How the pandemic has taught us all a lesson on how we need to work differently.
BY LIAM ANTHONY
Ana Catarina Mendes is the leader of the Portuguese Socialist Party. Last November, there were ubiquitous headlines about her party’s new law that prevents employers from texting, calling or emailing their employees when they are not working. Employers could face sanctions should they break this rule. It is a progressive move, one that allows workers to claim back their right to disconnect. It is also a necessary shift from the antiquated notion that we all need to be in production mode, especially as we are learning to navigate ourselves professionally post Covid-19.
As we plan to return to work after our Christmas break, the inevitable back-to-work blues begin to manifest. A feeling of dread, anxiety or even depression about the thought of returning. Such emotions ought not to be ignored. The pandemic has rendered us all much more vulnerable. We have all seen our jobs as something we can’t take for granted – however, our jobs also mean something different to us.
Our working landscape has changed dramatically. We have overcome the challenges of working from home and dealing with having our homes transform into offices. In addition, we have also had to deal with the perpetual uncertainty that the pandemic has thrown at us and all the precariousness that we have faced from furlough schemes to eve
The pandemic has rendered us all much more vulnerable. n job losses. Work and all of its macro components have determined how we live our lives.
Despite the force of Covid-19, through adversity, we have all learnt something about how we can change and transform our wellbeing at work. In 2019, pre-pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO), defined the word burnout as an ‘occupational phenomenon’. Since then, the discussion of mental health in the workplace has encouraged employers to implement schemes such as wellbeing plans and Stress Risk Assessments. The latter has always been a legal requirement for employers, providing managers and HR departments with the necessary resources to protect their employees. According to Mental Health Foundation UK, 12.7% of all sickness absence days can be attributed to mental health conditions. Furthermore, in 2019, there were an estimated 828,000 workers suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety according to the Labour Force Survey (LFS).
The quality of the conversation surrounding our mental wellbeing in the workplace is crucial. It is important to recognise that workers are treated with respect and understanding should they need time off from work. We need to transform the idea that as individuals we always need to be available. Moreover, taking a break from work is probably the most productive approach we can take if we want results. Employers also need to support this approach and have a much more proactive attitude towards improving their work environment.
A YouGov poll commissioned by Mental Health UK has found that almost 1 in 4 (23%) women in the UK are struggling to manage feelings of stress and pressures at work. Additionally, only 44% considered that their employer had a plan in place to prevent burnout. This is an issue that also conveys the chasm between female and male workers. The pandemic has also encouraged more gender inequality as women have had to take on several roles simultaneously.
The World Health Organisation defined the word burnout as an ‘occupational phenomenon’.
The world of work, as the pandemic has shown, reminds us of the importance of separating what is important for us and what is out of our control. It is necessary to acknowledge the influence of how our jobs are controlled by the current political and economic landscape, nevertheless, we can also take time to reflect on what our jobs mean to us, a more micro look at our work, one that looks at our role, our identity at work and our values as individuals.
A survey carried out by the Development Academy in 2021 investigated why people were not happy at work. The main reason for unhappiness at work was not feeling valued enough. 69% of the people surveyed were unhappy at work because they didn’t feel valued. There were other statistics that also equated to people being unhappy such as salary and a lack of opportunities, however, this one has stuck with me.
As 2022 begins, many of us might be thinking about making a career change. Perhaps your resolution this year is to be more assertive in the workplace and set boundaries to avoid feeling saturated. Maybe you are a manager and want to implement a more ethical approach to dealing with employers and their mental health. Like the Portuguese politician says, we have not only a need to disconnect, but a right to do so. Adopting a more conscious attitude to our working life could bring some invaluable benefits both professionally and personally.