Emerge and Spread Your Wings

The Meaning of Work

As we, in New Zealand, reach the end of our third week of “lockdown” I have been musing on the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic on our collective work wellbeing.

As an occupational therapist, I am trained to consider work as one of the eight areas of occupation. Occupations refer to “what we do with our time” and other occupational areas include leisure, education, play, and self-care.

Work, whether paid or voluntary, for many of us, makes up a large portion of how we spend our time.

Work (ideally)

  • gives us a sense of meaning and value
  • offers structure to our day
  • contributes to our social network or connection
  • lends a sense of purpose
  • provides financial recompense and security
  • is validated by society – although some work roles are offered higher status – interesting to see which jobs now are categorised and praised as “essential work”
  • allows us to contribute, and especially for those of us in caring roles, find validation in helping others.

It is hard to imagine, in my generation, a time when work has been so disrupted on such a large scale. Perhaps my grandparents’ experience of WW2 might hold some similarities.

It feels like the deck of work cards has been thrown in the air, and no one knows how they will land.

For our workforce in New Zealand, there are a myriad of new ways that we are working – or trying to work.

Essential workers may be doing familiar jobs in a vastly different way – with contactless exchanges, or via PPE (personal protective equipment), or at 2 meters from their colleagues. These workers face increased health risks due to potential exposure, adding another level of stress.

The majority of us are working from home – some who have never worked remotely in this way. Even those of us who usually work from home (like me) find our work environments full of bodies decorating our workspace, and consuming our internet data.

Others are on reduced wages for the foreseeable future – because no one is guessing when or if individual businesses will recover.

Some are experiencing redundancy or the looming threat of losing their jobs sooner, or later.

There are of course also those who, prior to this lockdown, were trying to return to work following illness or injury, and those trying to find a job.

There is a clash of home and work lives on a massive scale. As one of my clients pointed out – I can’t escape my home challenges by leaving for work.

In these times of higher health risks some who are usually an integral part of our workforce – our experienced over-70’s, people with disabilities and vulnerable health conditions, and pregnant women are being excluded (for their own safety) from the workforce.

I’ve found it especially interesting to note the resistance of many over-70’s to being told to “stay home” from their workplaces. Our current older generation is more likely to be working beyond retirement age than previous ones.

So What is the Meaning of Work?

Whatever is happening to your work role at the moment this pandemic will be having a significant effect. This effect is magnified by the fact that your extended family, community, the country, and the world are also experiencing this disruption. To paraphrase nearly every reporter or political figure these days our work wellbeing is being impacted on an “unprecedented” scale.

While I would love to offer some quick fix or life hack to help out at the moment, all I can offer is a perspective and maybe a lens to view why many of us are struggling with our mental wellbeing at present.

It is important to recognise the reality of our change in work roles, grieve for the losses you are facing and seek support for the stress and anxiety these changes create. Don’t short-change yourself or expect yourself to be productive, or bounce back immediately.

Work remains an important occupation, but is looking very different from usual, and will not look the same in the future.
Our clients will equally be affected, and many of them may lack the tools, resources, and resilience to cope with this huge loss.

Be kind to yourself.

If you need more support with your work wellbeing in these shifting times contact me here…