Getting back to work, to play and to living —amidst the pandemic

Are we there yet?

As of yesterday the transportation system across the United States no longer requires masks on trains, planes, buses or subways. A few weeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that 99% of Americans live in counties where COVID-19 cases are low enough that indoor masks are no longer necessary. At the same time—and mere months after the omicron strain of the virus raced around the world and infected millions—a similar “stealth omicron” variant is on the rise and places like China are in total lockdown mode.

Indoor masking may no longer be required in most places, but we have not yet arrived in the post-pandemic era. Nevertheless, this is the time to that while we are happy for those with visual and hearing disabilities who have been struggling in this season of masking we must also consider those that are immune suppressed and at higher risk. As we all try and journey to wellness, we must continue to advocate for others and think of them and inspire us all to continue to persevere.

Although coronavirus cases requiring hospitalizations have dropped significantly, there is little doubt that we need to continue to address the pandemic’s effects on workers. Restaurants and movie theatres are filling, hotels and airlines are busy and businesses are calling employees back to in-person settings. But aspects of the pandemic—changes to the way we work in particular—linger.

In a recent survey, a third of respondents said that over-work and long hours are the biggest problems they foresee over the next year. Their primary stressor is keeping up with local mandates related to COVID-19, but staff shortages are also a significant concern (cited by 41% of respondents).

Despite the encouraging public health news from the CDC, we know that the way we work has fundamentally changed, and new challenges will remain for some time to come. Many changes have the potential to impact both physical and mental health. For example, working from home tested the boundaries that customarily provide a buffer between family life and workplace stress. Many remote workers report that they put in more hours now than they did before the pandemic. As the 40-hour workweek expands, so does the incidence of employee burnout.

However, the pandemic taught businesses that working from home has its benefits, and a number of companies are adopting home-based or hybrid schedules as the norm for the foreseeable future. While most employees like the flexibility (58% of respondents say continuing remote work is a net positive), many workers miss the camaraderie and team culture they experienced before the pandemic. In fact, the majority of survey respondents report that their staff meetings have gone virtual. Work from home introduces its own mental and physical health challenges—from isolation and increased stress to home offices that aren’t ergonomically designed.

Now is the time to use what we have gained in knowledge and skills to address these complex human issues. With the effects of long COVID illness affecting as many as 30% of all those who get the virus, there is new territory to navigate in terms of employee accommodations, leave management and absence management. Let those of us in leadership roles move forward in confidence to assist our employees suffering from the effects of COVID will have the support and resources they need to get back to work, back to play and back to living.

While the long-term physical effects of COVID-19 are yet to be fully understood, many of the symptoms—fatigue, mental fog and light sensitivity, for example—are devastating. Continue to be vigilant and aware as we are hopeful the end is soon but, please continue to take care of your physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing.

Be Wise and Immunize!

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