Welcome to 2021! Going to work? Going to the office?


         The Scream by Edvard Munch 1893

Sotherby’s described one of the variations of The Scream by Edvard Munch as the defining image of existentialism, the definition of Expressionism as an art movement and the figure as “sexually ambiguous, visually amorphous and almost dehumanised”. Who hasn’t felt like that after a bad year in local government!

It’s the anguish it portrays that is so accessible and there will be anguish for many as they want to continue working from home this year but find councils unresponsive and unsympathetic - and as fearful, rigid-minded and unimaginative as they had been in the past about people working from home. But how can they get away with this? One of the few positives from 2020 was the debunking of the distrust of one-dimensional managers who believed people working from home weren’t productive.

We know that now to have been discredited, that the evidence across the state has been that productivity was high, commuting times and car emissions were massively reduced, the sky was clear and the planet a happier place. There was flexibility for families and family responsibilities. Win/win.

But there will be lots of anachronistic managers with policies and attitudes to working from home that won’t allow sufficient flexibility, or even the discretion to exercise it, and not game to try different ways of working.

As we all get vaccinated and the pandemic slows, or disappears, working remotely can be dealt with on its merits, not because it’s an essential public health step, but because it’s good for workers and good for productivity. How will councils deal with this - with open minds, accepting the evidence of 2020, or like local government Donald Trumps asserting “alternative” facts? There are facts and there are fallacies, there are no alternative facts. (Donald who?)

Whether it’s back to the office, or the home office, or a combination of both, the end of the school holidays is next week, those of us who took leave over December and January have to come to grips with getting back to work and it won’t be like normal holiday breaks where you can talk to workmates about where they went on holidays, or where you went, because we haven’t had our normal options of a carefree January.

The Sydney Morning Herald on 14 January quoted a psychologist warning employer lawyers that a lot of workers will still be burnt out because the break hasn’t been long enough to recuperate. And it’s been punctuated by outbreaks in the northern beaches in particular and other parts of greater Sydney that have kept us masked and weary. The other side of the Great Dividing Range and up and down the coast is almost a sanctuary in comparison.

Here are some suggestions for a better start to the year, with a few employment observations rolled in:

  • Be positive, encourage yourself that “you can”. Research supports the idea that positive self-reinforcement leads to success and productivity, reduction in stress, high confidence and a happier life. Let the good times roll.
  • Change things to make a difference. Where have you wasted your energies on things you can do differently? Are there better places to work, can you change the workplace to make it better, or are there other options?
  • Start the day with an achievement- walk, swim, yoga or a stretch. Doing it early puts you in a positive state.
  • Stick to your working hours and more sustainable and family-friendly work and don’t fall into the trap of working longer and longer. If there’s work to be done, maybe you need better resourcing? It’s the Council’s responsibility to get the job done, not your individual responsibility. As long as you’re doing your job effectively and in the hours they pay you for, they can’t ask for more.
  • Schedule face-to face-time with colleagues when you get back, either online or in the office. If you’re a manager, acknowledge all the hard work and accomplishments from last year. If your manager doesn’t do this, get everyone to mention their failure at the next staff meeting!
  • Arrange your next break. No one gets the post-holidays blues if they’ve got another holiday in February, or March...
  • Make a checklist, and include on it even the easy things. That starts the workday with a positive reinforcement of having ticked things off already.
  • Take your annual and long service leave as it falls due. That’s what it’s for.

And by the way, Sotherby’s described The Scream (as quoted above) in 2012 when an 1895 version was being auctioned and sold for US$120,000,000. Yes, that’s US$120 million, about AU$155 million. Central Coast will be regretting they didn’t have a couple of versions lying around they could sell.


         The Scream by Edvard Munch 1895

Good luck and high hopes for a better, safer, vaccinated and more satisfying 2021.


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