Career Coach HR Consultant Enfield CT

The Great “_________________” (Defining New Awareness from the Pandemic)

May 18, 2022

As a lover of language, I am a sucker for a good title. When the words “Great Resignation” started to trend, they caught like wildfire; they spread like the Delta variant. Perhaps because the words were relatable; the pandemic made so many of us weary of long days at home or going into a weird, highly sanitized work environment, feeling isolated and ever-vigilant. A commonly published statistic reported that as many as 70% were actively considering a job move. The Great Resignation normalized that sentiment. It was okay to question your loyalty in the face of burnout, staffing shortages, coworkers jumping ship, and no clear end to the pandemic in sight.

COVID gave rise to a new way of working, yet it was only the catalyst for a change that was building in the years and maybe even decades before. I had been actively researching work-from-home (“WFH”) policies and practices as an HR manager in 2005, a full 15 years before the onset of COVID. I recall the few studies pointing to greater productivity, but well-established metrics were lacking. In god we trust, all else bring data – a motto I learned from my statistical process control days at Teradyne. In more traditional industries, there was resistance to WFH and many leaders discouraged this even in more isolated cases such as inclement weather days. Often HR, too, fit in that category – the idea of having everyone in different places was feared a cultural risk and an engagement drain, and equity considerations were always front and center for the function.

Friday the 13th, March, 2020

March 13th, 2020 was the date my former company called an emergency leadership meeting to implement plans to get as many people offsite as possible. Safety through social distancing was imperative, and a statewide lockdown of non-essential employees was imminent. With schools happening remotely in the early months of the pandemic, parents were unequivocally needed at home. Given parents make up a sizable percentage of the American workforce (and also that expanded family leave was required under the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act), allowing work from home became the obvious answer for many employers.

Suddenly, remote work was heralded, in fact celebrated, as the way to keep business afloat during the pandemic. Traditional viewpoints on remote work were irrelevant, unproductive and bureaucratic. We needed to get onboard, and fast. Not only did our people manage it with incredible professionalism, responsibility and care, we kept everyone safe.

I’ll return your attention to The Great “fill in the blank”. It’s been called The Great Resignation, The Great Re-evaluation, The Great Reshuffle, and The Great Mid-Life Crisis. Whatever word resonates here, the theme points to a power dynamic in which workers want more control and better terms for their 8-12 hour workday. I get it – that was my lived experience. I couldn’t enjoy the “perks” of remote work, because my days at home became even longer. I lost boundaries between home and work.

Stepping back from what felt true to me, here are the thoughts and feelings from other professionals about this pivotal time:

  • The time I once spent commuting, I now use to exercise/make dinner/play with the kids.
  • It is so nice to be able to take a walk at lunch.
  • My life is in better balance. I just feel better equipped to manage it all. I’m working the same hours, but getting more done.
  • The fewer distractions make it so much easier to finish a task.
  • I don’t have to worry about confidentiality in a private home office.
  • I love having my dog with me all day.

And from a different set of people, I heard:

  • I can’t work alongside my children. This situation is impossible. Please let me come into the office.
  • I am in the same house as my family members but I don’t see them. We are all too focused on our obligations at work.
  • I feel alone, isolated.  I miss the office camaraderie.
  • I am new to my job. It’s really hard to learn a new organization and a new role when you don’t have face time.
  • I don’t know the new people on my team.
  • I really miss the structure of my day in the office; I was grounded with my old routine.

To Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn

Everyone experienced this time a little differently, however, there was a strong and consistent theme: CHANGE. Nearly every human was pausing to figure out what worked and what didn’t for their lives…and not just their WORK lives, but their lives in the fullest sense. Health, emotional and physical, was taking the stage too for employees burning the candle at both ends. In exchange for our loyalty, we want the ability to take care of our whole selves.

The truth is that I celebrate all of this. That’s a big statement for this career-HR gal who grew up in cultures where face-time was paramount (electronics manufacturing, and then insurance consulting). I sensed that the corporate world was long overdue for this change; perhaps I knew that in 2005 as I was using microfiche at a brick-and-mortar library to do my research (okay, that timing may be a little off; I believe we had the internet in 2005). I also know how strongly some organizations will cling to notions about teamwork and culture not happening through a screen. The answer here is not found in splitting the difference between offsite and onsite, but in looking at the opportunity for better outcomes for the business and its people.

Remote Work is Here to Stay

I won’t minimize the challenges of permanent remote and hybrid work, but it’s not going way. To call out a few leadership challenges: the preservation of company culture; leveraging skilled workers to train new ones; the aforementioned equity considerations; the fewer onsite workers for running machines, facilities, client or mail operations; and the enormous effect on commercial real estate as businesses give up physical space. Yup, those are real and hard things for leaders. However, I trust that we will find ways to solve for the socialization, cultural and innovation challenges created by this new way of working, prioritizing the needs of our people. We will come to see flexibility as better for business. And while the virus may have opened our eyes to this, it won’t be the reason we sustain it.

Allow me to offer this perspective for those who are still sorting through how to use the learning of this pivotal time. However you choose to fill in the blank after “The Great _________ “, your word choice won’t be The Great Status Quo. Take the time to ask yourself what you want to keep from what you’ve learned about yourself during the last two years, your ideal conditions to really thrive at work, and how you advocate for your needs in your job. The workplace is on the agenda for change. I’ll title it The Great Exhale for a workforce holding its breath for too long.

Photography copyright Tiffany Greene. Find out more about working with me at