The Digital Issue

How COVID-19 Put an End to Glamorizing the Grind

From the outside, Alexandria Gilleo’s career looked luxe. The make-up artist would spend her workdays on photoshoot sets in Manhattan, getting celebrities like Adriana Lima and Paul Rudd camera-ready. Once the sun went down, she’d rush across the city to attend product launch events for some networking. 

She’d take a late-night train home, catch some shut-eye, then repeat it all over again the next day.

“At the time, I really enjoyed it,” says the 31-year-old. “I was really addicted to the grind, hustle, and glamorization.”

Fast forward to March 2020. Canceled photo shoots and events left Gilleo with nothing but time to reflect on how she’d been working over the last few years. It was then that she realized working up to 13 hours a day, five to six days a week, and enduring a grueling four-hour round-trip commute day after day wasn’t always energizing—it was draining.

While obviously difficult in so many ways, Gilleo took advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown period and gave her life and career a makeover.

“That time was profound for me. I slept in and gave my body more rest, I developed deeper meditation practices, and cooked all my meals at home with intention,” she says. “It allowed me to deep-clean and organize my space at home, spend time outdoors in nature, and really get clear with what direction I wanted to head into with work.”

Gilleo is among a growing group of individuals who are seeing the pandemic as a wake-up call about the realities of the way they had previously been working. The side hustles, the need to be always on, and the constant grind have many professionals reassessing their perception of their jobs—and it could be a silver lining of the pandemic.

Could this be the end of glamorizing the grind? Here’s what mental health professionals, career and management experts, and workers themselves have to say about the changing relationship with careers during the pandemic.

A Shift in Values

Workers lives’ changed radically early on in the pandemic. More than 22 million jobs were lost between January and April 2020, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Among those still employed, front-line workers put their health at risk providing essential services. Office workers navigated a rapid transition to remote work, which evaporated the boundaries they once had with their jobs and sometimes required far more hours than before. Plus, the closures of day cares and schools presented working parents with a host of new challenges.

Taken together, the changes the pandemic brought to the concept of work prompted a major shift in values among workers across the country.

“There’s something about major life disruptions that cause people to take a step back and re-evaluate what’s working and what’s not,” says Scott Dust, PhD, Raymond E. Glos Associate Professor of Management at the Farmer School of Business at Miami University, and chief research officer at Cloverleaf. “Specific to the workplace, most studies are illustrating that the pandemic is causing workers to think more deeply about whether their current job is meaningful and enables them to feel psychologically fulfilled. Inevitably, this is causing workers to re-evaluate whether ‘the grind’ of their particular job is what they really want.”

On a broad scale, this shift in values became particularly apparent in early-to-mid 2021. Increased vaccinations made the world feel safer and more normal, giving people a chance to partake in the passions (like travel) they missed out on the previous year. It was also a time to finally reconnect with friends and loved ones after many months of isolation. 

“There was a renewed hope for everyone. By this time, a significant population was already facing burnout at so many levels that it pushed them to re-evaluate what they really wanted to do in their lives,” says Rashmi Parmar, MD, psychiatrist with Community Psychiatry and MindPath Care Centers.

For many, it was an eye-opening time of figuring out what really mattered—and work became less of a priority.

Noelani Soto

It was like COVID made me completely reset myself and although I have had my ups and downs, I’ve seen more good days than bad days compared to when I was in the daily grind.

— Noelani Soto

“The most important thing I started valuing was my health—mental and physical,” says Noelani Soto, who was laid off from her demanding travel-focused public relations job in 2020. “I bought myself a gratitude journal and joined a workout program. It was like COVID made me completely reset myself and although I have had my ups and downs, I’ve seen more good days than bad days compared to when I was in the daily grind.”

She briefly tried out another full-time job in early 2021 and found that she started slipping back into old patterns that left her exhausted and unfulfilled. She eventually decided to resign and pursue self-employment as a publicist and journalist, which allowed her to continue prioritizing the values she found earlier in the pandemic.

“Today, I’m back to journaling and working out and I feel so much lighter taking things at my own pace. I definitely feel I’m more compassionate with myself now,” she says.

The Changing Workplace

These shifts in values and perception of work may be responsible, at least in part, for the record-high number of workers becoming bored with work and leaving their jobs. in what's becoming known as the great resignation, some 3.6 million Americans left their jobs in May alone and 74% of workers were actively disengaged with their jobs as of March 2021, according to Gallup.

In response, companies have been implementing friendlier policies that they hope will help them retain their existing workforce and become more attractive to new talent.

drawing of people in an office working at their computers

Verywell / Bailey Mariner

“Companies have incorporated solutions that allow their employees to have more flexibility with work schedules and becoming digital- or remote-first organizations to help employees balance their work and family life,” says May Thao-Schuck, MBA, vice president of career and professional development at St. Catherine University. “[Workplaces have also been] allowing employees to volunteer and are offering opportunities to engage with employees’ communities through mentoring students or community members and offering educational programs to elevate their employees’ career advancements pathways.”

May Thao-Schuck, MBA

Companies have incorporated solutions that allow their employees to have more flexibility with work schedules and becoming digital- or remote-first organizations to help employees balance their work and family life.

— May Thao-Schuck, MBA

Many employers are also taking measures to address burn-out, which has been on the rise during the pandemic. An Indeed survey of 1,500 workers found that 52% of people were experiencing burnout as of February 2021, up from 43% prior to COVID.

“Many corporations are encouraging individuals to meet with their supervisors more routinely to discuss their burnout and other related concerns, and providing mental health days and other helpful resources,” says Leela R. Magavi, MD, regional medical director for Community Psychiatry and MindPath Care Centers. “Some corporations are scheduling yoga and mindfulness sessions throughout work hours.”

Flexibility Remains Key

Perhaps no single policy has been embraced by workers quite as much as the flexibility to work remotely, at least a few days a week. In fact, nearly 40% say they’d consider quitting if their employer forced them to go back to the office full-time, according to Bloomberg.

Working from home is what allowed many professionals to make positive changes for their mental health and well being, like squeezing in a quick workout during a slow point in the day and making healthy food at home for lunch. It also allowed working parents to be there for their kids and help them adjust to remote learning.

However, that’s not to say remote work hasn’t come with its own challenges—like Zoom fatigue, feelings of disconnect from colleagues, and a sense that one can never truly disconnect from their job. Those are among the obstacles that some companies are trying to address through creative new policies.

“As one example, some organizations are trying a four-day workweek,” says Dust. “Another interesting development is that organizations are considering implementing meeting guidelines…[such as] a minimum of a 10-minute break in between meetings. This ensures that people can get a quick psychological recovery and reduce Zoom fatigue, which impacts cognitive functioning.”

He adds that some organizations have also established blocks of time during the workweek when no meetings are allowed. 

“This mandated ‘heads down’ time is meant to ensure that employees aren’t spending their non-work hours trying to catch up on email or send follow-ups to meetings that took place throughout the day,” Dust explains. 

Vanessa Gordon

I now find a stronger and more meaningful connection with my employees and freelance contractors. We are all people and desire these conversations and to have the opportunity to let loose.

— Vanessa Gordon

Some employers are also taking a more human-focused approach with their work culture, trying to recreate in-person social experiences in a digital environment. Case in point: Vanessa Gordon, publisher of East End Taste Magazine, who started hosting open, informal Zoom calls called “Chill and Chat” with her team to help foster a sense of connectedness during the pandemic.

online therapy session

Verywell / Bailey Mariner

Prior to the public health crisis, Gordon admits she was always very strict about not wanting to mix life with work, and kept firm boundaries with her staff.

“But with the pandemic and its challenges, many of us were—and still are—lonely and crave those meaningful connections,” she says. “I now find a stronger and more meaningful connection with my employees and freelance contractors. We are all people and desire these conversations and to have the opportunity to let loose.”

What’s Next?

Whether or not these positive changes are here for the long-term remains to be seen. Both workers and employers alike are feeling a tension to get back to “normal.”

“The pressure to return to pre-pandemic working conditions is strong, as is the feeling of needing to make up for lost time,” says Emily Simonian, LMFT, MA, head of learning at Thriveworks in Washington, D.C.

Plus, it’s important to note the troubling realities that many low-wage earners still face, such as a lack of a living wage, inflexible schedules, and working conditions that put their health at risk. Many of these workers have not had the luxury to change the way they see work and won’t see profound changes to their employment without sweeping changes to workplace policies, employment laws, social services, and the availability of affordable housing.

But professionals’ newfound perception of work as a purely transactional engagement, rather than a part of their identity, could make the glamorization of the grind go the way of the dinosaur. 

Scott Dust, PhD

Many workers were stunned at how their needs were dismissed during the pandemic—they did more with less and put their health at risk. And now, it’s simply a transaction because their employer signaled to them that it was nothing more than that.

— Scott Dust, PhD

“Many workers were stunned at how their needs were dismissed during the pandemic—they did more with less and put their health at risk. And now, it’s simply a transaction because their employer signaled to them that it was nothing more than that,” says Dust. “Another view, that’s also always existed, but perhaps will become more popular is that idea of forgoing work that is driven by pay or ego for work that is driven by meaning and fulfillment.”

That’s not to say people will stop working. Rather, many will continue trying to establish better work-life balance and pivot their careers in more personally meaningful directions.

For Gilleo, this has meant not only being more selective about the make-up jobs she takes, but also opening a new business: My Zen Den, an infrared sauna studio and meditation station in Beacon, NY. The venture is in perfect alignment with her focus on creating a life focused on well being and her ambition to share her philosophy with others. 

“The intention is to help people with the physical and mental health while being able to form community and connection,” she says.

Looking back, she now sees the lockdown period as “a blessing in disguise,” as it allowed her to step out of the grind and into self-care practices that will sustain her throughout her career and life.

“There are definitely times when I can very easily see myself falling back into old patterns of hustle and grind. However, since March 2020 I really practiced routines and rituals making my daily practices habitual, so when I see old patterns start to creep in, I’m now able to pump the brakes, take a breath, and come back to center,” says Gilleo. “Work doesn’t have to be go-go-go in order to feel purpose, happy, and bring success.”

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Congressional Research Service. Unemployment rates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Updated August 20, 2021.

  2. Gallup. The “great resignation” is really the “great discontent.” Published July 22, 2021.

  3. Indeed. Employee burnout report: COVID-19’s impact and 3 strategies to curb it. Published March 11, 2021.

  4. Bloomberg. Employees are quitting instead of giving up working from home. Published June 1, 2021.