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Is America’s Workaholism Really Cured?

Chelsey Zhu  |  February 1, 2023

The pandemic shook up our work lives for the better, but there’s still more progress to make to protect workers’ rights.

The pandemic fundamentally changed our relationship with work. Before 2020, there were news headlines everywhere about hustle culture, side gigs, and how to grind for your next promotion. But post pandemic, many people realized that their attitudes toward work were unhealthy. Suddenly, we were all talking about work-life balance, burnout, and the importance of mental health in the workplace. The Great Resignation came about because people were no longer afraid to demand the salaries and benefits that they deserved, and they weren’t afraid to go somewhere else.

The tides have turned dramatically to favor workers — but could we be on the precipice of another big shift? 

Companies including Amazon and Google have experienced mass layoffs, and many economists still say we should brace for a recession sometime this year. Quiet quitting has recently been superseded by quiet firing and quiet hiring — trends that take power away from employees and put it back in the hands of employers. All of this means that, even though the pandemic gave us great gains in the workplace, there’s a lot more we have to do to make those gains permanent. Writer Helaine Olen joins us to discuss exactly how we can do that. She’s a longtime journalist covering politics, economics, workplace culture, and women’s issues. She’s also an opinion columnist for The Washington Post and the author of “The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to be so Complicated.”

Helaine shares what she’s learned about the labor market through her reporting during the pandemic. She gives a brief history of our relationship with work before 2020, which she sums up as a “bad romance.” Listen to hear her explain how government policies, the economy, and popular media combined to create an “unforgiving employment environment where any step off the straight and narrow could cause permanent damage.”

We then walk through the early days of the pandemic and dig into why COVID-19 was able to break the spell of workaholism for millions of people — especially women. Helaine explains how a lack of government infrastructure and caregiving responsibilities pushed many women out of the workforce. But when they returned, they were ready to negotiate for better benefits or find better jobs. 

We also unpack the labor market in 2023 and beyond. Helaine weighs in on the workplace buzzwords that have become increasingly popular over the past year, including quiet hiring and quiet firing, and whether they’re likely to stick around. She also tells us why she thinks recent layoffs are not as threatening as they seem, and how new laws around pay transparency and noncompete clauses are helping employees keep their power. But the legislation shouldn’t stop there, she argues. Greater protections for unions, a federal paid leave policy, and regulations for remote work are just a few of the changes we still need to make to level the playing field on a government level. 

In Mailbag, we hear from one listener who wants to cut costs on her wedding, and another who doesn’t know what to do after checking all the financial “boxes” — savings, a 401K, investments, and a college fund for kids. In Thrive, the best budgeting tips for your 20s. 

You can find out more about Helaine at The Washington Post and on Twitter.

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The HerMoney podcast is supported by      Edelman
All advisory services offered through Financial Engines Advisors L.L.C. (FEA), a federally registered investment advisor. Results are not guaranteed. AM1969416

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