Saturday, May 28, 2022

Workers grapple with new tensions as they return to the office

by Anne D’Innocenzio

NEW YORK (AP) — Last summer, Julio Carmona began the process of cutting himself off from a remote work schedule entirely by showing up at the office once a week.

Her job’s new hybrid schedule at a state agency in Stratford, Connecticut still enabled her to cook dinner for her family and take her teenage daughter to basketball.

But over the next few months, he faces the prospect of more mandatory days at the office. And that’s causing tension for the father of three.

Carmona, 37, whose father died of COVD-19 last year, is worried about contracting the virus, but he also notes a list of other concerns: increased costs for lunch and gas. , the cost of day care for their newborn, and their struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

“Working from home is much less stressful when it comes to work-life balance,” said Carmona, who works in finance in the Connecticut Department of Children and Families. “You’re more productive because there are fewer distractions.”

As more companies mandate a return to the office, workers must readjust to pre-pandemic rituals such as long commutes, child care and physically interacting with coworkers. But such a routine has become more difficult after two years. For example, spending more time with your coworkers may increase the risk of coronavirus, while inflation has raised the cost of lunch and commute.

Among workers who were remote and have gone back in person at least one day a week, more say things have gone from worse to better in general and they have been more productive rather than less, Associated Press-NORC An April survey from the Center for Public Affairs Research shows. But the stress level is high for these employees.

Overall, among working adults, the April AP-NORC survey shows that 16% say they work remotely, 13% work remotely and in person and 72% say they only work in person. work sporadically.

Forty-nine percent of employees who worked at home but have returned to the office say that the way things are usually going have gotten better since returning to the workplace in person, while 23% say that things have become worse; 38 per cent say that things have remained as they are. Forty-five percent say the amount of work being done has improved, while 18% say it has worsened.

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But 41% of returned workers say the amount of stress they experience has worsened; 22% say it has gotten better and 37% say it has not changed.

Even workers who have been personally during the pandemic are more negative than positive in the way the pandemic has affected their work lives. Thirty-five percent say the way things are going as usual has gotten worse, while 20% say it has gotten better. 50 percent say their stress has increased, while only 11% say it has gotten better; 39% say there is no difference.

At least half of individual workers say balancing responsibilities, potential COVID exposure at work, their commute and social interactions are sources of stress. But less than a third call these “major” sources of stress.

Those who had children were more likely to report being adversely affected by their return, some of it stemming from concerns about keeping their families safe from COVID and maintaining a better work-life balance. Most said it could help reduce stress if their employer provided more flexible work options and workplace safety precautions to combat the virus. But for some workers, the physical return — in any form — will be harder to navigate.

“Many people have become accustomed to working from home. It’s been two years,” said Jessica Edwards, national director of strategic alliances and development at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a US-based advocacy group. “For companies, it’s about prioritizing mental health and communicating about it. They shouldn’t be afraid to ask their employees how they’re really doing.”

Companies like Vanguard are now expanding virtual wellness workshops that began in the early days of the pandemic or before that. They are expanding the benefits to include meditation apps and virtual therapy. Meanwhile, Target, which has not set mandatory returns, is letting teams adjust meeting times to earlier or later in the day to accommodate employees’ schedules.

A lot is at stake. Estimates suggest that untreated mental illness can cost companies up to $300 billion annually, largely due to an impact on productivity, absenteeism and increased medical and disability expenses, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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Russ Glass, CEO of online mental health and wellbeing platform Headspace Health, said he saw a four-fold spike in the use of behavioral health coaching compared to the days before the pandemic and a five-fold spike in clinical services such as medical and psychiatric support during the pandemic. have seen. With apps like Ginger and Headspace, the company serves more than 100 million people and 3,500 companies. Among the top concerns: worrying about contracting COVID-19, and struggling with work-life balance.

“We haven’t seen it go down. That level of care remains high right now,” Glass said.

The continuing wave of new virus surges hasn’t helped.

Francine Yoon, a 24-year-old food scientist at Ajinomoto Health and Nutrition North America in Itasca, Illinois, has been working mostly in person since the pandemic, including her current job, which she last started in the fall. Yoon said her company has helped ease anxiety by doing things like creating huddle rooms and empty offices to create more distance for those experiencing any sort of anxiety about being close to coworkers.

But moving in with his older parents last year, in his early 60s, has raised some level of concern about passing on the virus to them. She said that every surge of new cases raises some concern.

“When cases are low, I feel comfortable and confident that I am fine and that I will be fine,” she said. ‘When the boom comes, I can’t help but be alert.

As for Carmona, he’s trying to de-stress and is considering attending his office’s online meditation sessions. He is also looking at carpooling to reduce gas costs.

“I’m one of those people who take it day in and day out,” he said. “You have to try to keep your stress levels balanced because you’ll be driving your mind to the ground thinking about things that could go awry.”

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The AP-NORC survey of 1,085 adults was conducted April 14–18 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the US population. The margin of sample error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

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AP staff writer Hallelujah Hadero in New York contributed to this report.

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Follow Anne D’Innocenzio: http://twitter.com/ADInnocenzio

Nation World News Desk
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