A year into the coronavirus pandemic, the way we work has radically changed. As masks, social distancing and remote jobs have become the new normal, your career ambitions may have shifted, too.
A majority of Americans are choosing to “shelter” at their current jobs during the pandemic, even if they want to leave them, according to a January LinkedIn survey of 5,520 U.S. workers. Top reasons people gave for staying in their jobs right now include collecting a steady paycheck and keeping household finances stable (59%), taking advantage of company benefits (30%), wanting to wait out the pandemic for a more favorable job market (15%) and having no time or energy to focus on a job switch (14%).
“I think there is hesitation about coming into a new situation where you’re not going to be able to onboard in person, the risk that it might not be a good fit, and that tends to make people more cautious,” George Anders, author of the LinkedIn report, told HuffPost. “You get a group of people who are going, ‘This may be what I need to make peace with right now.’”
The survey follows June research from Deloitte that found the number of millennials who anticipate changing jobs in the next two years has dropped from 49% in 2019 to 31% in 2020. The millennials surveyed cited the need for stability as their reason for not leaving their current positions.
When survival is the focus, hunting for a better opportunity gets tabled.
Cicely Horsham-Brathwaite, a licensed psychologist and executive coach, said she has seen this shift in needs in her own clients.
“Part of it is that people are so stressed that the thought of going through a job search, going to another company that is unknown, is scary,” she said. “People’s survival needs around making sure that you have the income you need to sustain your life is very much the focus.”
“People are so stressed that the thought of going through a job search, going to another company that is unknown, is scary.”
This is true for Rachael, an educational administrator who oversees K-12 schools in New York City. Prior to the pandemic, Rachael was denied a raise and felt like she couldn’t grow at her workplace.
“The culture for someone like me, an African American woman interviewing for a position ... it wasn’t easy. It hasn’t been easy. That was one of the reasons besides [not getting a raise] that I was really willing to go somewhere and have peace of mind and be able to grow,” said Rachael, who asked for her full name to be withheld due to concerns of career reprisal.
But then COVID-19 hit New York City, and Rachael’s plans to look for a new job changed.
“Instead of me looking for the job that I’ve always wanted, for security reasons I definitely decided to make sure that my family and I are taken care of,” she said. “In the beginning in New York City, there were ... a lot of people getting laid off. Being in a job that is unionized is the best place to be right now.”
Right now, the goal of saving for a house keeps her going at work.
“What I’m getting out of this is ensuring that I get the house of my dreams, and that’s what motivates me to wake up in the morning,” she said.
Her company benefits, such as access to therapy and the ability to work remotely, have helped, too.
“If I didn’t have those benefits, maybe I wouldn’t be able to cope, I wouldn’t be able to manage the pandemic,” Rachael said, adding that if she were required to go into work every day, “I would really be pushed to continue my journey in looking elsewhere to save my livelihood, to save my life.”
What to do if you want to leave your job but can’t during the pandemic.
1. Plan ahead for your next career move. Be proactive about laying the groundwork for your next job, even if you don’t think you can leave your current one right now. Brush up your résumé and cover letter, and network with others who have the careers you want so that when you are ready to job hunt, you can hit the ground running.
Rachael said that people who are not in their ideal jobs should ask themselves who they are, where they want to be and what their strengths are.
“For me, my thought was, ‘Life is short. What do you want your legacy to be? And where do you want to invest your time?’” Rachael said.
2. Don’t compare yourself to who you were professionally before the pandemic. But do adjust and experiment with what works. Reset your definition of what good work means during a pandemic. Sometimes, that means accepting “good enough” as your new job standard.
“We are all, to some degree, working with at least one hand tied behind our backs,” licensed psychologist Kristin Bianchi previously told HuffPost. “We can’t judge ourselves based on what we were able to do pre-pandemic, before physical distancing restrictions were put into place.”
It’s not useful to push yourself beyond what you’re capable of, but Horsham-Brathwaite suggested doing periodic check-ins with yourself to see if your current level of disengagement needs to continue or if you can give a little bit more.
3. Understand that complete detachment can be a sign of deeper issues and focus on finding fulfillment elsewhere. Loss of interest in the world around you is a sign of burnout and depression. If you are coasting through your job with no sense of meaning or engagement at all, Horsham-Brathwaite said, recognize that you may be missing out on feelings that contribute to an overall sense of wellness and need to seek them elsewhere.
“Give yourself permission for enjoyment,” Horsham-Brathwaite said. “Your satisfaction doesn’t just have to come from how you perform in your work.”
She suggested doing activities that either supplement your life outside of work by using skills and talents that are already meaningful to you or that help you grow and develop, such as participating in your church or joining clubs.