By Zach Hagadone
Working from home sucks. I get it that many people — including many smart, capable, driven people — absolutely flourish while farting all day into their sweat pants, sending emails from the couch and simultaneously streaming various kinds of media from their phones, tablets and TVs. I’m not that way, but I get it.
I used to love working from home; that is, when it only happened a couple of times a year. Then it was a luxury that felt like a mildly transgressive marker of success. Spending 20 goddamn months doing it, however, has been — to put it mildly — a trial.
What started as a curious early-pandemic realization that I not only liked working in the office but needed to had, by the beginning of its second year, become a borderline existential crisis. Nearing a full 24 months of “commuting” downstairs from my bed to my tiny home office desk and back, I now understand that I was perilously close to losing it.
Thankfully, Reader Publisher Ben Olson agreed at the beginning of this month that it was time to return to our newsroom above Cedar Street and it’s hard for me to describe the thrill I felt while clearing away the dust and grime that had settled on my workspace since March 2020.
No joke: It looked like we’d all showed up to work one fine spring day and suddenly been raptured away. I had open notebooks caked in dirt on my desk bearing names and phone numbers for stories I’d been working on that are now history. A tea bag left in my office mug had become mummified, and I had to scrape it out with a screwdriver. The papers stacked on my windowsill were curled and yellowed by the sun of two summers, looking like they should be under glass in a museum.
I tore through all this junk over the course of three manic-yet-blissful hours on a recent Saturday and could barely sleep that Sunday with the excitement that I would drop off my kids at school the next morning and actually go to work.
Returning full-time to the office has meanwhile prompted a profound improvement to my mental health. It was pure relief — the unwinding of a level of tension I hadn’t fully understood. Whereas I had been angrily stalking around the house at whatever passed for “quitting time,” full of undispersed energy and routinely waking up between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m., panicked that I should go downstairs at home and start working, I now happily put in my time downtown and, upon returning home, actually feel for the first time in almost two years that I can relax.
Put simply: I feel like a normal human being again. Yet, in this passion for 9-to-5 office labor, I am apparently a weirdo.
According to an excellent piece published Dec. 7 by Bloomberg, “From the Great Resignation to Lying Flat, Workers Are Opting Out,” more than 24 million people in the U.S. quit their jobs between April and September this year, and the same thing is occurring to varying degrees everywhere from Germany to China and Japan.
Drilling into those numbers, Bloomberg reported that two-thirds of the so-called “millennials” who quit in 2021 did so for “mental health reasons” and upwards of 81% of Gen Z workers cited the same reason for doing the same thing.
Bloomberg referred to this generally as “global burnout,” in which employees as old as their mid-40s are looking at the amount of time they spend working compared to how much they’re earning and realizing that they will still never be able to get ahead, whether it be buying a home or even — perish the thought — retiring with anything remotely like the security all but guaranteed to previous generations of workers regardless of employment sector or education.
I get all that, too. I mean, what fool thinks they’re ever going to work their way into home ownership here on a prevailing wage? That didn’t used to be a laughable idea, but now it’s regarded as embarrassing naivete.
Maybe I’ve come to accept that. Maybe I’m hopelessly institutionalized into thinking of work as a place and an identity as much as an activity. Maybe I’m already so fulfilled in my job that I don’t need to “rethink” my working life into some squishy, idealized form of semi-profitable freedom. Maybe my office is just that cool. I think it is, as I feel such fondness for my desk phone and dictionary; affection for my pen holder and the big white board. Hell, I get warm-fuzzies just looking out the window at everyone going about their business on the street below. Who wouldn’t want to spend all their days there? I don’t know.
What I do know is that it’s good to be back and I’m never going home (to work) again.
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