to career growth that includes relocation, they aren’t interested or simply want more.  It’s not just compensation either, people want more flexibility, more meaning, more something…

On the other side, I’ve got employers who are excited to the point of arrogance about having jobs to offer and need people but are totally misreading the market.  The level of tone deafness is astounding.  They think people are lining up for jobs, begging to come back, so much so that they are not offering anything more in terms of flexibility or compensation.  In fact in some cases they are offering less.  I have had multiple projects this year in which employers have offered employed high level candidates LESS than their current compensation with the expectation that this is acceptable.  They were wrong and in every case, the candidates turned down the offers.

As a market, we are experiencing a kind of correction.  I don’t know if an employment market correction is like a stock market correction or housing market correction in which all of a sudden, buyers conclude that the equities on offer are simply overvalued and walk away causing prices to fall.  However maybe it is but the roles are reversed somehow.  Usually employers are seen as buyers (of talent) and people/employees are seen as sellers (of skills).  In that scenario, people are equity.  We’ve all heard the expression that a company’s most valuable asset is its people.  The correction we are experiencing now though is one in which the value placed on the equity (people) is too low and the sellers (of talent) aren’t selling.  There are plenty of jobs available and, ostensibly, there are plenty of people looking.  The reason that people are not pursuing and taking the jobs that are available is simply that the jobs are not compelling.

This is a correction because like all corrections it will change.  At some point, either people will become desperate enough to take what’s on offer or employers will figure out how to make their jobs more compelling.  If I were to place a bet, I would wager that it will be employers who will ultimately have to do more to get people interested.  We’re tough.  We just went through a pandemic and we’ve adjusted.  A lot of us can wait it out or just live differently.  It is likely that “the way it was” will remain the way it was and going forward there will be a new way.

Parting thoughts

It took me a while to write this and I would love some feedbac.  I’ve felt that we all need a kind of wellness break and that employers and politicians weren’t getting it but I wasn’t sure if it was just me.  Does anyone else feel this way?  Please comment or share if I’m striking a chord (or if I’m missing wildly!).  Thank you.

Kurt Schmidt is the author of “Modern Job Search” and the President of CPI Talent, an executive search firm focused on supply chain and strategic sourcing jobs in manufacturing and energy. 

Photo: Stop and Bullets, Monument Valley, Utah 


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