Been told to 'be grateful' to have a job during the pandemic? Read on
Employees told to “be grateful” they still have a job during the coronavirus pandemic say they are experiencing high levels of stress, loss of morale and confidence in their future.
Job losses, pay cuts, the ability to provide for families, the economy, food security, and schooling — these are top stress factors for most people as they navigate the changing workplace dynamics.
This is according to research findings on mental health in the workplace by Afriforte of the faculty of economic and management sciences at the North West University (NWU).
Dineo Mokoena*, a psychology student doing practical work, says her anxieties have heightened since the beginning of lockdown because of the type of feedback given by her bosses.
“There's the added stress of having to deal with psychologists who care nothing for their employees' mental health. We are constantly reminded of how we should be grateful we are still on their payroll,” she said.
“The pandemic has fooled employers into thinking that they are doing their employees a favour by keeping them and in turn, expecting employees to suck up to whatever is thrown their way. As employees we constantly [worry about] our employment fate and whether it's even worth continuing to work in such environments.”
Mokoena said she cannot count how many times she turned to her mother for comfort during the lockdown. She said she was “questioning my intelligence and my worth because of what I’ve had to endure”.
“Most psychologists in practice are broken and hope that through counselling others, they themselves can find healing. So many times I’ve wished to stand up for myself, but given the added unemployment statistics magnified by Covid-19, I can't help but think of the struggle I’d have to go through to find even an entry-level job,” she said.
“So we choose to be silent, to hush to save our jobs instead — at the expense of our mental wellbeing.”
For Nicole Adams*, the pandemic has brought nothing but turmoil and destruction in all aspects of life.
“My company had me working from home during the first part of the lockdown. We were working under the impression of getting paid for the full 14 days only to be told after the fact that they will give us leave instead of paying us for those days,” she said.
“I personally feel that was unfair. Covid has diminished my right to fair treatment in the workplace. It's affected my mental health and confidence in my career a lot. I feel like I don't really see a future any more in my career. I’m feeling defeated.
“Apart from my work stresses I have my personal stress at home too.”
A young man who asked not to be named said working from home was particularly stressful for him.
“This working from home has been terrible for my mental health. This one time I got off a Teams meeting and walked straight to the kitchen and drank gin straight from the bottle, that’s how upset and stressed I was. I think it’s good the ban happened when I didn’t have any stock, at some point I would wake up and open a beer and then login,” he said.
“Our manager feels she is doing us a favour and reminds me every chance she gets. It's humiliating.”
He said there was also no respect for personal and family time any more.
“Since we work from home, we get random calls after hours asking you to quickly log in and assist with something, or get told there’s no such thing as lunch when you’re working from home.”
The challenge for employers and managers
Dr Ina Rothmann, MD at Afriforte and extraordinary associate professor at NWU's WorkWell research unit, said managers need to realise that though everyone was experiencing the coronavirus crisis, they were not experiencing it in the same way.
This required managers to stay connected with each staff member, striking a balance between empathy and productivity.
“The challenge is that most large organisations may not have a viable way to recognise each employee’s circumstances and may not know what each person is facing unless they create a means for them to do so,” she said.
A person with high concern, low hope, and high levels of pre-traumatic stress disorder or stress-related physical symptoms needs urgent help and mental health evaluation. This would include evaluating behavioural risks at a personal level, such as suicide ideation, substance abuse, and other possible dysfunctional risks, said Rothmann.
* Names have been changed to protect the identity of the respondents.