Family and self-fulfillment are increasingly driving younger people in developed nations to re-think what it means to work and why we should work.
There are less than 24 working days left in 2021, and the emergence of the new Omicron Covid-19 strain threatens to bring the world shuttering to a halt much as the way the year began.
As the global pandemic enters its third year, the pandemic is giving an increasing amount of people time to consider what matters to them.
A recent survey by Pew Research Center surveyed 19,000 people in 17 developed nations to probe exactly what gives them meaning against the backdrop of an ongoing pandemic.
Remarkably, for most people across the countries surveyed, family dominated amongst 14 out of the 17. Quality time that people spent with their family and the accomplishments of kinfolk and offspring was widely seen as one of the strongest sources for meaning.
For many people — and it's important to note that this is the experience of people living in some of the most industrialised countries in the world — Covid-19 has brought into sharper focus what should be more important.
One American woman surveyed described her experience as: "I had COVID, and it was the scariest thing, and it really changed my outlook on life."
Whereas a Dutchman also emphasised the importance of healthy living even in a pandemic context: "What I find important for a fulfilling life are things like: to do sports, meaning active exercise 2 to 3 times a week; to eat a varied diet … now in this pandemic, you still have to make sure that you get enough exercise and try to bring structure into your life by making day or week schedules."
Interestingly the US was unique among the developed nations that mentioned religion as a source of meaning and fulfillment. In the 16 other countries, faith didn't even make it in the top 10, setting the US apart from other advanced economies.
The pandemic has given people pause to take stock of their lives.
If the pandemic has changed how we work, many millennials increasingly have turned to the question of why work. As a result, millions of people have perhaps counterintuitively quit their jobs in the middle of a pandemic — but it's not as irrational as it might seem at first glance.
Many people, particularly those working in white-collar jobs, have discovered that the daily commute to work was perhaps needless given that they can do much of the same work from home.
Younger generations increasingly yearn for a four-day week and are thinking of different ways to align income goals with life goals. According to a recent survey, more than 90 percent of millennials want a four-day week, the highest of any age group, and almost half are considering quitting their job in the next 12 months.
Regardless of whether we are happy with work, jobs and material well-being ranked second in 14 of the countries in the Pew survey as a source of meaning.
The late Professor David Graeber, in his seminal book, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, argued that millions of workers across the world - corporate lawyers, accountants, clerical workers, administrators, and the like were often toiling away in meaningless jobs, and they knew it.
The world argued Graeber had created an ecosystem of futile occupations that for many had become professionally unsatisfying. Against this underlying backdrop, the pandemic has allowed many to re-orient their working lives.
A 2018 Gallup study found that seven in ten millennials feel that they burned out at work. Working during the pandemic and blurring lines between work and home could explain why so many millennials seem prepared to abandon their jobs even as they have no backup options lined up.
The historian Jan Lucassen in his book The Story of Work, argued that in every culture around the world, when rules surrounding labour were freer and more flexible, workers took pride in their work and enjoyed doing it.
A survey looking at attitudes towards work for those under 25 in the UK found that increasingly, young people are holding out for good quality work but are disillusioned with the reality of the workplace.
The majority of those surveyed reported struggling with finding themselves at work and the quality of work they were expected to do. It would be easy to dismiss some of this sentiment as a younger generation of kids coming into the workplace with little resilience to meet the challenges of the real world. But the pandemic for many has provided a glimpse into a world where working can be more decentralised, mobile, and periodic changes of scenery.
In her book The Man Who Mistook His Job for His Life, Naomi Shragai described the workplace as a "theatre," Now, the young increasingly want a hand in writing their own lines.