Job Stress During a Pandemic
If you’ve ever had a job, you’ve likely encountered some kind of job stress. Most of us aren’t in a position to choose our co-workers, our managers, or the leadership of our organization. Sometimes we don’t like projects or tasks we’re given to do. We can feel overqualified or underqualified – or that we’re just in the wrong job. Sometimes we find ourselves with a co-worker who isn’t pulling their weight or is unpleasant or uncooperative. We can feel unsupported by our manager, who may not truly understand what we have to offer or whom we may feel is underqualified for their job. Company leaders can make decisions that seem outright wrong to us, that go against our values, or that seem to elevate only them.
How Job Stress Looks Different Now
Job stress during the coronavirus pandemic looks a little different. For some of us, working remotely might solve some of our problems. We don’t have to be around the difficult co-worker all day. Our contact with our manager is limited – they can’t sneak up on us while we’re working. We’re able to get some distance from the leadership. Working remotely means that some folks can work at their own pace and some can set their own hours or at the very least take breaks when they want to. I recently spoke to one manager whose staff are doing more problem solving on their own, leaving her with more time to tackle her own work. But working remotely is creating some new and unexpected issues too.
The most obvious job stressor during this pandemic is unemployment. Even if we haven’t been laid off yet, the fear of being laid off or otherwise unemployed may still be looming. In mid-April, 22 million people had filed for unemployment – and more are filing every week. Many of us are coping with job loss. Along with job loss comes worries around financial security and career growth. Unless you work for one of the companies still hiring, you may find yourself unexpectedly unemployed or worried about job security.
Even if you’re still working, your job might not be the right fit. Maybe you’ve had to take a temporary job just to have a paycheck. Maybe you’ve been thinking about a career change and now feel stuck. If you were actively applying for a new job before the pandemic, you may find that your search is even more challenging now. Here are some other types of job stress you might be feeling during this unique pandemic time:
- Video calls feel draining. One therapist I spoke to surmised that this might be due to a lack of energy exchange. When we’re in person with someone, there’s an exchange of energy. When we meet with them over video, we expend our energy, but we aren’t able to receive energy back from them. I think this is one possible explanation. I also think that when we’re on a video call, there’s a narrower focus on us and we feel more pressure to stay alert and aware of our behavior. There’s also something about being tied to a camera, microphone, and headphones that feels harder than sitting in a meeting in person. We can feel drained after a single meeting, not to mention multiple meetings in a day.
- Tasks take longer. Not only have I heard this from clients, but I’ve experienced this myself. Job tasks – especially the boring ones – seem to take more motivation to do, and thus seem to take more time. Working at home can mean that we get to work at our own pace, which is great in some ways, but it can also mean that the impetus for moving quickly under the watchful eye of our manager and co-workers isn’t there. It’s easier to procrastinate longer. It’s also easier to get distracted when no one is watching us. The internet is right there in the next tab over. We may find ourselves getting sucked in by social media, or the news, or my new favorite cat video (sound on) and realize that an hour (or more) has gone by and we have nothing productive to show for it.
- Work is harder with kids and pets around. I don’t have kids, so I only have secondhand information, but I know that parents are struggling to balance having kids home with being productive at work. Some parents are homeschooling their kids now – or attempting to on good days. Even if they aren’t homeschooling themselves, parents may have to be much more active in their child’s classes, ensuring they’re attending their video classes, that they can get and stay connected, and that their kids aren’t getting too distracted themselves. And parents whose kids aren’t attending school currently can have an even bigger job of keeping their kids occupied while they try to work. Pets can also be a distraction. I’m sure you’ve seen the articles about dogs’ and cats’ reactions to having us home now. Dogs can be needier, wanting more attention and more frequent walks. Even cats, as aloof as they can be, may want more attention when we’re home more. Most of my clients have met my cat, who often decides he wants to be the star of the show during my video sessions.
- It’s harder to separate work and personal life. Some of us who are working from home have very set hours, but not everyone does. Even if we do have set hours, it can be hard to keep them. We may find ourselves checking email at all hours. Maybe the boss calls or texts after work hours and we feel like we have to answer right away. It might be harder to give ourselves permission to “call it a day.” If our designated workspace is also our living space, it can be difficult to separate the two. It can be challenging to keep life from interrupting work at home and it can be challenging to keep work from interrupting life. As more folks start working from home even after the world opens up again, it could mean the end of the 8-hour workday. We may have to learn to set strong boundaries to separate our home and work lives.
- We’re tired of being at home. This one affects so many things in our life. It could be that we’re not getting out of the house enough and the lack of fresh air and novelty is making us lethargic. After working from home for two weeks and leaving the house only for short walks around the block, I got into my car and onto the highway and just drove for a bit. It made me remember that the rest of the world is out there. Now I take drives regularly (without getting out of the car until I get home). We can miss seeing our co-workers in person. We may miss our offices and workspaces. At home, one day may bleed into the next and we feel like we’re just marking time. It may be hard to find the meaning in our work some days.
All this said, the other job stressors may still be present too. We may still be having difficulties with the challenging co-worker. We may still not feel supported by our manager. We might still disagree with leadership’s decisions. And we may still feel that we’re in the wrong job.
If you want focused help finding a new job, you’ll want to work with a career counselor. If you’re encountering job stress, especially stress unique to this pandemic, there are many therapists who can help. A therapist can help you if you’re coping with unemployment, if you are experiencing conflict with co-workers, if you’re having trouble finding meaning in your work, or if you’re dealing with the distractions and other challenges of working from home. Job stress can bleed over into other areas of our life. If we’re unhappy in our job, that unhappiness is likely coming out in other ways and affecting others in our life – and if those folks are quarantined with us, it can make life even more challenging. A therapist can help you identify and explore these stressors. Having a supportive, non-judgmental partner who can be understanding and talk with you about what you’re experiencing can help you heal from it. Our work (and sometimes the lack thereof) can be such an important part of our lives. When it’s not going well, help is out there. You don’t have to go it alone.
Jenny Larson loves her work as a therapist at Live True Counseling and as a Volunteer Counselor at William Temple House. When not seeing clients, she can be found reading psychology books and celebrity memoirs, watching bad (good) 80s movies, and sewing or baking. While self-identified as a cat person, she also has a fondness for dogs and other animals.