The great pandemic curve ball has thrown big challenges at employers and employees across industries, across the planet. In the year or so most of the world has been at home, it’s been a massive test of resilience and persistence with people juggling home and work lives with no real playbook at hand to guide the way.

While there are pros – like less commute times and more flexibility with family life, there are some hefty cons including having to try and separate home time and work time under the one roof (which inevitably leads to a blur of the hours spent between the two). And then there’s the impact of negligible social contact with colleagues and the inevitable video conference fatigue.

The result is that the pandemic has taken a huge toll on mental health. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, there have been notable rises in the use of crisis lines and mental health services since the onset of the pandemic.

But what about all the people who aren’t calling support services? Are they OK? The answer is ‘not really’. Studies have shown that significant numbers of workers are suffering burnout due to protracted lockdowns, with more than half admitting to taking time off to address mental health concerns. Whether this results in workers throwing the towel in on their jobs over the coming months remains to be seen and will depend greatly on how organisations respond to the needs of their people.

The pandemic has changed the way we work – likely forever

– Liv Sutton, Head of People and Culture at Sesimi

“And while that’s had its up sides, the nature of COVID-19 and the lingering impact of lockdowns is that many people have been unable to take a rest, unwind or even take their annual leave.” Sutton believes that this has made the likelihood of burnout a very real issue for employers. “Presenteeism (defined as workers being on the job, but due to illness or other medical conditions, not fully functioning) is hitting hard – with people feeling bad about taking sick leave or time off when they’re at home,” she said.

“For instance, if you were contagious when we were all in the office, you went home. But now, you’re already home, so you keep working rather than taking the time off and getting well.” The burnout problem is enormous, with studies showing that nearly 90% of employees in the US have fallen victim to it during the pandemic.

McKinsey’s recent survey on attitudes of workers returning to the office reveals that employers can reduce the stress and anxiety workers are feeling right now by considering mental health and wellbeing “as part of a holistic on-site return plan.”

So how are companies addressing the issue? Already, the term ‘collective wellbeing’ has been coined, for instance Google telling their employees to take the Friday off ahead of Labor Day weekend as an extra holiday at Google’s expense. Elsewhere, Bumble gave all employees an additional week off to normal vacation allowance to recover from burnout, while LinkedIn provided a paid week off for it’s 15,900 full timers and organisations like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup have taken measures to directly address the burnout issue.  

As an Employer of Choice, Sesimi has recently announced a wellness program for employees, in recognition of a tumultuous 18+ month period. “It’s a gift of thanks to the team for everyone’s great work and commitment over the last year. We’re providing paid leave on the working days between Christmas and New Year, minimising the impact on our team members’ annual leave allocations. This gives them over a week of uninterrupted time to relax and recharge.”

It’s too early to tell what the lasting impact of the pandemic will be on the mental health of the world’s workers. But focusing on wellness programs and a recognition by employers of the unique stresses that have been introduced into the daily lives of their teams will go a long way to maintaining great relationships with their people as we move ahead into a 2022 filled with possibility.