Kim Kardashian told women to “get your f**king ass up and work”, no doubt in response to a Starbucks coffee that didn’t meet her standards. But in a very real sense, these words ring true now more than ever and not in the way she may have intended.
‘No one wants to work anymore’, has been the rallying cry of people in positions of power for generations, and it’s certainly uttered around the Zoom Recruitment hallways from time to time as we’re following up the 10th lead for that one role that just refuses to be filled.
People have generally used this phrase to deride ‘lazy’ younger generations, but in a post-pandemic world the malaise around working is all too real, and it’s a problem that reaches from casual workers to seasoned veterans. We talked to Steve Richardson, Former Head of Fulfilio 3PL at Australia Post, one of the key cogs that kept Australia’s lights on throughout the pandemic. When the light shone at the end of the lockdown-tunnel, the weight of the hardest years of his working career shifted his outlook.
“There was a massive boom of online and ecommerce clients, especially when lockdowns were prevalent – it just got so crazy. It was 20 years of stress and work and challenges crammed into two years and the responsibility of our decisions were literally life and death at times” recalls Steve. “At the end of the lockdowns, I spent 6 months away from the industry. With the weight of what was probably the most stress I’d ever felt in my working life behind me, I just really didn’t want to go back to work. Imagine that after 38 years”.
Steve simply had to step away from his trauma (and trauma is the appropriate word for it) to move forward – a move echoed by many other people around the world. Fundamentally, there’s been a sudden shift in the way that we all view and interact with work, and while many industries are currently weathering this same storm, it’s no secret that the logistics industry has taken on some water.
Steve’s unique position as a key player in logistics has shed some light on the psychology behind the current state of the Australian supply chain. “People in the supply chain and logistics industry are flexible and we’re very good at being able to navigate our way through changing pressures, because that’s what logistics and supply chain is about. The problem with the last two years of COVID is that it was all new territory and every decision mattered. And that is just too stressful” explains Steve.
“We’re not doctors, and we haven’t been trained for years to deal with this type of stress” Steve continues, “When making a decision I found myself overwhelmed by the number of pressure points. And don’t get me wrong, lots of places had pandemic stresses, but airports were shut, offices were shut, everywhere was work from home but we kept working… industry wide, people left their jobs just to make a change. They used a new job as a circuit breaker, and even if it was a similar stress, at least it was somewhere else and it was different”.
Logistics workers are still feeling the backlash of the pandemic, and the supply chain continues to be a point of conversation for consumers as home deliveries have exploded during this period. But, for people like Steve, there’s healing still to be done as they leave that period of their life in the rear-view mirror. Despite such a traumatic experience, there remains a level of pride. “You could argue that we were more important for the prosperity of Australia than doctors at one point” Steve told us proudly.
Interestingly, Steve’s pride towards his essential pandemic role isn’t a unique outlook. As we’ve started to recover, pride has defined those that kept the country running despite the collective trauma they experienced. We’ve seen thought pieces from the likes of Linfox and DHL, awards and initiatives designed to recognised the unsung heroes of logistics and slowly but surely, recognition and gratitude from the public.
DHL Express CEO John Pearson spoke of how pride and purpose empowered DHL through the darker periods of the pandemic in his own thought piece. “Like so many other front line and essential services, we helped secure livelihoods, we delivered health and joy, we enabled growth and kept supply chains running. It wasn’t difficult for our employees to see the impact they were having. For our people, this was a source of tremendous pride and meaning” said Pearson.
As for Steve, the pandemic provided clarity and lessons in what it takes to build resilient workforces that can weather any storm. “My takeaway is that the tired cliché of we’re all in this together is actually true. Everyone’s under the same pressures and everyone succeeds and fails together. If you put relationship first, then you can rise to any occasion.” Said Steve.
Undoubtedly, the logistics industry is undergoing change, and it will be people that make all the difference.