The COVID pandemic has been a painful reminder that we are not always in control of our own surroundings. During this same period, which forced many of us into quarantined lifestyles, certain “truisms” have been identified – lessons that can be adopted as the entire world begins to re-emerge into this new “next normal”. Of note, has been the adaptation of individuals around the creative integration of work-life values – acting in direct contrast to the previously favored work-life “balance”. Now, as I am engaging with individuals who have successfully adapted during this past, painful year has been the realization that many of our strongly-held positions regarding work, play, family and self have been re-imagined. As a university, how do we infuse these new lessons around work-life integration into our curriculum?
Prior to COVID, most busy professionals were struggling with the age-old work-life balance conundrum. How much time do you spend working versus ensuring that you still maintain some level of attention to yourself and family? And while the baby boomer generation (of which I identify!) spent countless hours working to ensure a safe and comfortable environment for our families, current generations of young workers have swung into a more gig-like lifestyle that rewards experiences over worrying too much about the future. For each generation, however, the goal has been to develop segments of protected activity around each aspect of our lives. The primary difference between the generations was the allocation of time for each segment.
COVID, as the great equalizer, forced all of us to revisit this philosophy of segmenting our various activities. Every activity, as we found out, became more driven by our own biorhythms versus being observed via the time of day. Traditional office hours melded into those periods where individuals felt most productive and we found, in many cases, that we needed to reintroduce ourselves to ourselves – to remember what made us “click” or be excited about life. Need proof? How many of you have already written down a list of “to-dos” post-vaccination – things that you have plainly missed while being stuck in your house?
As we seek to teach our students the impact of this work-life integration approach, the following aspects have become clear:
- Businesses realize that having a traditional workday – let alone a need for all their employees to be on-site everyday is ludicrous and, quite frankly, counterproductive. Individuals are well-suited to self-motivate their activities when properly supervised. Further, the need to commute to a brick-and-mortar silo just to answer emails is a waste of time and energy. The consequence, of course, is that businesses are reducing their office footprints at a rapid rate – realizing that these costs can be better spent elsewhere.
- Individuals need to develop and perfect their own methods of self-motivation – understanding the specific stimuli that allow them to be productive and insightful. This mantra of “knowing thyself” plays an impactful role as individuals seek to unlock their own psyches and capabilities and push the aspect of self-improvement directly back to the individual employee.
- The age-old “bucket list” isn’t just for retirees. As we found out, COVID zapped our abilities to be free-wheeling – jetting off to any destination at a moment’s notice. And, for many of us, we only felt the pang of loss when we were told we couldn’t travel or do those things that we envisioned in our future. Maybe all the generations need to color a little bit outside the lines and keep an active list of activities that you want to accomplish/experience each year – and, actually do them!
- Realize that chaos and catastrophe, while unwanted at any point in your journey, reflect a realism of life. Where many people became stagnant during this pandemic, like deer caught in headlights, many others adapted their lifestyles, found new ventures and became successful in spite of the self-quarantined lifestyle. As a university, we need to teach our students that the future is hardly a linear journey but one with many unexpected crevasses and jumping off points. You need to be ready to rely on your well-honed skills of critical thinking and resilience to ensure your own successful future.
Yes, the COVID pandemic has been a difficult period for everyone. It forced a series of constraints on our every-day activities – events that we assumed could not be interrupted. On the positive side, it forced us to take a new view of a changed landscape – both for ourselves and businesses. Now, as we emerge from our self-enforced cocoons, we should look to embrace the many, new lessons learned – a mantra that we, as a university, should look to infuse into the psyche of our students.