Covid-19 has plunged the world into constant uncertainty, and such unprecedented times has caused concerns and anxiety for people across the globe. When lockdown in the UK first came into place on 23 March, nobody knew how long it would last, or what this would mean for jobs across the country. The newly introduced furlough scheme has provoked a number of mixed emotions as although for some workers it brought stress, anxiety and ambiguity, others found that the break from work has offered time for self-care, reflection and a new opportunity to pursue hobbies such as gardening, baking and even more quality time with family.
However, despite this, when conducting a series of interviews with people in very different jobs and situations, the most frequently used phrase to describe how their work and its impact on their daily life has changed would be ‘more stressful’. Stress is something everyone comes across in the workplace and for many, this has been enhanced by the new working conditions or the lack of work at all.
When speaking to a Retail Manager at a store in the White Rose Centre, Leeds, he said that “money concerns were a big issue” when he was furloughed and “it was stressful as no one was sure when anything would open up again”. The stress that came with a reduced salary due to the furlough scheme alongside the uncertainty of having a job to go back to. This caused significant anxiety for many retail workers across the country as there was no guide as to how long lockdown would last or what the high street would look like afterwards. Similarly, when speaking to a woman who worked in Customer Services in a Bank in the centre of York, although she was not furloughed, the reduced number of staff in the office created a greater workload for her, which in turn made her job more stressful.
Despite the initial stress of the situation, both workers found that several positives arose from the circumstances. For example, the Retail Manager said that he became “more relaxed” as he “didn’t have the pressure of work” and instead was able to “spend more time with friends and communicate with them on a regular basis.” Equally, the Customer Services worker said that her family would make the most of their ‘1 hour of exercise’ by going on an evening walk together, something which they’d never done regularly before. She found that the exercise and time with her family actually, in turn, meant that she was more relaxed and happy to be spending more time outdoors with her family.
However, working from home has also brought different issues as people struggle with a lack of work/life balance, crystallised by a Planning Manager I spoke to who said that “personally I like the separation from work and home life. I like to get in the car and ‘go-to work’. Now I get out of the shower and walk downstairs and I am straight at work, then at the end of the day I just shut my computer and stand up. There is no separation for me.” This discomfort from working from home was shared too by a Circuit Judge who would often work in the Family Courts. He spoke about how “uncomfortable” it felt to be separating children from their parents and dividing families through Skype without being able to really gain a deep understanding of the families in the same way that you can when you see and speak to them in person. This discomfort was further exacerbated by the fact that he took those calls in his living room, and so he had no separation from the serious and life-changing decisions he must make at work and the transition back into ‘Dad’.
This ensemble of key workers, furloughed retail workers and home workers all share something in common: they have all been drastically affected by the virus which has brought a whirlwind of stress, uncertainty, anxiety and fundamentally change to their lives. However, each and every interview ended on a positive as I could see that although the change had been sudden, the workers had really taken these alterations in their stride much like the rest of the country and done the best they could in difficult situations. Some of them like the flexibility of working from home whilst some of them were and still are eager to get back into their sociable offices. Nonetheless, although Covid-19 has turned some peoples lifestyles upside down, the positives remain as we all fit into this new version of ‘normality’.
If we, at Thrive, can be of any assistance with any stress caused by employment concerns during coronavirus, our helpline remains open at email@example.com.