When American society paused (or attempted to pause), the work-from-home (WFH) phenomenon acted like a stopgap for a leaking dam. With a severe health crisis mercilessly ravaging the globe, millions of us were forced to find safety in our homes. To keep businesses afloat amid the resulting economic collapse, many eligible employers relied on WFH arrangements — until safety measures eased up and it no longer served them.
As we approach the two-year anniversary of COVID-19’s arrival in the U.S., we now face a massive upheaval of the labor force, which you might know as the “Great Resignation.”
Across a range of industries, people are leaving jobs at increased rates: A record 4.3 million people quit their jobs in August, and 4.4 million did so in September.
If you’re wondering what spurred this movement, here’s an idea: The pandemic required employers to provide many new perks that were previously inaccessible to most workers, such as WFH abilities, schedule flexibility, actual work-life balance, autonomy, and more.
As society began to return to a semblance of normality, some employers slowly rolled these benefits back, leaving many employees feeling exploited and unappreciated.
The “Great Resignation” represents the frustrations and mental health crises of workers. It’s about people realizing they deserve more from the businesses and organizations they give their lives to, as well as being treated like a human rather than a workhorse.
It also significantly represents the fatigue and sacrifices of those who consistently receive minimal support. In the second blog of my end-of-the-year blog post series, I’m highlighting the people this movement affects, plus how you can use this time as an opportunity to change your relationship with work.
Who’s Bearing the Brunt of Burnout?
Like any international and national crisis, the impacts of the pandemic exposed inequalities in the labor market that disproportionately affect marginalized groups.
👉 The workers we rely on to provide essential services in unsafe conditions are largely women, migrants, or BIPOC from neglected and discriminated communities. Although their contributions power our society, these workers are often poorly paid and undervalued, and they lack access to safety nets, social protections, and basic services like health care.
👉 Throughout the pandemic, millions of women were pushed out of work because of mass company layoffs and heightened caregiving responsibilities.
👉 In a labor market that already perpetuates systems of oppression, power, and privilege, COVID-19 increased gender pay gaps, unemployment, and major economic losses among workers — particularly women — of color and people from low-income backgrounds.
Is it any wonder workers have experienced burnout at alarmingly high levels?
Women, who’ve been on the frontlines in the workplace and at home, have exited the labor force at twice the rate men have throughout the pandemic. Plus, they currently lead the charge of the “Great Resignation.” According to Gusto economist Luke Pardue, the quit rate for women was 1.1 percentage points higher than men’s in August.
At the same time that women are quitting to pursue better opportunities and higher pay, so many are simply burned out or have to prioritize child- or elder-care.
“This pandemic has been particularly difficult for women at jobs, who also need to care for families. They have been the ones who have needed to take that step back in their professional lives in order to meet their family’s responsibilities,” says Pardue.
As you can imagine and have possibly experienced yourself, the effects of unchecked burnout eventually trickle down to your physical and mental health. For example:
- Women going through pandemic-related stress are more likely to suffer from hypertension.
- Compared with men, women experiencing stress from work challenges, social situations, and life circumstances are at significantly higher risk of developing coronary heart disease.
- Chronic stress and burnout increase the likelihood of headaches, intestinal issues, heart disease, high blood pressure, and respiratory issues.
- Burnout can lead to higher risks of developing depression or anxiety.
If your 2021 included any of these symptoms because of work and obligations, it’s not too late to think about how you can be kinder to your health in 2022.
New Year’s Challenge: Change Your Relationship with Work
The toll of the past year has been enormous, so it’s not surprising that so many people are quitting or considering leaving their jobs. In this fight to have humanity acknowledged and respected in the workplace, the “Great Resignation” will hopefully change the future of work and give all workers a choice in how, when, and where they work.
In the meantime, this period of change in the labor force might look different for you.
Maybe you aren’t thinking of quitting your job anytime soon. Or maybe you haven’t worked throughout the pandemic and plan to take advantage of the upper hand employees have amid the worker shortage.
💡 Wherever you are in this resignation of toxic hustle culture, use this revolution and the upcoming new year to reflect on how you can build a more positive relationship with work.
If you fall into one of the marginalized groups I spoke about above, understand I recognize that going from a “live to work” mindset to a “work to live” one won’t happen overnight — or even entirely in 2022.
Still, the present moment is always a great time to begin building the blocks of change. And your health? Well, it’s begging you (just like you beg your overworked loved ones) to choose yourself in small ways until you’re ready to make bigger, lasting lifestyle changes.
In the first blog of this series, for example, I talked about starting my journey of creating more balance in my life by taking more naps. That’s how simple prioritizing your mind and body’s health can be!
The key is to be realistic about your life and needs. What can change now and what has to change later?
Here’s one way I like to look at it: Imagine all of your responsibilities are balls you’re juggling in the air. It’s inevitable that one (or more) of the balls will drop, so take control by deciding which of those balls are glass or plastic. Which ones can’t afford to break, and which ones can take a backseat while you tend to the glass?
Say Goodbye to Burnout 👋
Changing your relationship with work and treating your burnout isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience — you have to make personal decisions unique to your life.
If you need a starting point, try this:
- Get real with yourself. What are the issues at the root of your burnout? Some people get real in this way with the help of a therapist or even an HR professional at work. Besides this, you can always seek help and support from friends, family, or coworkers.
- Identify what you need from your work. Whether you’re looking for new gigs or managing the one you’ve had, knowing exactly what you need from your career will help you confidently make decisions about it.
- Have creative outlets. You’re not a robot, so being ‘on’ all the time isn’t healthy or necessary. To prevent yourself from hyper-focusing on work, make space for activities or outlets that allow you an escape from the pressures of your work, life, and responsibilities. (Self-care is crucial in preventing workplace burnout — when you take care of yourself, making healthy decisions to cope with stress is easier!)
- Take breaks. This one seems like a no-brainer, but far too many of us power through the day with no more than 5 minutes of scrolling on social media as downtime. We gotta do better! No matter how inconvenient they may seem, these breaks can help you reset, re-evaluate your emotions, prioritize tasks, and simply make time to breathe and calm your mind and body.
No matter our circumstances, we all have choices. As we prepare for 2022, make a list of the ones you can make to change your relationship with work and achieve more balance in your life and health.
Meet Dr. Savita Ginde
Dr. Savita Ginde is an advocate and thought leader for reproductive health and served as Chief Medical Officer of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains for over 13 years. And, until very recently, she served as the Chief Healthcare Officer for STRIDE Community Health Center where she oversaw all of STRIDE’s healthcare services and led their COVID-19 vaccination efforts.