Critiquing Work Culture in Pandemic Times

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the work culture in the West – specifically, here in North America. I’ll be describing this from my own experience and those I’ve noticed in others, but if you have a different work culture you are currently experiencing, I’d love to hear more about it!

I am particularly interested in work culture in the times of the pandemic and increased unrest throughout the world – most notably, with the war that has broken out with the invasion of Russian forces into Ukraine. Despite increasing unrest throughout the world, work culture hasn’t really changed. To some extent, I understand… for business purposes, I suppose many things need to continue on as normal. But to continue to do so after over two years of a deadly pandemic, violent outbreaks, and now a dangerous war – it seems very out of touch with reality. To me, carrying on as normal when things are so clearly not normal just makes me feel awful. I am sure I am not the only one feeling this way. It really doesn’t make sense to me and sometimes it feels very difficult to find that will to keep going, in the midst of global upheaval.

I have seen many people note on the internet that returning to normalcy or who we were before the pandemic isn’t even really a possibility because of everything that has happened collectively in the past two years. It’s scary to say that, but I believe it’s true. Think about it: are you the same person today that you were two years ago? I know that I definitely am not. For me, I do think I have changed in some ways that are beneficial, such as focusing more on my mental health; but the fact that we are still largely expected as a society to “carry on as normal” is disturbing.

One of the most relatable social media posts I’ve seen is below:

That last line really gets me. Why are we attempting to continue on as usual when it is so clearly not usual times? I believe workplaces need to be far more understanding and extend far more leeway to employees during these distressing times. Sure, working remotely may have been of benefit to some people, but to others it may have been a big hurdle to deal with. I don’t think it is as simple as a quick fix. And in many cases, businesses are starting to ease back into work environments as restrictions begin to lift, which presents a whole new situation: life after the pandemic (if we want to tentatively say that at this stage.)

My worry is that this life after the pandemic is going to be pushed back towards pre-pandemic times and trying to re-create those circumstances, particularly in our work culture. I don’t think that’s possible. I don’t think we can go back. I think we can only go forward. I hope that the way forward includes a lot more compassion for one another and recognition of the things we have overcome to get to this point. Many people are still dealing with these aspects and will continue to deal with them for a long time after the pandemic has ended (and of course, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine continues to escalate as of writing).

So what could life after the pandemic look like that is compassionate and caring to all? I’ve asked myself this question many times. I think the answer may vary by person, but there are a few things that come to mind for me. Health care is by far the most important – I believe ensuring equitable access to adequate healthcare, both at the physical level and for mental health, is extremely important. Many studies have shown mental health concerns have increased throughout the pandemic and if we are ever going to find a way out the other side, we need to take care of our mental health, and the needs of one another.

I also believe work environments need to be far more flexible and allocate additional sick time and vacation time to assist in creating work-life balance. Work culture as a whole needs a shift to be overall more compassionate and focused on work-life balance, rather than continually focusing on the bottom line in times of crisis. In addition, providing extensive resources to employees and training in terms of mental health and other health care needs would be beneficial.

Relying on community and building up support networks is also vital. Leaning on community the past couple of years has been necessary to get through the pandemic. For me personally, I’ve definitely recognized the importance of connection during these past couple of years and have made it a priority moving forward in my life. I also believe we have faced many divisions the past couple of years and focusing on bringing community together and caring for one another can be a way forward for all of us.

All in all, the life I envision after the pandemic looks and feels very different than life prior to the pandemic, and even different than life the past couple of years. I do believe we are on the precipice of a radical shift in our world in terms of work culture, work-life balance, health care, mental health, community and more. I am hopeful for what the future could bring but also wary that many will simply try to return to a pre-pandemic life. For me, that simply isn’t an option. For all of our sakes, lets collectively work towards a better future that is focused on compassion and love for one another, and less on a dominating work culture that purely pursues capitalistic gain. I believe together, we can make this future happen.

Tell me: what does your work culture currently look like in your work environment? Do you want changes to be made as we ease out of the pandemic? Let us know in the comments!

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