The way in which we work has long taken a toll on many. We need to admit the problems, take stock and reimagine a future that works for everyone.
“Nothing should go back to normal. Normal wasn’t working. If we go back to the way things were, we will have lost the lesson. May we rise up and do better.”
I did a double-take when I first saw this post on my social media feed. After a few moments of consideration, I thought, yes, we indeed have reached a point where the way we work has to change. Prior to the pandemic, things were not good for many workers. Surging income inequality, longer working hours, increased burnout and dormant wages forced many to fall severely behind. There was, and is now, a need for new ideas about what corporations owe their employees. If there is any good to come from COVID-19 perhaps it lies in the opportunity to reflect, reimagine and change direction to create a more just circumstance for all.
Many Have No Real Chance to Get Ahead
In a recent editorial, the New York Times pointed to the fact that while many Americans lived without financial security or opportunity, a relatively small handful of families held much of the nation’s wealth. In fact, “over the past decade, the wealth of the top 1 percent of households has surpassed the combined wealth of the bottom 80 percent.” The editors pointed to a widening chasm separating affluent Americans who get to fully enjoy the benefits of living in the wealthiest country on the planet, from the many “whose lives lack stability or any real prospect of betterment.”
Overwhelm and Sluggish Wages
Heading into the pandemic, many companies were posting record profits and many Americans were working harder than ever for nominal wage increases. Between 2010 and 2020 the national unemployment rate had been halved and the economy experienced record growth. Yet, in spite of this profound growth, many employees were overworked, burned out and dissatisfied. Many people were working more hours for little or no additional pay. During this time period, productivity increased by 21% yet wages only grew by 1.8%. People were spending more time at work yet their compensation didn’t reflect this massive increase in productivity.
During this time the concepts of work-life balance also eroded due in large part to technology and the breakdown of barriers between work and life. Many people are now on call 24/7 to their jobs. Fully 2/3 of employees feel “overwhelmed”. Unfortunately, this damage doesn’t just stop at the worker. The problems impact one’s personal life, children and family. Forbes identified that “anxiety is now the top issue facing children – driven by our ‘always on’ lifestyle.”
Time for a Radical Shift
“The American dream is alive, but fraying,” said Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Chairman of the Business Roundtable. “Major employers are investing in their workers and communities because they know it is the only way to be successful over the long term. These modernized principles reflect the business community’s unwavering commitment to continue to push for an economy that serves all Americans.”
The Business Roundtable statement went on to declare that Americans deserved an economy “that allowed each person to succeed through hard work and creativity and to lead a life of meaning and dignity.” It further asserted that a strong and sustainable economy, along with a healthy environment and economic opportunity for all should be primary goals for any business.
Is it worth going back to business as usual…to normal? I say no. The United States has a chance to emerge from this latest crisis as a stronger nation, more just, more free and more resilient.
It is a time of great possibility and opportunity for all of us. It is a time for all of us to do our part in course-correcting and leveraging the best parts of business and entrepreneurship to bring about fundamental changes to the ways we do business. Individuals, communities and companies will all benefit.