Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Weathering the Covid Stress Test

Ideas for navigating the aftermath of the pandemic.

Key points

  • Employers and workers want different remote work policies.
  • For everything else, the pandemic has allowed for more options in where to live and work.
  • Being in or starting a group for dual-career families could be helpful.

The pandemic has put many dual-career families through a particularly rigorous stress test. Figuring out how to be effective in two high-powered careers while working remotely and still splitting other life responsibilities equitably requires high levels of creativity and discipline. Families who were used to savoring every too-scarce moment of time together suddenly found themselves all stuck at home with no escape.

Africa Studio/Shutterstock
Source: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

For all the effort to allocate duties fairly, if history is any guide, it's likely that in many cases women have borne the brunt of these new and increased demands on time and organizational skills. Unless a couple had a serious conversation early in the course of a crisis to sort all this out, what typically happens is that the woman fills the void, because that is the traditional behavior pattern. It’s also often the path of least resistance, and it happens almost unconsciously.

Now that we can glimpse the outlines of a post-pandemic landscape, many of us are navigating the shift from completely remote work to some sort of hybrid work model. This introduces a whole new array of uncertainties for both employees and employers.

The great divide

Many employers have come to grudgingly accept that we seem to be moving to a hybrid work model for the foreseeable future, but according to McKinsey Quarterly, there is an underlying divide in what employers and workers really want. Bosses naturally would love to have everyone back in the office—to preserve the culture, stimulate innovation and restore their sense of control—while workers want to retain the flexibility they’ve gained during the pandemic and limit the time they must spend in the office.

In fact, a startling 88 percent of C-suite executives surveyed by McKinsey expect “core” employees to spend at least three or four days a week in the office, yet 52 percent of employees want to work from home at least three days a week—and in the U.S., a full third of corporate and government employees want to work remotely full-time.

The devil is in the details with all return-to-work policies, and some solutions may take months or years to fully evolve. All this uncertainty has contributed to the fact that many companies have communicated their plans in a vague or confusing way, or even not at all.

This lack of clarity adds to a sense of anxiety among employees. Workers at organizations that are not communicating clearly about the future are almost three times more likely to experience moderate to high levels of burnout. If you are a high-ranking executive, you are leadership, and this is on you. Try to ensure the company is being clear and honest, even if it’s only admitting its own uncertainty. Companies that fail to do this or that ignore employee preferences may face a serious talent drain—employees are voting with their feet.

Are you at the right company?

Most of the leverage has shifted to workers in this tight labor market. It’s an excellent time to reevaluate just how happy you are with your present situation and take steps to change it if you so desire. For instance, if you’re intrigued by the idea of working for a particular company that’s based in a different city, this is a great time to get hired via a Zoom interview, with minimal pressure to show up in person, much less to relocate. (It’s still helpful if the company isn’t too many time zones away.) You do need to be comfortable with technology to make the situation work.

One factor that has changed during the pandemic is the dominance of major cities. We’ve always stressed how important it is to live in a place where careers can flourish. For the past decade, big cities in the U.S. and Europe have experienced the lion’s share of job growth, while smaller cities have fallen behind. Remote work has rebalanced the equation, at least for now.

Increased options and silver linings

If you live in a big city but find the idea of life in a midsize city attractive, it’s worth considering. The limiting factor for many dual-career families in where they live is a reluctance to have their children change schools and leave friends behind. Once business travel starts up again, large cities are likely to regain a key advantage, but estimates indicate that business travel may never come back all the way to what it was. A silver lining is that dual-career couples may be expected to spend less time on the road and end up having a better work-life balance.

There’s also room for improvement in the workplace. Affinity groups or networks where dual-career couples can exchange tips and ideas, or just trade “war stories,” are a good idea we strongly favor. We believe in being proactive, and we would thus advise creating dual-career couple affinity groups by yourselves. Dual-career couples need to help each other and exchange ideas, the same way that women’s networks assist women and parents’ groups are there for parents. If anything, the pandemic has revealed all the unmet needs of dual-career couples and the need for their own support system. Let’s create such networks, whether at the office, in your neighborhood or via Zoom. Why not now?

More from Psychology Today

More from Ilene Gordon and Bram Bluestein

More from Psychology Today