Here in Australia one of the many side-effects of the pandemic has been a boom in rural property. Prices have risen by 13% and available housing stock has all but disappeared, as remote working has freed many from the tyranny of the commute.
Apart from the practical advantages – smaller mortgages, more space, closer community, less likelihood of lockdown – a move to the bush strikes me as reflecting a deeper psychological and cultural shift. Unspoken assumptions about the most rewarding way to live your life are being questioned. Growing uncertainty means people are also less likely to accept the promise of future reward as an incentive to invest in activities that are unrewarding in the present.
The shift for employers has also been profound. The recent Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2021 report drew out the effect of the pandemic on corporates. It concludes: ‘Organisations suddenly found themselves called upon to prioritise workers’ physical and mental well-being as a matter of survival, as protecting their health and alleviating their stress became critical to operations. Work and life, health, safety and well-being became inseparable.’
And many companies have responded: loosening leave policies, increasing access to senior executives, improving reward and recognition. Many corporate cultures have shifted to becoming less formal and more personal, and approaches to well-being are increasingly tailored to individual needs. One team I work with encourages ‘Zoom-bombing’ from children, partners and pets; other companies have set up programmes for home-schooled children to ‘help’ with their parents’ work.
Growing uncertainty means people are also less likely to accept the promise of future reward as an incentive to invest in activities that are unrewarding in the present
However, the Deloitte work also revealed that leaders are struggling to keep pace with the shift. Improving well-being was the third-highest priority for employees (behind quality and innovation), but ranked only eighth for executives. A wave of corporate soul-searching is required for organisations to shift to a truly human-centric approach and, for some, to slough off decades of prioritising efficiency and growth over the emotional and physical health of their employees.
There is a sense that some leaders maintain a deep-seated desire for things to return to ‘normal’ – understandably so, since it was ‘normal’ that got them to positions of leadership. But for many in their teams, the balance has shifted, permanently. Does the prospect of a partnership really offset missing out on time with a young family? Is a two-hour commute worth it for a higher-paid job?
In each case, the answer now seems much more likely to be no.