Will the YOLO Era be Our Own Roaring Twenties?

Today’s post comes to us from the executive director of The Workforce Institute, Dr. Chris Mullen, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, SPHR.

There has been widespread media speculation that the 2020’s post-pandemic may resemble another famous 20’s – The Roaring Twenties, that time of economic, social and cultural boom, expansion and celebration that followed the 1918 Flu Pandemic. After being surrounded by tragedy, death, social isolation, anxiety and fear, people all over the world are ready to re-enter life with gusto.

There is also a feeling that people may not want to just “re-enter” their old life as it was, but after having over a year to reflect about how life can change dramatically on a dime, many people are thinking about what really matters to them and what they want to do with their lives in a more immediate way than they had in the past.

The New York Times has an interesting new feature on this phenomenon, and the title of the piece really says it all: Welcome to the YOLO Economy: Burned out and flush with savings, some workers are quitting stable jobs in search of post-pandemic adventure.

If you’re not familiar with the term YOLO, it’ stands for “You Only Live Once,” and has become a sort of rallying cry for anyone looking to make a bold change in their lives.

The Times piece notes that:

Something strange is happening to the exhausted, type-A millennial workers of America. After a year spent hunched over their MacBooks, enduring back-to-back Zooms in between sourdough loaves and Peloton rides, they are flipping the carefully arranged chessboards of their lives and deciding to risk it all.

Some are abandoning cushy and stable jobs to start a new business, turn a side hustle into a full-time gig or finally work on that screenplay. Others are scoffing at their bosses’ return-to-office mandates and threatening to quit unless they’re allowed to work wherever and whenever they want.”

In short: “To some extent, we’re seeing a year’s worth of big life changes starting to accelerate now.”

Anecdotally, I must say that I am hearing the same from many friends and colleagues. People are itching for life to get back to “normal”, but they’ve also given a lot of thought over the past year as to what they want normal to look like – and it often isn’t exactly what it was beforehand. Indeed, a recent Microsoft survey found that more than 40 percent of workers globally were considering leaving their jobs this year.

Also, people are just tired. After over a year of change and upheaval, people are looking for consistency and renewal. They want to take that vacation they had to cancel two years in a row, extend that beach house rental from one week to three, start separating work life from home life again after a year when, as someone recently said to me, “It doesn’t feel like I’ve been working from home, it feels like I’ve been living at work.”

So, what does this mean for employers?

The Times piece notes that many high-profile employers are taking notice and offering their employees some new perks:

“LinkedIn recently gave the majority of its employees a paid week off, while Twitter employees have been given an extra day off per month to recharge under a program called #DayofRest. Credit Suisse gave its junior bankers $20,000 “lifestyle allowances,” while Houlihan Lokey, another Wall Street firm, gave many of its employees all-expenses-paid vacations.”

These are all great benefits, but I think the issue actually goes much deeper than just perks. I think organizations really need to poll their employees to better understand exactly how they have changed as individuals and how their expectations of work have changed. What work changes due to the pandemic do they want to keep and which to they want to discard? Maybe there needs to be a revolution in online learning and development. Maybe organizations need to funnel more money into paying for continuing education for employees – even if it’s outside the realm of what they do in their current job. Maybe, probably, the concept of the office needs to be rethought or even eliminated.

Also, let’s not forget about those workers who must be present to do their jobs. How can we bring the benefit of YOLO to them? Maybe through better scheduling that is respectful of their lives outside of work. Maybe by really thinking about how to create equity between workers who can do their jobs anywhere and those who must be onsite.

We’re coming out of a once-in-a-lifetime (we hope!) global experience, so it seems likely that the period that follows will be just as unprecedented. Organizations that recognize this seismic change and look to their employees for guidance on how to meet this moment will undoubtedly fare better than those who stick their heads in the sand or try to force employees back into “the way things were”. Change is the only constant, and those who adapt to change always win.

What about you? How have you change dover the last year? How has your concept of work changed? Tell us about it in the comments section!

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