The pandemic is causing us to work longer hours, and it’s not OK

Do you have survivor’s guilt for still having a job during the coronavirus pandemic? Here, a psychologist explains why you need to let go of this guilt, stop overworking and put your mental health first.

Every week there seems to be more companies announcing brutal job cuts as a result of the economic downturn caused by the global coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Australia Bureau of Statistics, 594,300 people lost their jobs in April alone, and estimated another 227,700 jobs were lost in May. Just recently, Westfield shopping mall owner Scentre even began locking non-rent-paying retailers out of their stores.

With millions of Australians relying on the Federal Government’s JobSeeker, it’s safe to say anyone who does have a job in today’s climate is pretty damn lucky. As I write this, I have survivor’s guilt for still being employed while my talented colleagues spend day-in day-out applying for jobs.

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However, there are countless days I find myself complaining about how mental draining work is, or whining about how I deserve a holiday. “How can you be complaining about work? You’re lucky to have a job,” I tell myself. “Stop being so ungrateful and keep working.”

And so, I power through it.

My workspace has extended into the kitchen, lounge room, and bedroom. After all, I have more time on my hands too, now I don’t even have to commute anywhere. So why shouldn’t I be working?

But this has come at a cost. New statistics from the National Bureau of Economic Research has revealed the average workday is 48.5 minutes longer than it was before the coronavirus pandemic, and meetings have increased by 12.9 per cent. And mind you, this is just an average.

“We’re more concerned about making the extra effort to ensure we’re a vital part of the team as there is so much insecurity about job security (whether conscious or not),” Lysn psychologist Nancy Sokarno tells Body+Soul.

“Many people are putting in the extra time as there is now more check ins via Zoom, workplace chats and tea breaks are now wiped out, and we often continue answering calls and emails past our work hours because we feel more obliged since we are at home anyway.”

But the fact is: you, me and everyone who is still working tirelessly through this chaotic year is allowed to stop and complain about work, without any guilt. We should be logging on at 9am and off at 5pm, or whatever your working hours are. Your bedroom is for sleep, the study is for work and the dining room is for enjoying your meals. Moreover, your days off are your days off. Failure to set these clear work/life boundaries and your mental health is put at risk, which will in turn affect all aspects of your life.

“Working too much can affect a person in a myriad of ways, but let’s start with the more obvious ways – tiredness, fatigue and exhaustion,” Sokarno explains. “These outcomes of working too much can have an on-flow effect in a person’s life causing issues within their relationships, social life and life in general. The stress associated with adhering to work tasks, validating our position and establishing an effective work life balance can cause us to become less productive, lack focus and concentration, and dull our motivations.

“More stress means we are more susceptible to emotional outbursts. Excessive stress can lead to many mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression or even cause a person to turn to things like alcohol as a form of coping.”

5 tips to setting work/life boundaries while you WFH

Sokarno shares her top five tips to help you overcome this worker’s guilt and set boundaries as you continue to work from home…

1. Set clear working hours that include time set aside for breaks throughout the day.

2. Ensure you are getting some exercise in each day, even if it is a brisk walk around the block or a yoga session.

3. Try to limit your hours each day and remind yourself that it is A-OK to take time out to do personal things and let yourself relax.

4. If you can, set an area or room in your house as an office space so you can dedicate your time in there for work, but physically leave that space when it is time to stop.

5. Try to avoid bringing your laptop or doing work emails from your phone into your bedroom, as this can make work infiltrate all areas of your life and can also potentially affect your sleep.

Lysn is a digital mental health company with world class wellbeing technology which helps people find their best-fit professional psychologist whilst being able to access online tools to improve their mental health.