Malcolm Gladwell, author of “The Tipping Point,” says working from home is destroying Americans’ work ethic and self-worth.
Gladwell made his remarks in a recent “Diary of a CEO” podcast, as a mere 36% of workers have returned to the office in New York. Nationally, only 44% of offices in the top 10 U.S. metropolitan areas were occupied in the week ending July 27, according to Bloomberg.
As empty as New York business skyscrapers are, that’s a vast improvement from May, when an abysmal 8% of the work force had reported back to their offices, the New York Post reports.
'What Have You Reduced Your Life to?'
“If we don’t feel like we’re part of something important, what’s the point?” Gladwell says. “If it’s just a paycheck, then it’s like, what have you reduced your life to?
“Don’t you want to feel part of something?”
Gladwell underscores the importance for American workers to regain a “sense of belonging,” adding that “a core psychological truth is…it’s very hard to feel necessary when you’re physically disconnected.
“It’s not in your best interest to work from home [WFH],” Gladwell continues. “If you’re just sitting in your pajamas in your bedroom, is that the work life you want to live?”
Gladwell went on to say he is aghast at chief executive officers of major companies, like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, gingerly raising the question of returning to the office and feeling compelled to offer hybrid or flextime schedules to their work forces: “I’m really getting very frustrated with the inability of people in positions of leadership to explain this effectively to their employees.”
In San Francisco, where an estimated 33% of workers are still remote, city officials estimate that it cost the city $400 million in tax revenues in 2021.
In late spring, New York Mayor Eric Adams celebrated the unofficial end of coronavirus and its associated lockdowns and mask mandates—noting it was time for New York’s economy to get back to working on all full cylinders. Not to mention the massive tax revenues that would bring from foot traffic, along with the return to leisure, sports, entertainment and cultural activity, for which New York is world famous.
Salary Premium of 35%
In a related Wall Street Journal opinion piece in June, “Can America’s Cities Make a Comeback,” a leading urban economist made the case for the personal and economic value of working in a city.
Despite the argument that the pandemic WFH mandates have made hybrid work part of the American fabric going forward, and concessions even by major Wall Street banks to permit more work flexibility, economists argued that cities are the still the best place for companies to drive productivity.
Cities are where American workers thrive — by brainstorming, learning from one another and mentoring.
But even more compelling, cities are where professionals, by honing their skills, command and earn far higher salaries, with an earnings premium for city workers of as much as 35% over the course of just 10 years.
Harvard University Economics Chair Edward Glaeser said of the devastation that COVID has wrought on major cities: "The city depends upon being a thriving place, where people buy and sell to each other, and interact with each other. It's terrible for a city that many of its key urban office markets feel like wastelands during the daytime.
"For most of us, the most important interactions of our lives will occur in the real world, and, consequently, location remains absolutely critical," Glaeser continued.
In agreement with Gladwell, Glaeser argued that in order for the economies of major American cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago to bounce back, it is necessary for their workers to reappear.
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