Recently, a message from Burger King employees went viral—and it wasn’t the kind of message an organization dreams of being associated with. Outside a Nebraska Burger King read a sign that said “WE ALL QUIT SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE” and captured the voices of irritated workers everywhere. Decades after the release of the 1976 film Network, perhaps there was never a moment when the workforce could relate more to the famous scene in which Peter Finch’s character yells, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
As the pandemic suddenly altered life as we knew it, we were undeniably living through one of those moments history would not forget. With even a simple handshake out of the question, the COVID chapter in the American story is bound to be discussed in classrooms generations from now. Nobody who lived through the chapter could forget how the term “back to normal” became an aspirational phrase.
Questioning in Quarantine
Although COVID isn’t completely in the rearview mirror, many people have received their vaccine, and the sight of people without masks in line to buy their groceries is a reality once more. There are physical elements from the pandemic that could remain in place: The plastic walls between customers and cashiers could make an employee feel better when dealing with a sneezing customer, a virtual job interview could save a company a good amount of money on travel, and remote employees could buy their children new sneakers with the money they don’t spend on gas. These parts of everyday life could be here to stay post-COVID.
But not all changes made post-COVID will be physically noticeable. Perhaps more than anything else, post-COVID will signal an internal change in people’s aspirations, goals, and tolerance for what they will or will not accept.
While many were terminated from their jobs or experienced a heavier workload, workers questioned their positions in ways like never before. Maybe a layoff from the pandemic or a growing dissatisfaction with their positions allowed people to question what they want to do with their lives in ways they hadn’t since before graduating college. Organizations now face a workforce with a new mindset of what they want to achieve and what their time is truly worth.
The skills people took time to learn during the pandemic may bloom into new careers. The voice telling people that perhaps they belong on another professional path may have gotten too loud to ignore, and, handling a heavier workload in quarantine, workers may have realized they can no longer ignore how underpaid they are.
These aspects of personal and professional growth are vital. While these changes to an individual cannot not be physically seen at first glance, they illustrate how the term “post-COVID” could spur an internal change in individuals more than the physical reopening of a building.
Impacts of Personal and Professional Reflections
Although much has been emphasized regarding the pandemic’s impact on the workforce, not all the post-COVID changes we make will be career-related. Spending more time with elderly loved ones may also emerge as something people cherish post-COVID, and the reality of not knowing what we have until we lose it could very well translate into more time spent with family and friends.
The people who moved out of the cities could find a new lifestyle and prefer the sound of nature in their backyard over the honking of heavy traffic. The adults who moved in with their parents due to the virus may feel closer to them than ever before and see them through an entirely different lens of appreciation. Without the obstacles of the pandemic and quarantine, people may not have discovered such personal changes.
When the day comes when there will be no need to wear a mask due to COVID, some of the virus’s impacts will remain noticeable. You may find yourself at the local book store thinking about how the hand sanitizer displayed right at the entrance wasn’t there before the pandemic. Such an image could serve as a reminder of what we all went through during the COVID age.
What you may not be able to see is an employee decided he or she would rather work in a bookstore than the job that was unbearable during the pandemic or the person in line buying a book for his or her grandparents sees them a lot more now that hugging them is no longer out of the question. These are the personal attributes of a post-COVID world that we may not be able to detect instantly but that still embody how the virus was not as much a pause on our lives as a reset.
Jared Glasser is a writer focusing on employment issues.