Saturday, June 25 2022

While at Western University, Tomachi Onyewuchi learned to juggle competing responsibilities: school, work, and modeling gigs.

But despite good time management and being “very Type A”, she was unprepared for the mental toll that came with the nearly 60-hour weeks of her first job outside of school.

After graduating in 2019, Onyewuchi, 25, was hired by an e-commerce company and worked long hours, hoping to prove her worth to a small team of busy employees.

She did digital marketing for the company and her employer was dealing with high turnover, she said. As more employees left, Onyewuchi’s hours continued to increase.

In January, she reached a breaking point.

“I wasn’t sleeping well, I was very anxious,” she said. “I dreamed that my teeth were falling out.”

As his symptoms of burnout, including fatigue and physical pain, became too great to ignore, Onyewuchi decided to quit.

It’s a decision she knows many others can’t afford to make – though her experience has become more common as the line between work and home has evaporated during the pandemic.

Pandemic-related burnout

Studies have shown that Canadian workers have experienced higher levels of burnout and mental health issues over the past two years.

A survey conducted this month by the Angus Reid Institutein partnership with CBC, found that 29% of 2,550 respondents said their work-life balance was worse since March 2020. That’s compared to 23% who said it was better.

Employers who want to combat burnout need to offer their employees more autonomy and flexibility in the workplace, says John Trougakos, professor of management at the University of Toronto. (Jean Trougakos)

“The pandemic has increased burnout across all sectors of the economy,” said John Trougakos, associate professor of management at the University of Toronto.

And while the phenomenon dubbed “the great resignation” hasn’t played in Canada to the extent it has in the United States, a significant percentage of Canadian workers are considering quitting. According to a 2021 online survey conducted by the Canadian Center for Society Purpose, 40% of 684 respondents were considering changing jobs or careers.

A new perspective on work and well-being

Onyewuchi says his generation takes a different perspective on work.

“People are more willing to stand up for their mental health,” she said, and to push for companies to change.

This contrasts with the generation of his parents, who showed loyalty to employers, even when their work made them miserable.

Leaving a job that was becoming increasingly taxing on her well-being gave her an opportunity to reset, she said. Onyewuchi, who struggles with chronic pain, said she even noticed her physical health improving.

Onyewuchi is expected to start a new job at the end of March.

Learning from her past experience, she made sure to ask potential employers during interviews about their company culture.

“‘What has been your company’s response to the pandemic? How important is work-life balance in the office to you? Do you feel like your director or manager is there for you?’ These are questions I always ask because it’s important to me,” she said.

WATCH | The pandemic has caused people to reconsider the role of work in their lives:

How the pandemic has caused people to rethink work

The COVID-19 pandemic has led more people to question how much they want to work, says David Blustein, professor of psychology at Boston College. 1:06

Younger workers, who grew up in a time of heightened mental health awareness, might find it easier to raise health issues in the workplace, Trougakos said.

“It’s more comfortable and natural, potentially, to voice those concerns [and] focus on wellness,” he said.

Young workers also show a greater propensity to change jobs, he said, noting that the decision to leave a job seems easier than for previous generations.

The pandemic has introduced some of the biggest changes seen in decades to how and where people work.

It’s made people rethink the role work plays in their lives, says Boston College psychology professor David Blustein.

“People say, ‘I don’t know if I want to work that hard,'” said Blustein, whose research focuses on the psychology of work.

“This particular kind of global global movement will help empower workers more broadly and, ideally, create working conditions that people find more meaningful.”

Create healthy work environments

For employers interested in tackling burnout, reducing job demands and not overburdening employees would be an “obvious” starting point, Trougakos said.

Beyond that, workplaces that offer more autonomy, flexibility and social connection are more likely to experience lower burnout rates, he said.

And with workers holding more power than in the past, employers can be more receptive to employee concerns.

“Because of the labor shortages and this redesign of work that we’re going through during this pandemic, I think some employers are more open to receiving feedback,” Blustein said.

And while speaking up doesn’t lead to change in the workplace, in today’s job market, workers do have options.

“There is a demand for highly skilled workers, so they can go out and find jobs and working conditions that suit them,” Trougakos said.

Back to the office? Share your story with us here. We want to hear from employees and employers about your plans — and whether returning to work in person is a dream, a nightmare, or somewhere in between.

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