The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Over the past 18 months, the pandemic has drastically changed almost every part of our lives. From lockdowns and virtual school to daily stress and fear, we have had to constantly adapt our systems and livelihoods to the changing times. Perhaps nowhere else is this clearer than in the workplace.
With the onslaught of the pandemic in the United States in March 2020, millions of Americans quickly found themselves out of work. And the numbers only continued to grow as the months went on. Women were hit especially hard by job loss. By February 2021, women had lost a total of 5.4 million jobs, with almost 2.1 million women dropping out of the labor force entirely.
Those who remained employed found themselves faced with challenging choices and uncertainty as employers attempted to keep businesses afloat. In many industries—particularly retail, hospitality, education and food services—companies put profit over people, placing the health, well-being and economic security of their employees at risk. Although many of these industries already treated employees poorly, the pandemic lay bare how unjust, unstable and blatantly unsustainable the work infrastructure is in the U.S.
But it does not, and should not, be this way. As we slowly start to come out on the other side of this pandemic, we should not go back to ineffective methods of work that were developed decades ago. Think about it. When was the last time we genuinely rethought things like the 40-hour workweek or in-person work for office jobs?
What the pandemic showed us is that our infrastructure must be more innovative and better suited to specific jobs and workplaces, rather than outdated and overgeneralized.
Working in-person, for example, might not be the best option for a company even as offices open up. Working from home can have numerous benefits for the company, the employee and even the environment, including increased productivity and performance, a better work-life balance and reduced emissions from commuting. Offering remote positions can also create more inclusivity, diversity and accessibility by allowing location independence.
What works best for one company and its employees, though, might not be the most effective for another. That is why it is critical that employees be included in the decision-making for any changes to the workplace structure, and that flexibility be made possible. Companies have a real opportunity to make their workspaces more effective and productive, while also supporting the mental and physical health of their employees. And that should continue long after the pandemic. Innovation is often born out of necessity, but that should not mean that those changes disappear when they are no longer “needed.”
However, the bottom line is that many of these changes will not happen for the people who need them most in service industries. Individuals in retail, hospitality, education, healthcare and food services are still overworked and underpaid—hence many people quitting such jobs recently. It is important that we still continue to fight for better conditions, higher pay and equitable healthcare for these workers.
Because the pandemic should not only shift how, where and when we work, but also how we value work and the well-being of workers in every industry. The term “essential workers” was used so frequently during the pandemic, and now it is time to show employees just how essential they are by improving our workforce infrastructure. If not, we risk another disaster (hello, climate change) toppling our economy and workforce all over again.