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Burnt out? Exhausted? You’re not Alone!

By Neha Jha

Work from Home (WFH) and Burnouts seem to be on a parallel road these days. No matter the number of years spent at a workplace or the sense of security attached to it, this side-effect of COVID-19 has caught up with people across sectors. From creative professions to the IT industry, employees are battling burnout and a constant sense of worthlessness. A slumped economy has made job hunting way more difficult than before. And the anxiety associated with multiple waves of COVID-19 is not making things any easier.

If experts are to be believed, the third wave of COVID-19 has begun already and employers do not want a repeat of the second wave, where every other person was either mourning the loss of a loved one from Covid or dealing with a family of infected people. As a result, work is hectic, money is tight and the overall atmosphere at work is bleak. Despite news of 4-day workweeks, mental health emails and scores of Instagram reels on ‘Work is not all you live for”, we’re nowhere near a solution.

No Single Way Out

Says Soumya Priyadarshini, a techie who has been job hunting since January this year, “I had no option but to quit my former workplace. The culture had deteriorated at such a fast pace since the 2020 lockdown that by the end of that year most of my teammates left. And they weren’t hiring any replacements. We were supposed to get increments but all of that was put on halt. And the work hours continued till 11 at night. It’s like you have this anxiety of a new work landing on your lap at any given moment from 9 in the morning till midnight. I tried my best but there was only so much I could do.” Soumya has been searching for a job ever since but so far has had very little luck. “I’ll continue my search till the end of this year. Otherwise, I’ll have to accept a job with a lower salary.” she says.

For Covid-recovered people, going back to work has not been the same. Not everyone’s job can be carried out efficiently at home while Covid-induced fatigue, mental health issues & complications are making it difficult for them to either concentrate on their work or nurse themselves back to health. Smita Mohapatra, a sales professional who recovered from Covid two months ago, recalls how she’d suddenly black out in the midst of work. Her employers were against her taking Saturdays off as there were pending targets to achieve. Ultimately, she quit. “I’ve been taking courses online to upgrade my skills. But I’m not able to dedicate long hours. 4-5 hours become too much. I need a lot more rest now than I did before.” She also took counseling for the same. “I thought maybe this is the early onslaught of depression. But turns out, I was burnt out. Life as a sales professional is never easy, more so during the pandemic,” she rues. She is now looking for a career switch.

Women have recorded a significantly higher rate of attrition than men. Traditional gender roles haven’t died down and men, no matter how much they need it, cannot afford to be at home. The pressure to continue being a major breadwinner brings them down and they develop certain health problems. Says Durga Rao, a marketing professional, “Work from Home was never a solution. Neither are virtual meetings. You have to be at your workplace, meet clients & form bonds with your colleagues to get the work done. As a sales professional in the media, I have no option but to visit clients. Post lockdown, it gets difficult to expect the clients to even pick your calls, let alone visiting them. Despite the chances of us being the carriers of the virus for our family, we cannot get our work done from home, we have to be out in the field.” Quitting the job or switching careers is not a solution for many. “There are a lot of factors to be considered. Your boss’s behaviour, work culture, the number of days you have spent working for the company and whether switching to a different sector will be a good idea at this point in time”, he says.

Too Much Hustle?

Indian workplace culture has always lauded slogging. Hard work means clocking in longer hours even with less productivity. Work From Home might have it’s fans but it has blurred the lines between work hours & personal space. Shaibal Chhotray, marketing professional, says, “Work from home has made it tougher. Everyone has to be ready for a call at all times. I had to work 10 hours everyday and still be alert till 10PM for more work. There were no weekends off and weekday compulsory off was also taken away. The top management never took any initiative to address employee burnouts. They probably didn’t even realize we were burnt out. We were expected to deal with it as part of the job. The blue collar workers in the plants were working in 12 hour shifts anyway.”

Despite such working conditions, employees have to slog with pay cuts and layoffs happening around them. “Salaries of top manufacturers were slashed. Hikes and promotions of middle level and junior level stopped. Some layoffs happened as well. Many who were forced to resign are unable to find decent jobs even with 10-15 years of experience in reputed companies. They are almost on the verge of desperation on LinkedIn asking for help to find a job,” he reveals.

The Other Side

It’s not that employers have it easy. Managing a team, handing out salaries and getting the work done has turned into a challenge since March 2020. On top of that, drying projects or non-clearance of dues poses survival challenges. Samar Pratap Nayak, entrepreneur, gives a sneak peek into the other side of the spectrum. “For mid-sized or small-sized business owners, it’s a tightrope. Generating business is difficult but you do not want your team to suffer. Compromising on their mental health hampers their productivity which, in turn, affects the business. It’s a vicious cycle and unfortunately, no one has a clue about handling this because it’s happening for the first time. Even during the 2008 housing finance collapse, things were not this bleak because there were clients from other places. COVID-19 is unique in this respect. It’s really an insidious concoction to begin with,” he says.

While the suffering of the working mass cannot be discounted, the business holders have the additional headache of team & client management. Add to that maintaining the morale of the team and assuring that they can still trust you. “All the stress and jittery feelings that I’m experiencing at the moment is something I can’t unload on them. I’m supposed to hold the foundation. My team needs to feel they’re in secure hands,” Samar reiterates. Client expectations have been soaring high since they want their money’s worth. “In times like these, they want double their money’s worth. You can’t even blame them. You can’t blame anybody; we’re all victims here,” he says.

Satish J. Prasad, clinical psychologist who also specializes in workplace management, stresses on a shift in employee-employer relationship, office environment and smart work instead of hard work. “There will be a functional change in a post Covid world. Right now, both employees and employers are panicking. But, you can’t burn bridges. Things are hard for the top management as well. This Covid lockdown and economic problems are not gonna last forever. I ask people to take help from their loved ones. And if they can manage to depend on their spouse’s income or parental support for a while, I advise them to do that. We’ve to act with a lot of patience to tide over the times,” he says.

What’s the Solution?

Since the arrival of Covid, a lot of meditation and wellness apps have recorded a jump in subscriptions. Samar too swears by meditation and digital cleanse. “I can’t exceed my digital cleanse by more than 2 days but I detoxify from social media, phone calls, etc from time to time. I’m planning to attend a 10-day Vipasana course by the end of the year. I’m not sure if it will come as a solution, but with everything that has happened this year, it’s a big thing for me to look forward to.”

Shaibal, however, emphasizes on changing labour laws in the country instead as a long-term, fundamental solution. “Employees should get together and demand fair time practice and compensation. All these yoga, meditations, vacations are very subjective. Some may say it works for them. But still, these are temporary fixes. For permanent change, we need stricter labour laws. Work time cannot be more than 9 hours. Wages should be more,” he asserts.

Meanwhile, Rao believes in shifting his attention towards the positive and letting go of what’s not in control. “What can one do if they get laid off? It’s not in your control. Worrying about it will lead to panic. If it happens, it happens. Like everything else in life, we’ll deal with this too.”

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