Stress at work during the Covid-19 pandemic

Stress is a mechanism that has accompanied humans for thousands of years. Although living conditions have changed dramatically, our physiological reactions are no different from those of our ancestors. Stress is a reaction designed to prepare us to cope with the challenges that arise in the surrounding environment. It has become an indispensable part of every person’s and worker’s life these days, and an aftermath of the increasingly fast pace of life.

Inherent in the COVID-19 epidemic is a sense of helplessness and a loss of the foundation of feeling safe, protected, financially stable and able to envision a better future. Changes in work organization lead to feelings of helplessness and isolation. More than four in ten (44%) workers say stress levels at work have increased as a result of the pandemic, according to a survey of workers conducted by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA). Among the most frequently cited factors contributing to increased stress are intense time pressure, work overload, insufficient communication, cooperation within the organization and lack of control over the pace or processes of work. Quite a large percentage of workers report work-related health problems commonly associated with stress (general fatigue, headaches, stomach aches, eye strain, muscle problems or muscle pain, sleep problems) that were caused or exacerbated by working during the pandemic. In addition, during the pandemic, more job responsibilities fell on many workers than before, which directly contributed to the increased stress they felt. The pandemic, fear for their own health and that of their loved ones, or the precarious labor market, were all daily realities faced by workers around the world for two years.

Employers should devote time and resources to analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on employees’ mental functioning and helping those who are most severely affected by the stress caused by the epidemic. It is important to remember that prolonged stress causes a decline in the productivity of those employed, and chronic fatigue ensues, which can lead to job burnout or depression. People who work under severe and chronic stress are more likely to get sick, their productivity is significantly lower, they make more frequent and more mistakes, and they take more days off or sick leave. They also usually have less desire and commitment to perform their daily duties. Many such people lose interest in work, and in extreme cases it even happens that they quit. Investment in employees should be a priority for the organization, as they are the ones who will largely cope with further crises on the front line.

Author: Sylwia Skrzypek-Ahmed, PhD, WSEI university Lublin / Poland

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