We need better ways to work

We need better ways to work

Having worked from home since mid-April, I have found myself feeling burned out. It is true that working from home helps corporate employees like me to cut travel time and expense, but that commuting time allows our brain to relax. Chatting with a friend on Line or checking on Facebook while heading home gives me a short break from thinking about work.

And honestly, I've found myself losing focus sometimes while working from home, so in some cases I have to work longer hours than when sitting in the office. All of the above -- not the merits of the WFH concept -- sometimes make me ask myself "should I quit?" but the answer is always "Nope".

Of course, the economic outlook is dim so it's good to have a permanent job. More importantly, I still like the job I've been doing for more than a decade though my role and responsibility have changed, particularly in the past two years.

The psychological impact of the 20-month Covid pandemic has involved long stretches of stress and soul searching. Many people have asked themselves the same question I did. According to a Microsoft study, 41% of the global workforce is considering leaving their employer this year, a trend seen everywhere in the world.

Factors contributing to that sentiment include working longer hours, the stress of transitioning to remote work, uncertainty about the future of returning to the office, as well as the general stress related to Covid. It all adds up to an emerging phenomenon that's been dubbed the Great Resignation.

"We've all taken a step back and reassessed," says John Goulding, founder of the employee communication platform Workvivo. In many cases, he says, leaders are out of touch with employees. "Covid has provided an opportunity for workers to reflect on their role, whether their skills are being put to good use, and to find a much stronger sense of their own value."

And because more people are seeking to redress the work-life balance, women are leading the Great Resignation. "We're seeing more 'quits' in corporate companies linked to work-life balance because people are more willing to fight for it. The work-life balance disproportionately affects women as they're more likely to be caregivers," explained Grace Lordan, a behavioural science professor at London School of Economics.

While women seem more likely to experience burnout, working parents have experienced some of the most compounded effects of Covid. For some companies, layoffs have resulted in longer hours and a surge in responsibility of employees. Many newly remote workers have been putting in time on the weekends, research has found.

At the same time, as countries reopen their economies following Covid vaccinations, demand for talent is increasing fast and it outstrips supply. Now it's an employees' market, particularly for remote work.

As flexible work is here to stay, a thoughtful approach to hybrid work will be critical for retaining and attracting diverse talents. Employers also need to replace workers who have decided they need a change. Executives have to support their staff and make them feel valued.

Japan, meanwhile, has a unique workforce issue with an increasing number of NEETs -- "Not in Education, Employment or Training" -- which is becoming a threat to economic development.

The NEET cohort first emerged in the late 1980s and numbered about 40,000 people aged 24 to 34 years, but these days people as young as 18 to 20 are being included. More than 500,000 Japanese are classified as NEET, and over half are between 30 and 34.

In Japan and elsewhere, new graduates are finding it harder to obtain good-paying and stable jobs. People with experience and exposure are preferred. This leaves the younger generation more discouraged, even though the "salaryman" career is unappealing to many millennials.

As a result, the working population has dropped considerably and the unemployment rate is rising as more people join the NEET ranks. Fewer people earning means less tax collected by the government, not to mention reduced purchasing power for young people.

The world of work has changed drastically. I would never dare to encourage anyone to make a rash decision about the future of their career, but it seems that with this supposed disruption coming soon, many workers are simply at their wits' end.

Could this changing phenomenon bring about meaningful, long-term change to workplace culture and the way companies invest in their employees? I do hope so.

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