Article: Income inequality and the pandemic

COVID-19 & the Workplace

Apr. 13, 2022

by Babak Babali

How has post-pandemic workplace culture affected the lives and income of white collar workers?

The COVID-19 pandemic and its ramifications which continue to this day have greatly changed the definition of work.

It is fair to say that the pre-pandemic and post-pandemic workplace culture across the world will never be the same.

In 2020-2022 many businesses learned that a departure from the traditional office-based model of work does not necessarily have an impact on their productivity—at least for some jobs.

However, the pandemic and the ensuing distance-working culture negatively affected—and even discriminated against—some blue collar workers whose job demanded their physical presence, those who have a low IT literacy, and those who lack a cheap and 24/7 access to high speed internet, particularly in developing economies.

Online conference rooms, after all, have not liberated everyone from the necessity of commuting to work five days a week. Drivers, assembly line workers, and manual laborers still need to show up if they expect a paycheck at the end of the week/month.

One can imagine, therefore, that some believe that the pandemic worsened the income gap between the rich and the poor.

No lesser an organization than the World Economic Forum published an article in October, 2020, entitled “The super-wealthy won big as COVID-19 spread,” arguing that the flow of money to the accounts of billionaires has continued even in the worst days of the pandemic, while those who were hit the hardest were essentially left to their own devices.

Even those professionals whose presence is not required in the workplace, such as computer programmers, accountants, and freelancers, however, are not necessarily better off with the new work culture.

Even white collar office workers can “lose touch” with their network and end up earning less than they did in pre-pandemic times, despite some cuts in transportation costs and other expenses.

Not being really in touch with other people can limit one’s professional networking skills and horizons, depriving them of picking up new ideas, making new connections, or—at the very least—hearing a few workplace jokes over the workweek to boost their morale.

It used to be that every workplace had its own in-house stand-up comedian, but sharing a healthy dose of humor with colleagues may be interpreted as inappropriate by many during a Zoom meeting.

Working long hours alone and without contact with colleagues can take a psychological toll after a few weeks, as many telecommuters have pointed out over the last two years.

In a 2022 blog post, the World Bank shed light on another angle, noting that “weak recoveries in emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) are expected to raise between-country inequality.”

This makes sense. Not every country has had the necessary infrastructure and resources to allow its businesses adjust to the new realities. Those working in less privileged nations, as such, will become poorer compared to their counterparts in developed economies.

On the plus side, however, many businesses have learned since the early days of 2020 to continue to operate under challenging circumstances such as lockdowns.

Although the telecommuting work culture may have undermined the income and psychological health of some, at least businesses have been able to keep more personnel on the payroll than they could under similar circumstances two decades ago.

All things considered, even if the post-pandemic work culture is not perfect and has led to a decline in incomes, it has positive qualities that can be kept alive and used by businesses as the global economy returns to normalcy.

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