On the 11th March 2020, I went home from work with the intention of working from home for a few weeks. I never went back. It’s now almost November, which means we’re tumbling towards month nine of the work-from-home orders of the pandemic.
That’s nine months of working from home, only interacting via a glitchy two dimensional image on a screen. And for me and many others, it’s been a long old slog, with a distinct lack of breaks along the way.
The thing with those of us who have continued to work full time from home during the pandemic is – we’re the lucky ones. I know that. I see that. I see our safety. I see our privilege in sitting at home warm, fed and busy. And this is not to take away from those who have suffered redundancy, nor those who have worked on the frontline. Believe me, it’s not. But no amount of gratitude actually changes the fact that you’ve spent nine months working long ass days, being expected to deliver above and beyond your usual workload (which in many cases is making somebody else richer), all from a 45 square metre apartment with two desks crammed into your already-small living room. Not to mention the world is crumbling around you, you feel silenced from uttering a word against your job for fear of getting the boot, and all your feelings are dismissed because you’re actually not allowed to moan because you’ve got a job.
While some sectors are forcing employees to take leave, I like many others work in a role that’s got unbelievably more busy and more demanding, which makes taking leave somewhat of an impossibility.
Of course, 2020 has been hard for everyone in some way or another, employers included. But what’s really peaked my interest of late, is how employers are treating their employees during this time.
Do they realise it’s really fucking hard?
The thing is, when you run your own business, busy periods tend to mean more profit. Busy periods are ultimately a good thing. Working your ass off pays off at some point. But for employees who have been working above and beyond their usual hours to service the Covid-induced workload, it’s left me wondering – what’s in it for us?
You could argue that that’s just the nature of being an employee, right? You get the regularity of pay in exchange for being absolved of any risk or responsibility for bringing in the business. Correct – except we’re living in an environment where a pay cut could be sprung on us at any time.
Business does well, it’s business as usual. Business does badly because of pandemic? Suddenly it’s up to the employees to take the hit.
I asked the full time work-from-home portion of my Instagram followers how their companies had handled things over the past few months.
Did they feel looked after? Did they feel their boss genuinely cared about their wellbeing? Had they been given any form of thanks or recognition for working their asses off?
Do employers care that we’ve worked full time without a break while the world fell apart?
73% said they felt taken advantage of at work this year, with ‘being overworked’ cited as the number one reason.
I asked those who were working in companies where profits were actually up this year whether they’d seen anything in return for their hard work. Unsurprisingly, 82% said no.
I then asked those who had taken a pay cut whether they’d been given any form of non-monetary gift or perk. 87% said no – which frankly I’m pleased with, as our household has received a couple of sub-par peace offerings which certainly have not filled the gap left by slashed wages. When asked how they’d feel if their boss did give them some form of non-monetary perk, 72% voted that it would feel like a slap in the face.
Now, let’s unpack this. I suppose you could argue I am painting a bit of an unsolvable puzzle here. If we’re pissed that we didn’t get any kind of thank you offering, but also feel that non-monetary gifts are a slap in the face, what’s a poor old employer to do?!
Well, aside from not asking your staff to take a pay cut in the first place (though I can appreciate that particularly in some smaller or newer businesses, it was perhaps really the only way to keep them employed at this point), I think it comes down to how your thanks and recognition are delivered.
There’s an important distinction between actually caring about your staff, and simply appearing like you care. Really think about the situation your staff are in right now before you start sending out ill-informed gifts of half-baked thank you gestures.
If your staff are on 50% pay for full time work (I’m not naming names but someone in my life is experiencing this), do you really think paying for courier delivery of overpriced cookie-cutter corporate gift boxes is the most appropriate way to show you care? Given that you’re looking at $120+ per person, could that money not have been better spent giving them a more useful gift? Or… and I know this is a wild suggestion but… maybe… paying them?!
Asking if everyone’s coping okay on a team Zoom call doesn’t count as giving a shit about our mental health
Perhaps more important than recognising our hard work with financial rewards, employers are also falling short on giving a fuck about the mental health impact of working full time through a pandemic.
While a slightly more impressive 61% said their boss/company had checked in with how they’re coping with the stress and workload, 50% then said they felt that it was just a ‘box ticking’ exercise rather than genuine care.
In smaller businesses where things like Employee Assistance Programs (a program that offers things like free counselling) don’t exist, where is the support for the people who have been busting their ass for you for 9 months with little relief?
I don’t personally feel like the mental and emotional impacts of working full time through the pandemic have been acknowledged by mine or my partners’ employers at any point this year. Yes, some employees have reported being given access to mindfulness seminars or stretching sessions. I really don’t think I need to explain why those don’t cut the mustard.
Speaking of not cutting the mustard, asking “how is everyone, all still sane?” on a Zoom call isn’t good enough either. It’s hardly an environment that prompts those who are really struggling to feel comfortable enough to say so.
We really need to let go of this idea that employees are simply lucky to have a job right now. It may be true, but hey, employers – you’re really fucking lucky to have staff like us working our butts off as well.
So, what are we asking for then?
I’ve moaned and whinged quite a bit, I’ll admit. And no, not all employers are taking the piss. There are business owners who are genuinely suffering right now, and genuinely putting their employees’ needs first as best they possibly can. That said, not all husbands bury their wives in ditches, but we still need to shout loud to expose those who do.
And so the same goes for employers who are using the pandemic as an excuse to do the dirty on their hardworking employees. No, not all of them, but some are most definitely using the pandemic as a vehicle to squeeze more and more productivity out of vulnerable people who are close to breaking point. To push harder and harder, riding the ‘lucky to have a job’ wagon all the way to the bank. And that’s really not okay.
If you really do care about thanking your employees, whether that’s for working harder and longer, or for taking a pay cut, or both, thank them in a way that actually suits who they are as human beings, not just numbers on your balance sheet.
Y’know what people really, really like? Paid time off. If you give a shit about whether we’re okay, give us a paid day off. Hey, maybe even give us two… or more! Yes, we have sick pay, but guess what? We feel like we can’t take it. We know we said we were okay at the team quiz, but we didn’t want to admit we’re crying every day in front of everyone, okay?
If time off isn’t an option, think before you send a box of chocolates. Not only are cookie-cutter gifts thoughtless, they also just don’t serve a lot of people.
Put creativity aside for a second and forget trying to come up with the coolest, trendiest voucher idea you can and just give us supermarket gift cards. We all need to buy food. It’s basically money in our pocket. Stop sending random doughnuts we weren’t expecting that look good on Instagram but inevitably get thrown away after a couple of bites because we can’t share them with our mates because it’s fucking illegal. If you care, just let us pick our own food on our own time with an Uber Eats voucher, or something that doesn’t involve logging on for a team screenshot.
Think about who your employees are as humans, what situations they’re really in, and what would actually make them feel supported or appreciated or valued or whatever you’re trying to convey. Hell, maybe even ask them!
This has been ranty, I know. But I had to let it out. I had to speak on behalf of ‘the lucky ones’ who have worked 9 months straight with no let up (extra props to those of us in Victoria). Because, employers, we know it’s shit for you too. We know you didn’t intend for it to get like this. We know it’s not your fault. But what we really need you to know, is that we’re experiencing exhaustion and burnout that a box of chocolates and a bulk-bought red wine just won’t fix.