When I was a teacher and school senior leader in my twenties I worked all the hours. Not only that, but I was writing my doctoral thesis and we had a young baby. I’ve never worked so hard or be so close to burnout.
Since switching to being based from a home office in 2012 my life has been transformed. With no commute and no planning, preparation, and assessment, I’m paid for the time I actually work. And since 2017 and setting up a co-op, I’m jointly in charge of the means of production as well.
As Cal Newport writes in The New Yorker, others are cottoning-on to these advantages since the pandemic, leading to a wave of resignations.
These people are generally well-educated workers who are leaving their jobs not because the pandemic created obstacles to their employment but, at least in part, because it nudged them to rethink the role of work in their lives altogether. Many are embracing career downsizing, voluntarily reducing their work hours to emphasize other aspects of life.
Many well-compensated but burnt-out knowledge workers have long felt that their internal ledger books were out of balance: they worked long hours, they made good money, they had lots of stuff, they were exhausted, and, above all, they saw no easy options for changing their circumstances. Then came shelter-in-place orders and shuttered office buildings. This particular class of workers were thrown into their own Zoom-equipped versions of Walden Pond. Diversion and entertainment were stripped down to basic forms, and it became difficult to spend more than the cost of a Netflix subscription or batch of sourdough starter to keep occupied. The absence of visits with friends and family reinforced the value of social connection. The unceasing presence of video conferencing and e-mail enhanced the Kafkaesque superfluousness of many of the activities that dominated the pre-pandemic workday. This class of workers was suddenly staring at the proverbial cabin and wondering if a copper pump would really be worth the labor required to cultivate another acre.