Skilled workers: out of lockdown, but disengaged?

03 July 2020

Following his article "Lockdown and meaning at work: is this the right time for a career change?", our partner Laurent Polet* spoke to SKEMA Alumni to share his analysis of the new phase we are currently in.

The first group were on the front line, skilled workers in the health care sector but also those performing jobs deemed essential, dealing with the stress of this unprecedented and unexpected crisis situation. The second were working from home, in a wide variety of contexts, but all tired of sitting day in and day out in front of their computer screens. Finally, the third are off work, often completely, and with nothing else to do, in a context where they are questioning the usefulness of their job now that the social hierarchy of occupations has been reversed.
In all three groups, the finding is the same: a sudden and massive destabilisation of their professional role. Skilled workers, managers and top managers in highly contrasting situations are seeing a radical shift in their frames of reference, in the recognition they are given or even in their status.

Given the societal issues amplified by this crisis (ecological transition, public service remit, health, etc.), the often-silent revolt of young graduates and more experienced skilled workers could take a new and unexpected turn once this epidemic is over.

While the most determined among them will choose to change careers to find more meaning or a more impactful purpose in their work, the others will probably weather the storm for fear of an economic crisis that might jeopardise their employment. But this apparent loyalty would mask a latent disengagement.
A discreet demobilisation would manifest as a passive attitude, as weak signals of decreased motivation. This demobilisation could take the form of absences from work for some, out of fear of the health risks, due to childminding constraints at home or to weariness caused by a trying lockdown period or even, why not, to signal a refusal to bend to orders they see as contrary to their own code of ethics.
Skilled workers are on the front line of plans to get companies back up and running after a period that will have had repercussions on projects and developments of all kinds. They could face added pressure, because now is a critical time. But among them, when business resumes, there will be skilled workers who, like mirrors reflecting our society, will rebel against the relentless pursuit of performance imposed by some employers.

Because this single-minded focus on performance is always more glaring during a recession, this crisis could spell the end of skilled workers obeying their superiors. Depending on how it is organised, the end of lockdown could foster an insidious movement of rebellion among skilled workers against the vicious spiral of an economic model in which they no longer wish to be complicit. 

*Laurent Polet, Professor of Management at Centrale Paris and Co-founder of Primaveras, the school for finding meaning in your work.


SKEMA Alumni is a partner of Réseau Primaveras, a non-profit organisation founded by two faculty members from CentraleSupélec, advocating the freedom of each individual to choose their professional life so as to pour their talents into a career that is useful in this fast-changing world. Primaveras has developed its own method and applies it in group career change programmes to help people leave the career path they took based solely on their academic qualifications and choose a profession with a positive impact. The programmes are eligible for funding through the CPF (French training fund).