How COVID-19 will change the world: Part Two: Work
Author Krupa Solanki  | 

Some of the words surrounding work can be telling; employment, job, vocation, career can all mean different things and these terms are more complicated still when we consider the subjective value they hold to individual people. For the past few years, there has been a visceral cry from the gut of younger generations who have defied their older counterparts in seeking vocations that stimulate the pocket, mind, body and soul. Accordingly, we have seen a swift increase in new innovative job titles and roles, both within the traditional and entrepreneurial sectors. Alongside job satisfaction, the increasing age of retirement, low pay and other bars to access has now made many of the traditional professions such as law, medicine and accountancy increasingly less desirable.

Last year it was widely reported that the now infamous reality tv-show Love island received more applications than Oxford and Cambridge combined, which provides a telling picture of the ambitions of some of the younger generations. Rationally thinking, who can blame them? Most successful contestants on Love island go on to earn hundreds of thousands of pounds in their first years away from the island. By comparison, junior doctors and lawyers start their careers in the tens of thousands with a sluggish path to promotion and career growth. For those concerned with the lack of ‘seriousness’ of the profession now have their fears allayed with the career path of anther infamous reality alum, Kim Kardashian. Following her dreams to study law, Kim will be sitting the California bar in 2022, that too without the hefty student debt that often accompanies a foray into that profession. And of course, it is not all about money, though it remains a huge motivator, job satisfactions and the notion of working to a ‘higher cause’ has also become increasingly important. Statistics show that companies that have in-house charitable and pro-bono initiatives have great chancer of grabbing talented graduates from top schools.

Many these changes began motion before COVID-19 struck but it is not difficult to see how the current crisis may accelerate the pace of change. In the short few weeks following the lockdown, unemployment levels are expected to reach 10% in the UK and many employees have found themselves either furloughed or on a decreased work schedule. For entrepreneurs, members of the gig-economy and those on zero-hour contracts, the situation looks bleaker still. With no sign of the lockdown easing soon, many of these people will be looking to transition to job that are either deemed ‘essential’ for the time being, or that can easily be done from home. Just this week, the Guardian hypothesised that there is a real risk of a “ dole queue’ future for young people after Covid-19 crisis”. With this bleak prediction, young people will find themselves at a profound crossroad which will require imaginative thinking for young people entering the hardest job market since 2008. Influencers and youtubers may find their inspiration culled without the canvas of the big wider worlds, but in theory through social media anyone and find fame in their homes. Since lockdown, subscriptions to Tik Tok, Instagram and facebook have grown exponentially with the latter two brands reporting a 60% growth in their ‘live’ feature which allows anyone to broadcast from their homes to their followers. Where a career as an influencer or social media star may have been attractive last year, we may see an acceleration of pace in sector, driven by a quaint mix of access and boredom.

Away from the lights of showbiz, another unexpected spotlight has been shone of the nature of vital services and the, often low-paid, providers who provide such services. From frontline doctors and nurses to delivery drivers and grocery workers keeping shelves stacked, the new normal has ushered in a new understanding of what work is deemed ‘vital’ and ‘essential’ and, the value we attach to such roles through remuneration – be it professional credibility and/or financial remuneration. In many of our lifetimes, SARS and 9/11 are the most profoundly significant comparators to what we are facing today. Taking 9/11 as an example, the world of work fundamentally changed in the years following; for those that had undergone significant loss, a change of pace or career felt like the correct course of action. For those that had or hadn’t undergone loss but were in awe of the valiant services of the firefighters and medical professionals on site that day – a career in the emergency services followed. For those who had not been directly affected but worked in high rise offices, the ever-present threat of future attacks was enough to make droves reconsider their career choices as city-slickers.

There, like now, we were faced with a fundamental reconsideration of the nature of ‘success’ and ‘value’ and what it means both subjectively and in the context of the rest of the world. Global turbulence tends to cause a sense of introspection that can defy logic. Professionals at the top of their careers are not exempt and as with 9/11, either incapacity or huge lifestyle change may cause some upheavals at the highest levels of organisations. Beyond that, whether we will see a love island-esque surge of applications to medical school remains to be seen, but for the fatigued frontline workers who have had the great misfortune of spending the past few weeks surrounded by death, it is no stretch of the imagination to think about how their numbers may be affected in the coming years.

An unexpected global pandemic brings with it great trauma, turbulence and change. For a sector that was already undergoing significant global change, the pandemic gives us time to pause and think what the words, employment, job, vocation, and career really mean to us, and society in general.

Join us again next week for part three: workplace; where we will be discussing the future of bricks and mortar workplaces, office etiquette, leadership, and collaboration and what an eventual return to the office may look like.