Do We Really Want Normal Again?

Does anybody else feel like, though the country, for all intents and purposes, has returned to “normalcy”, you’re walking around in a movie that’s been put on mute? Like the scenes you’re living aren’t really real? One of the things that we will need to acknowledge, when the time is right, is that for two-plus years of the novel coronavirus, we’ve all suffered a collective trauma brought about by the worst health disaster in our lifetime, and that, just because it happened on a global level, doesn’t mean that we were not all affected on an individual and cellular level. And no group more so than women who, according to reports now emerging, have been bearing a disproportionate share of the burden of #CovidRealities.

Women, more than men, have been hard-done by the pandemic. In fact, data collected in a survey in 2018 and 2019 from Harvard Business School suggests that women’s well-being in the workplace had been suffering long before the pandemic. The report said mental health of millennial women, both white and women of colour, stood out as especially at risk, and that the mental health of close to 20 per cent of women across racial groups was impacted by work, often or very often, with 20 per cent of them saying they were very or extremely likely to look for a job the following year. Then the pandemic hit. With return to the workplace now on, the question for women to ask themselves becomes this: Do we really want that kind of normal again?

Burnout is real

Understand this. We’re not negating the fact that both men and women have been facing unprecedented challenges these past two years. The effects of which have been worsened by the Russia-Ukraine war and its impact on world economies, including Jamaica’s. After all, the effect of world crises is usually gender-neutral. However, women often bear the brunt of not only the financial toll of these economic crises (because of the gender pay gap in the workplace, women tend to earn less and so have less access to social protections), but also the mental toll (women are overwhelmingly the emotional lodestar of the family unit and face a disproportionate caregiving burden at home). So when the pandemic hit, things went belly up for so many women in a real way with their mental health especially coming under attack.

The Great Resignation

In the States, a response to the pandemic has been a reassessment of the things that women are willing to put up with, regarding work and what could possibly be seen as worsening well-being. They are seeing that they cannot return to the status quo as it existed prior to March 2020, and women are now part of the global phenomenon that is being dubbed “The Great Resignation”. In fact, data has shown that in the US, women are actually leading the charge at all levels, opting to leave their jobs in droves. At the very least, they have begun agitating for a more flexible workday, or a truncated workweek in line with their cohorts in parts of Europe like Iceland and Scotland which have embraced four-day weeks. The fact is, women want better pay, better working conditions, and if they can’t be afforded these things on the job, then they are going to leave.

The post-COVID workplace

Hit by the harsh realities of the pandemic, people, especially women, are increasingly seeing the value of a harmonious work-life balance in the promotion of well-being and happiness, which, if you don’t have, means nothing if you’re spending 12 hours at the office and making all the money in the world.

In Jamaica, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security has put employers on notice that the resignation movement is already emerging here. And though the breakdown by gender isn’t readily available, it’s a safe bet that women make up the majority of these early adopters. The ministry also noted that between 2020 and 2021, 3,000 new company applications have been processed by the Companies Office, and 12,000 business name registrations, a record number in terms of business activity.

The bottom line

Values are vastly changing and the pandemic is largely to be thanked for this. There is an emerging resistance to returning to the pre-pandemic status quo; progressive companies are still accommodating a hybrid workplace. Where this isn’t allowed, or perhaps simply just not enough, Jamaicans — both women and men — are coming to the conclusion that now, more than ever, is the time to take control of not just their financial future but also their emotional and mental well-being.

Lamar Harris, vice-president, wealth management, NCB Capital Markets

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