The City of New York’s job vacancy rate is five times higher than it was in 2020, as laid out in this brutal New York Times story. Yes, fewer people want to work for our beloved New York City now. Some — or even much — of this is a product of our (potentially dwindling) golden moment of greater worker mobility and choice, but part of the unwillingness to work for Mayor Eric Adams appears to be his demand that city employees return to the office full time. (He loves the office so much that he has at least two of them himself.)
Anyone who’s seen Working Girl or Baby Boom understands that the thrum of Manhattan is the literal sound of money being printed. So it makes sense that an overly rigid business thinker would, therefore, insist that workers once more flood the streets and Sweetgreen, thereby sustaining the sky-high office rents, thereby fueling the $13 sandwich and $6 coffee market, thereby ensuring money moves between the pockets of various entities that aren’t you — “the economy.” (High-end office rental rates, already at shocking and historic heights, have declined by just 6 percent over the course of the pandemic.)
But the mayor’s spokesperson, Fabien Levy, who certainly knows a thing or two about job mobility, says this isn’t just about the Prets and Vornados. This administration also cares about mental health. “Returning to in-person work has been shown to improve employee productivity, allow for a greater cross-pollination of ideas, and boost mental health,” he told the Times. “And the city is leading by example, while encouraging private-sector employers to bring their workers back to the office as well.”
The mayor isn’t alone in his obsession with the office. We are deep into year 56 of the pandemic opinion-writing cycle, which treats the question of where we work as the singular measure by which our lives will be shaped.
Remote work is often a slog, and the hybrid office is messy at best. Some workers are unhappy at home. They are also, as it happens, unhappy at the office. The terrible thing about the return-to-work conversation is that for every study, there is another study. Then you can arrange the studies to make the case you want. This is called “publishing an Atlantic article.”
(Even bad remote work is better than spending two hours going to an office where you repeatedly contract COVID, but let’s keep our focus on studies. The studies!)
Studies also show there are things that are extremely good for mental health that have nothing to do with where one plugs in their laptop every morning. Even a modest supplemental income — just $500 a month, in one case — makes you very, very happy. Paid leave and universal child care make people considerably less stressed. Having a job when you want a job also makes people feel great. (So good on the mayor for his youth-employment program, honestly!) Accessible mental-health treatment? Also great for mental health. So is, like, petting a dog and sitting in the sun for a few minutes. Someone should look into that (from home or the office).