The Best Laid Plans of Managers and Moms

2022 didn’t start out exactly as I’d planned.

At the end of December, I relished re-connecting with family that I hadn’t seen in two years, immersing in holiday celebrations, family meals, movies, hikes, and board games. I also took some time to reflect on the whirlwind that was 2021 and planned for 2022, considering how I wanted to spend my time at home and at work, prepared to kick off 2022 with clarity and focus.

Yet despite these good intentions, the universe had other plans. On January 1st, my 16-year-old son tested positive for COVID-19, beginning a period of home isolation, double masking, searches for antigen tests, and concerns about exposed extended family members. My husband tested positive a week later, despite all our precautions. And I know we were not alone, as the Omicron variant caused cases to soar in the United States, Europe, India, and around the world — with over three million daily new cases for the first time ever, forcing numerous hospitals to halt elective procedures. Many friends and colleagues have also been impacted by breakthrough infections, including the unfathomable loss of loved ones. Thankfully, my family’s symptoms were relatively mild, and all are now healthy. Still, it’s nearly two years into the pandemic and our lives continue to be upended by this crisis.

I wish that were all. Evidence of the catastrophic impacts that climate change is wreaking on our planet is also of grave concern. Scientists recently confirmed that the Thwaites glacier in Antarctica (roughly the size of Great Britain or the state of Florida) — dubbed the “doomsday” glacier because of its ability to raise ocean levels by several feet — is becoming rapidly destabilized, with cracks that could indicate collapse within ten years. Volcanic eruptions — like the recent massive undersea eruptions that resulted in a low-level tsunami in the Tonga archipelago — are expected to occur more frequently as a result of global warming. And Brazil has declared a state of emergency in 14% of their municipalities due to calamitous flooding in some regions and extreme droughts in others, severe weather patterns that are more frequent than ever before. We must take actions to address these pressing issues, which have long-term consequences on the Earth and all who inhabit it.

At the same time, the so-called “Great Resignation” is driving significant changes in workforce dynamics. In the United States, a record 4.5 million workers resigned in November. One in five healthcare workers quit during the pandemic. Food service and retail workers are leaving in record numbers. Employees are seeking greater flexibility, better salary and benefits, more meaningful work, and faster career growth. No longer are professionals forced to sell their home and move across the country to take a new job; instead, they simply turn in one badge, get another, and keep working from their home office. This war for talent is creating a new employer-employee dynamic that we all need to contend with in order to attract, retain, and advance essential workers.

Whew. So much for that 2022 plan, right? And yet I remain hopeful about what this year and the future have to offer, largely due to my faith in the following:

1. Innovation and Discovery. The ingenuity of humans never ceases to amaze me. Scientists developed COVID-19 vaccines and treatments in record time, improving protection from severe illness. Innovative hybrid electric vehicles, alternative energy, carbon capture materials, and new batteries provide solutions for minimizing human impacts on the environment. A recent longitudinal study of 10 million people provides strong evidence of the link between the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and multiple sclerosis (MS), offering promise to understand, treat, and prevent this debilitating illness. On Christmas Day, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was launched, enabling more powerful observations of our solar system and the far reaches of space, with the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the universe. Extraordinary innovations have progressed quantum computing, semiconductor technology, hybrid cloud, and artificial intelligence beyond what many thought possible. All this sustains my belief that humans have the capacity to answer our toughest questions and solve our biggest problems.

2. Collaboration and Co-creation. Never before has it been so obvious how interconnected we all are. Humans are dependent on one another for our health and safety. In November, scientists in South Africa were the first to alert the world of a concerning new COVID-19 variant, allowing others to react, study, and prepare for Omicron. We must rely on each other — friends and family, community members, colleagues, and global citizens — to protect our planet and create a better tomorrow. We’re seeing evidence of people coming together to create joint policies (like transparent reporting of environmental, social, and governance impacts), shared guidance (as from the World Health Organization), common protections (like those offered by the United Nations), shared trusted data (like the John’s Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard), and cooperative response efforts (like the International Science Reserve). We’re all in this together, and the more we collaborate and co-create across boundaries, the brighter the future is.

3. Compassion and Empathy. Finally, none of this works without the inherent compassion and empathy of people around the world. When local COVID-19 case counts were high and nearby pharmacies were out of at-home tests, I was pleased to see neighbors sharing supplies with other families in need. The public schools called to check up on my sick kids, rather than penalizing them for being absent. I’ve seen leaders from different companies share best practices for hybrid work and employee retention, something we’re all struggling to figure out. Instead of taking it personally when an employee chooses to leave our organization, I consider what else I could do to help others feel valued and find opportunities for learning, development, and advancement. I know how meaningful it is when managers and colleagues respond with empathy when I’m struggling with personal challenges; I also know this compassion pays dividends later on, in terms of good will and loyalty, as well as a “pay it forward” attitude that pervades company culture. While enjoying a Broadway show this month, I witnessed ushers assist a frail old man to his seat, gently reminding him to keep his mask over his mouth and nose. All this goes a long way to restoring my faith in humanity.

Despite the many challenges our society faces, I am heartened by the silver linings, encouraged by the inherent goodness in so many people, and optimistic about the path forward.

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