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Life-Changing Times


It’s hard to believe that just two years ago many of us went into our places of work, packed up, and went home for what most thought would be a week, maybe two—and wound up being a lot more than that.

In March 2020, my wife and I had just returned from a funeral in the Boston area. While the worst of what we would come to learn about COVID was—well, yet to be learned—we knew that cautions were in order. So we drove, rather than flew to the event—which wound up being full of strangers (many of whom were in what would come to be acknowledged as “vulnerable” health categories). Throughout we were aware, conscious of a certain risk, but we were not overly cautious—about on the order of what you would do when you come into contact with someone who had a cold. 

In hindsight, what might have been a “super spreader” event didn’t turn out to be one—even though less than 48 hours later the governor of the Commonwealth was putting in place lockdowns and restrictions that would have precluded our trip. We’ve not regretted that trip for a moment over the past two years, though on more than one occasion since I’ve thought to myself just how remarkable that was. It could have been life-changing.   

In fact, the past two years have been life-changing in such different ways—many have lost loved ones, and, worse, been precluded from saying “good-bye”—others have had damage to their health, or the health of loved ones—many more have suffered financial hardship—and, incredibly, some have not only emerged relatively unscathed, but prospered, at least financially—spared travel and commuting expenses, and perhaps even courtesy of assistance funds from the federal government. Most of us can identify with more than one of those categories. 

That said, while COVID, or the response to COVID, has affected us all[i] in some ways—and continues to do so—the impact was… uneven. Some industries—ours included—pretty much packed up one night, went home—and continued to do what we do every day (with modest adjustments). Others—restaurants, hotels, airlines, law enforcement, fire departments—couldn’t. Some—notably schools—tried to pivot to remote learning overnight with what are/were necessary, but arguably unsatisfying results. And then there were some—and here one can’t help but acknowledge the bravery, commitment and sacrifice of health care and long-term care workers—who not only “couldn’t,” but were required to put their very lives at risk in the service of others. 

These actions, and the response to these actions, will almost certainly be life-changing—in ways we cannot now fully appreciate. 

Amidst labels like the “Great Resignation,” it’s been widely proclaimed that we’re never going back to “normal”—that work, at least the notion of a 5 day/week physical location—has been changed…forever. And certainly, for some workers and workplaces, that is true. Whether that will be for good or ill, whether “cultures” can (or should) still be nurtured on that basis remains to be seen. 

However, the COVID pandemic has also illuminated—in a unique way—the importance of workplace benefits: the financial buffer that retirement savings can (and do) provide in an emergency, the synergies between our financial and physical health, and an opportunity for these programs to be—to the extent they aren’t already—an integral component of an organization’s culture.

And if these programs are an integral component of your culture—what does it say about your organization? Is it “just enough” to get by? 

Or could it be… should it be… life-changing?

[i] Indeed, I’ve walked away from this experience convinced of a couple of things: (1) most of the jobs that can’t be done from home are probably worth more than they’re paid; (2) many of us live further from the ones we love than we realize; and (3) many likely live further from work than we’d prefer.