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Microsoft asked 31,000 people what's changed about work. One result was startling

If you never thought you'd see the day this would become so important, well, here we are.
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Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributor on
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Back to the office? Maybe not.

Screenshot by ZDNet

We'd all like to reassess our lives.

Somehow, though, we just never find the time.

Ambitions drive us. Work overwhelms us. And time messes with our minds.

How, then, have we changed during the two years of the pandemic?

Have we stopped to consider a little? Or has the painful awkwardness -- for some -- of working from home caused us to work more and smell far fewer roses?

Helpfully, Microsoft has been intensely researching what's happening to our heads and souls. 

No, not to sell a little more software -- well, not just -- but to help its customers and employees realize what's really happening.

Managers Can't Manage.

Last year, Redmond's Work Trend Index offered an extraordinary picture. Bosses were having a rather good time, while those who worked for them were suffering: 37% said they were working too hard, while 41% insisted they were looking for another job.

The generous might suggest this was a very accurate presager of the Great Resignation.

But now another year has passed and Microsoft has again chatted to 31,000 people all over the world -- and looked at trillions of productivity signals from its own software -- to ask "What gives?" and "Who's taken to this remote thing?"

The study's title is oddly uplifting: "Great Expectations: Making Hybrid Work Work."

Yet within it is a picture of frustration and, yes, reassessment of what life is all about.

Suddenly, it's managers who are complaining.

Almost three-quarters say they just can't change things for employees, either because they don't have the resources or because they've lost their influence.

A bracing 54% say, who'd have thought, that leadership is completely out of touch with employees. Now how could that have happened? Might this have something to do with all those bosses saying last year that they were "thriving"?

It's easy to wallow in your own comfort and forget those who aren't.

How Do Those Roses Smell?

The most pungent conclusion from this study is a philosophical one: People have really, really stopped to consider the meaning of life.

Consider some more of the study's conclusions.

More than half of hybrid employees are considering a shift to remote. Meanwhile, more than half of remote employees are considering a shift to hybrid. The latter, of course, are merely wondering whether to go hybrid so that they can get face time with their oh-so-distant leaders.

A substantial number -- 38% -- admit they're not entirely clear about the point of an office anymore. Though many confess they're missing the ability to build real human relationships at work.

The most moving, and perhaps even hopeful, parts of this study, however, show people have actually stopped, thought, and wondered about how work can affect their lives. In a not good way, you understand.

Here's a nudge in a human direction: 53% of employees are now more likely to prioritize work/life balance than before the pandemic.

Perhaps being physically closer to your family members, seeing their lives and struggles more regularly, has caused some to wonder what it's all about. Really.

The Power Of Money? No, The Power Of Peace.

And now for the most startling element of all. What has really made people quit?

There was a tie at the top. Was it between the need for more money and the need for more power? It was not.

Instead, it was between personal well-being or mental health and work/life balance. Which all, to me, sounds like one very big thing.

It's people all around the world observing their own work lives and ululating "I just won't take this anymore" in loud internal voices.

For once it's not just about money or a promotion. That reason for quitting came in at number 7.

The true question, of course, is whether this turn toward the light can last.

How long will the employment environment suit those who prefer self-preservation to self-immolation? How long before a recession, or some other trigger toward greater financial need, infects the human soul?

And how long before the majority of companies conclude that maximizing profit -- so that the leadership can make even more money -- may not be the best way to run a company?

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