Over the weekend this article in the Globe and Mail was trending on Twitter, for obvious reasons. So many people can relate to the title, “White-collar professionals are breaking down, a year into the pandemic,” because we’re overworked and just tired. There’s an undercurrent to work from home burnout. There’s the sense that now is not the time to complain about having a job. Instead people are taking on more work, sometimes at their company’s request, sometimes out of a sense of pressure, obligation, ambition or even boredom. Without a separation between work and home life, and without the standard ways of socializing, it’s bleeding together and becoming pure stress. This article starts with the fact that most people are working two to two and half more hours a day than they were pre-pandemic. Plus less employees are taking vacations because there’s nowhere to go. I’m going to excerpt some of this and it’s paywalled unfortunately. Thanks to Elaine and Shannon for sending this to me.
“People use the term pandemic fatigue, but that underestimates what we’re going through,” says Paula Allen, head of research and well-being at Morneau Shepell. “People are at the point of emotional exhaustion.”
Nearly a year into physical separation from colleagues, bosses and clients – sometimes coupled with kids trapped at home – white collar professionals are cracking. Often, top performers who tend to push through the pain are those who are struggling the most. A recent Morneau Shepell survey found that 40 per cent of managers in finance and professional services have considered leaving their jobs since the pandemic started.
It’s an unexpected development, given that white collar workers are precisely the people who were expected to be doing the best. For the most part, their jobs have been protected from the economic devastation of the past year. While small businesses and service sector employees have been decimated by lockdowns, workers in industries such as finance, tech, law and accounting have been able to keep their jobs – and largely have the flexibility to work from their homes or vacation properties.
This has even been a boom time for some sectors. Stock markets, for instance, are at record highs, and that has fuelled all sorts of activity, helping boost the gross domestic product from the finance and insurance sector by 3 per cent between February and December, 2020, according to Statistics Canada.
But it’s now clear that for many white collar professionals the struggle is very real. There isn’t an obvious reason why they are feeling this way now. Financial success can mask mounting psychological stresses – especially because white collar workers can easily tell themselves that they’ve come through the pandemic relatively unscathed and shouldn’t be struggling.
“There’s so much going on right now. And nobody can really point their finger at it,” says KPMG Canada’s chief mental-health officer Denis Trottier, who was semi-retired until the pandemic brought him back to work full time.
The feelings can be partly explained by the erasure of social connections at work that help people power through long, intense days. Work and home life now blend into one – with work often taking precedence. Gone are the small joys of life that once seemed like distractions, but that researchers say are important to keeping us engaged and preventing burnout: the coffees, the lunches, the gossip.
But so much of it remains nebulous – and that can make it even more maddening.
Bryn Ferris is a change management consultant who can work from home, and his company has done well enough to keep everyone employed. For many months, he felt relief that his business wasn’t severely affected.
Lately, though, he feels something much more harrowing. The emotion is hard to define – it’s more, as he calls it, a “steady-state numbness.” There’s little joy day in and day out, and it’s a battle to get motivated.
“I empathize with the feeling that we have it so good,” he says. But it’s such an overwhelming problem lately that he’s past denying it or trying to power through it. Like so many others, he’s hit the wall, and doesn’t see a way out. “I am stuck in purgatory,” he says.
I could relate to this so much. I’m the only one putting pressure on myself, but I took on more work at the start of the pandemic and it hasn’t let up. There’s this sense that I have it great and shouldn’t complain. Plus I know how hard Kaiser, Hecate and Oya are working too. Yesterday I got food poisoning and started catastrophizing everything. I was planning to write this story and thought “this is it, my breakdown is happening.” Plus I had an extremely rare dinner scheduled with a vaccinated friend which I had to cancel! (She understood, she is sweet and we would have worn masks.) I don’t know what the solution is except to go to bed earlier, but I know so many of you are feeling this way too.
On my tweet about this over the weekend, R wrote that she works ten hour days and still works weekends, Lauren wrote that people are so stressed at her job that they’re quitting, and Shannon, who works in the health system tweeted “we’re doing double work, trapped at home, without our coping mechanisms.” That pretty much sums it up.
Oh and my mom sent me this article from The Washington Post about how pandemic stress is affecting our ability to focus. They quote a business school dean, a “burnout expert” named Anthony Wheeler, who says “People are losing the psychological, social, and emotional resources that we use to meet the demands of our daily lives.” This is so true. I really hope to be vaccinated and to get some of that back soon.
a year of quarantine has made me so tired!! all the time!!! an hour of errands takes me out. texting friends back actually exhausts me. in person social interaction longer than 5 minutes? fucking forget it
— eleanor (@snitchery) March 21, 2021
Stop glamorizing “the grind” and start glamorizing getting 7+ hours of sleep at night, having healthy relationships, feeling safe at work, taking sick days, being paid a living wage, working hard when you’re at work, boundaries, and self-caring your way to success.
— Lindsay Gibbs (@linzsports) March 1, 2021
photos credit: Vlada Karpovich on Pexels, Standsome Worklifesyle, Ekaterina Bolovtsova, Charles Deluvio and Christian Erfurt on Unsplash