Work psychologist confirms COVID-19 made jobs suckier


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The pandemic has seriously altered how we work. According to statistics published by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in September 2020, US$35 trillion (£26 trillion) has been lost globally in labour income. There has also been an estimated loss of 17% of working hours worldwide since 2019, with young people and women being hit hardest. And many of those still in jobs are working under very different conditions.

We are just beginning to understand the long-term consequences of this change, for worker wellbeing, for how work is carried out and for society and economies as a whole. As a work psychologist, I am interested in how these pandemic-induced changes affect individual people’s wellbeing, their behaviour and their attitudes – and what the broader effects for society as a whole might be.

The pandemic is increasingly understood as a shock, an event beyond our control that disrupted our normal ways of working and living. This shock was more disruptive for some than others. Some people saw their workload skyrocket and had to work around the clock to meet the new demands they were facing – for example, healthcare workers or supermarket staff. Others suddenly had to work from home, having to adapt to different procedures and trying to balance the challenges of family life with work.

Many lost their jobs, and some their occupations as entire sectors closed down. Someone who worked very hard to become an actor or an aerospace engineer or a pub landlord will not want to work in a different profession, let alone be trained for it. In this case, someone has not only lost their livelihood but also part of their identity. This can have dramatic consequences for how people feel about themselves and their place in society.

Different from previous recessions, some countries have introduced furlough schemes. Despite the protection they receive, as a result, those on furlough still frequently report strong worries and uncertainty about job loss. Perceived job insecurity is recognised as a serious stressor affecting mental and physical health but also work behaviour and even political attitudes. Meanwhile, actual unemployment in the UK, even with the furlough, has risen to 4.8%, and the Bank of England is predicting this will double by 2021.

Credit: The Gender Spectrum Collection/broadly