Masked-Up and Burned-Out: Collateral Damage From The Pandemic Is Taking Its Toll On American Workers

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It’s two months into the stay-at-home orders that most states in the US have decreed for non-essential workers and roughly half of Americans are working from home. Amidst all the uncertainty engendered by this pandemic, one thing is for sure – this experience has forever dispelled the notion of telecommuting as something “easier” or “more relaxed” than being in the office.

The physical and mental barriers that once separated our home lives from our work lives have been demolished. When 5 p.m. rolled around in early March, you may have been on the hook to pick up a child from practice or get on a train, so hovering around the office a while longer wasn’t an option. Now the kids live in your office and there’s nowhere to go, so you keep typing away … til 5:27 … 5:52 … 6:23 …

As Bloomberg recently noted, “People have turned their living spaces into makeshift offices, making it nearly impossible to disconnect.” The article profiled John Foster, who like many of us, converted an extra room into a workspace but found it to be a constant reminder of his job while he was off the clock. “’You walk by 20 times a day,’ he said. ‘Every time you pass there, you’re not escaping work.’”

Even by early April, an Eagle Consulting poll of Americans found that 45% were feeling work burnout and 25% directly blamed COVID-19 for it. Among the additional findings:

  •  36% said their organizations were doing nothing to help them deal with burnout
  •  The changes in their lives brought on by COVID-19 made 50% feel less connected to their colleagues and 45% feel less productive
  •  A separate poll conducted by the firm found that 55% feared for their job security due to the coronavirus

“Culture is what holds an organization together, so it’s never been more critical to lean hard into culture during these tough times; to build a sense of community and support among the workforce,” said Melissa Jezior, president and chief executive officer of Eagle Hill Consulting. “If employers can help fill the void employees are feeling, that can empower them to overcome the many obstacles on the road ahead.”

Want To Retain Your Best Employees? Vacation, Vacation, Vacation.

One way companies can reinforce their positive culture is to encourage employees to take time off. Despite the clear need, people are not using their vacation days. Doubtless, some are feeling extra pressure to prove their value at a time when 38 million have filed for unemployment benefits.

This is especially true for workers whose supervisors signal that they don’t trust what they will do when they aren’t under their watchful eye. A word to the wise: Just a few months ago, the job market was so solid that it was hard to find high-quality candidates for open positions. Sooner or later, the pandemic will pass, and the star performers who felt taken for granted will go somewhere else where they will be shown plenty of positive attention.

With travel off the table for most, and even excursions to restaurants out of the question, workers also may not be asking for time off because they feel that there’s nowhere to go. For their own good, urge them to turn off their computers, avoid their work apps and take a short staycation. Promise them that you won’t bombard them with work emails while they’re off, so they don’t come back to a stressful mountain of messages. There’s actually a strong health case for the break.

“Chronic stress takes its toll in part on our body’s ability to resist infection, maintain vital functions, and even ability to avoid injury,” Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne cautioned in Psychology Today. “When you’re stressed out and tired, you are more likely to become ill, your arteries take a beating, and you’re more likely to have an accident.”

Now, as ever, a person’s productivity at work depends on their overall health and wellness – physical as well as mental health. If you’re responsible for recruiting and retention for your organization, make sure you have a plan to encourage all employees to take the time they need (and have earned) to rest and recharge. Good for them, good for your company, too. 

Additional Resources from STOPit Solutions

Want to learn more about STOPit and how anonymous reporting tools are improving employee recruitment and retention across the US? Schedule your demo today.

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