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Kirk LaPointe: We have fallen into an era of ennui – about COVID, and work

Last year we were dealing with quiet quitting; this is the autumn of quiet denial, writes Kirk LaPointe
There are no major COVID protests, writes Kirk LaPointe, just a silence and a shrug about the new variant out there

Field notes on the fall: Labour Day, in my view, is the start of the New Year. 

We pack away the flip-flops, stop wearing the white pants and patterned shirts, and get real work done in September, October and November before we are again distracted. Cars queue again to drop children at schools, then congest what had been open freeways for months. Calls get returned, email addresses take down their OOO notices and men find their shaving kits once more – if not their skills at ironing suits.

There has been a historical routine to September of resumed white-collar intensity in absentia since June, maybe May. Only this year, as in the previous three, there is a difference, and not an entirely good one.

Last year we were dealing with quiet quitting. This is the first autumn of COVID quiet denial. 

There are no major protests, just a silence and a shrug about the new variant out there. Friends of mine have it or are lying to me about having it to get out of seeing me – I can’t tell. It’s common and acceptable now to say you’ve tested positive to avoid the dinner party you know you’ll hate or the in-person meeting you’ll dread. And you’re believed.

My beer-league hockey resumed and no one mentioned the pandemic in the dressing room or masked up as they got on the gear. We used to joke that one day, some year hence, we might actually have a BIV print edition without a mention of COVID. Turns out we’ve had many, until this one-off.

As for the office, it’s enlivened when people are here, usually three days a week, but candidly what I hear from others elsewhere in business confirms my bias that the glue of the workplace has been misplaced and we haven’t generated a new adhesive dynamic or routine.

All sorts of things that people accommodated pre-pandemic now seem non-negotiable. Dogs are healthier than ever. Supermarkets are busier in the day, quieter in the evening. I can imagine day care centres no longer routinely have large numbers of harried parents arriving after pick-up times. The variant is around, but we are shrugging it off and wondering if we should have been shrugging it off much sooner.

As for work, it seems you can do anything from anywhere and anytime of your choosing. I can’t imagine what this would have meant for me if this had happened at the beginning and not near the end of my career. I fret for the next generation who will only have worked this way and try to generate enough prosperity as an over-expensive society to pay for what our politicians spent into staggering debt these last three years.

For me over the years, the workplace offered over five days a week what golf offers over 18 holes – enough opportunity to ensure you make one good shot, in the office’s case one move that stirs passion and shakes off any mood of concern. Invariably it gets you to think that, if only I could practise this more often, I’d feel much better about it.

We haven’t discovered the proper almost-post-pandemic vibe yet. The pendulum has swung over to relief from the overwork that preceded COVID but hasn’t found the sweet spot of the right kind of productivity. Not the kind that ticks the boxes on tasks, but one that produces new tasks that tick the box on innovation, creativity and an opening of the mind to great new ideas worth pursuing and taking the risk over. We’re going to have to find that, because in places we’re getting awfully soft awfully fast.

It is ironic that we have two ringleaders of last year’s Freedom Convoy on trial in Ottawa, but not a probe into the local police for providing parking passes instead of a concerted truck escort through the downtown and out to a suburban parking lot. 

Nor, for that matter, have we reviewed how institutions and political leadership dealt in these three-plus years to get the proper post-mortem to learn our lessons for the next time, even though we know there will be a next time. Dr. Bonnie Henry surfaced briefly at week’s end and drew only middling coverage for her warning that, yes, again the case counts were rising. Now that we know more and have more to repel it, this is our new flu and common cold. Health Minister Adrian Dix is nowhere to be found, because woe betide the politician who touches the third rail by suggesting we need to mask up or socially distance, much less be restricted. Our prime minister, once a daily preacher of practiced caution, hasn’t talked COVID in memory. He drives ahead without looking in that rear-view mirror. Only, there is a lot of strewn carnage on the road behind him, principally what has been spent and what has been rearranged as a relationship to work, and our leaders are all mum on those two points.

This September is one of eerie ennui.

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and executive editor of BIV and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media