Having lost my job in the travel industry at the start of Covid, I took a bit of a sabbatical to contemplate my next move, learn new things like video-editing, and improve my Spanish language skills. I also browsed through job listings to see what was going on in the market these days, as I had been gainfully employed for the last 15 years. I marveled and cringed at the amount of job descriptions that list “high-pressure/fast-paced environments” and ask for employees to “have a consistent track record of overachieving” or “be competitive and ready to make an impact!"
Incredibly, these high-octane job descriptions are taken from companies promoting health and wellness and whose missions include “ending the stress and burnout epidemic by offering companies and individuals sustainable, science-based solutions to enhance well-being, performance, and purpose, and create a healthier relationship with technology.”
I’m deeply curious about the experiences of employees at these companies. I’d like to know if they feel healthy, supported, valued, and if they have sustainable workloads. I’d like to know if they feel connected and if their companies practice what they preach about wellness or if employees are struggling to balance the other aspects of their lives with their work.
Much research has been done showing how anxiety, stress, and over-extension negatively impact our performance but we still see the same narrative playing out with employers and workers. Based on the job descriptions I’ve seen, employers are still using the same demanding language with expectations of unsustainable workloads from employees.
Covid-19 presented us with an incredible opportunity to pause and reflect on our life priorities. It has begun to shift the landscape of work in some ways, though capitalism wants to return to “normal” as quickly as possible. Essential workers and those in the medical field have experienced profound burnout and exhaustion. Covid-19 highlighted socio-economic and racial inequalities. It laid bare the egregious power of social media giants and hoarding by billionaires. It exposed how vulnerable people are to conspiracy and propaganda, and how empathy and compassion can be quashed by fear and mob-mentality. It shone a light on the messiness of democracy and that disinformation is the new pandemic. But we must highlight the opportunities that emerged from Covid-19 before it is in the rearview mirror and forgotten. Will you reflect, once again, on your experience at the start of Covid and during the last year and a half?
What did you come away with? What do you want to grow? What do you want to let go? What do you want to maintain?
I encourage you to be brave and say what you want, especially if it counters the cultural narrative of work and success. Begin by writing it down on paper. See how it feels in your body when you are able to identify and clarify what you want your life to look like. It may not seem possible (or comfortable) at the moment but see if you can open to the possibility of it, even if just a crack.
Be brave and set your boundaries of what is and is not acceptable or what is and is not sustainable for you. Write these down and, again, see how it feels in your body to consider these boundaries, set to protect you from burnout or being taken advantage of. When you set boundaries, you join your own team and become an ally to yourself. You can trust yourself more.
We are not robots; we are human beings, and our core needs and desires are not that different from each other – safety, food, shelter, connection/belonging, friendship, intimacy, trust, dignity, exploration, predictability, appreciation, realizing personal potential.
The Great Resignation and nationwide strikes are showing what is possible when workers set their boundaries and ask for what they want, ie. better working conditions, benefits, and wages.
If you want to have a stronger sense of agency or power over your life and be a model for your children or siblings or others in your community, you will look inwards and answer the questions. When you are clear on what you want for yourself and/or society at large, then your daily decisions will begin to orient you in that direction. You will be a part of a larger shift in our cultural norms and will help form the landscape for future generations. It’s not easy, it can be uncomfortable, but it will be worth it.
Post script: There are many companies who do go against the grain and operate from a moral compass that does a good job balancing morals and profits such as the well-known Patagonia and smaller, but no less meaningful and productive, companies like Nossa Familia (B Corps coffee company) or Carpenter Smith Consulting (heart-centered business consulting). There are many more out there and to them I offer unending gratitude for being the champions of responsible business and recognizing human and environmental value.